The champions have started in style. No worries in Liga 1, where Claudiu Keseru managed to score six in one game (in theory, Pandurii is one of the decent clubs, but in practice they often try not to upset a top business partner like Steaua) and very few teams will be able to pose a real threat during the current campaign. On the European stage, all going as planned so far and the red and blue outfit are 90 minutes away from another profitable presence in the Champions League group stage, having already a one goal advantage over Ludogorets, thanks to their top performer, Alexandru Chipciu.
So, results are here right away, in spite of the lack of experience of Costel Galca, money isn’t a problem, the fans are behind the team (all over the country). All seems well, especially as in a dozen lines I didn’t mention Gigi Becali. But, oops!, the name is here now, yet the man is still behind bars (alongside his right hand Mihai Stoica), and the problem that could affect Steaua’s promising season arises.
Not only Becali took out of the club’s account a big chunk of the over 10 millions euros profit registered last season, but he also kept a firm grip on the club, seriously restricting Steaua’s movement on the transfer market, where important departures (past or imminent – Tanase and Latovlevici have been repeatedly linked with foreign clubs) need(ed) to be adressed.
The problem is that the club’s structure is poor, it also only exists to approve and execute the owner’s wishes and Steaua’s view of the market is as narrow as the space between two bars. Without Stoica, there’s nobody both informed and confident enough to take an unknown name to Becali, so the club’s recent targets have been only current or past Liga 1 players.
Of the team that battled it out with the likes of Chelsea or Schalke, a handful of key players are gone. With Tatarusanu (Fiorentina), Chiriches (Tottenham), Gardos (Southampton), Bourceanu (Trabzonspor) and Pintilii (Al Hilal), the very backbone of the team was extracted and, in spite of all the income, Steaua failed to add players with either similar quality or at least potential. But the reason isn’t just the reluctance to spend some money. In fact, the Bucharest outfit went after players of proven value, but in the only league Becali knew: the Romanian first division. A league that had already offered its best products to the club in recent years, a league that struggles to produce new talent at a good rate.
That’s why Steaua signed Arlauskis (former league winner with Unirea Urziceni), Luchin (former Dinamo Bucharest player, signed from Botev Plovdiv), Breeveld (Pandurii) and Lemnaru (Universitatea Cluj, a player Galca doesn’t even like). And that is the only reason why the club makes no secret in its intention to bring back to Liga 1 Jeremy Bokila, a striker who impressed with Petrolul, before moving to Terek Groznii. He’s the main and last target once/if the Champions League group stage is reached, although he’s been a flop in Russia and, more importantly, Terek can afford to speculate Steaua’s desperate approach and ask for a lot of money (approx 2 million euros) for a fringe player.
Steaua is definitely weaker than last season, although Galca does some good work on the training pitch, yet the downfall of the solid team lead to important success by Laurentiu Reghecampf might not catch the eye that quickly. The group stage of the Champions League is only 90 minutes away, while the route to another league title remains accessible. A defeat (with the wrong scoreline) in Bulgaria could expose though the fact that Becali was wrong to take away from his club exactly what he’s missing the most: the freedom. The freedom to move, to dare, to act.
It was called “The transfers file” and, strictly linked to an investigation lead by Gazeta Sporturilor, ended up today, after eight long years, with eight important names sent behind bars, for money laundering and tax evasion. The biggest of all: Gheorghe Popescu, former Romanian international, former Barcelona captain, who was days away from taking over the presidency of the Romanian Football Federation…
“I would have sold players to Bin Laden back then, it was all about getting money”, stated Cristian Borcea a while ago in front of judges who have felt everything, from mockery to fear, during this long period, from the persons pleading their innocence. Borcea was a key shareholder with Dinamo and just like George Copos, who took Rapid from glory to agony during his tenure as club owner, had retired from the spotlight, laying low, hoping it will all go away.
Others haven’t. Brothers Victor and Ioan “Giovani” Becali went on pulling strings on the transfer market, Mihai Stoica was in charge of Steaua, while Gheorghe Popescu had all but moved his family pictures into the office that Mircea Sandu is preparing to leave. Surprisingly, the race for the presidency of the FRF lost its front-runner at the last minute and for a very long time.
Here’s the list of the definitive sentences heard today:
- George Copos (former owner of Rapid Bucharest) – 3 years and 8 months
- Mihai Stoica (current Steaua sporting director) – 3 years and 6 months
- Cristi Borcea (former shareholder at Dinamo Bucharest) – 6 years and 4 months
- Ioan Becali (FIFA agent) – 6 years and 4 months
- Victor Becali (FIFA agent) – 4 years and 8 months
- Jean Padureanu (former president of Gloria Bistrita) – 3 years and 4 months
- Gheorghe Popescu (former international, lobbied Florin Bratu’s transfer to Galatasaray) – 3 years and 1 month
- Gigi Netoiu (former shareholder at various clubs) – 3 years and 4 months
All were involved in deals that saw player sold abroad, smaller transfer fees entered in the clubs’ books and part of the real fees ran through personal off-shore accounts.
Here’s the list of transfers that lead to the above sentences:
- Iulian Arhire – from Otelul Galati to Pohang Steelers (1999)
- Ionel Ganea – from Gloria Bistrita to VfB Stuttgart (1999)
- Cristi Dulca – from Rapid to Pohang Steelers (1999)
- Cosmin Contra – from Dinamo to Deportivo Alaves (1999)
- Bogdan Mara – from Dinamo to Deportivo Alaves (2001)
- Paul Codrea – from Dinamo to Genoa (2001)
- Florin Cernat – from Dinamo to Dynamo Kiew (2001)
- Nicolae Mitea – from Dinamo to Ajax (2003)
- Lucian Sanmartean – from Gloria Bistrita to Panathinaikos (2003)
- Florin Bratu – from Rapid to Galatasaray (2003)
- Adrian Mihalcea – from Dinamo to Chunnam (2004)
- Dan Alexa – from Dinamo to Beijing Guoan (2004)
Today’s decisions came as a shock for those involved in Romanian football. Lighter sentences for a couple of those involved and no punishment at all for the likes of Mihai Stoica and Gheorghe Popescu were expected. Well, sometimes, unlike Romanian football, Romanian justice can be unpredictable…
Steaua lost their captain, Petrolul signed Mutu, Astra gets Romanian backup from Serie A – all eyes have been on the front three this winter and there’s enough excitement as the restart of the league nears. With two games in hand to be played in February, Steaua will probably rearrange order at the top before the former rivals from Ploiesti get to play their first official matches, but it should only make things more exciting. So here’s a look at the good and bad moves from this season’s title contenders:
Important players in: Claudiu Keseru (Bastia), Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)
Important players out: Alexandru Bourceanu (Trabzonspor)
With two games in hand, which will be played before the restart of the league, Steaua not only has the chance to get back on top of the standings, but also to be the first to get used to official matches. It will surely come handy, as the Bucharest side had a terrible pre-season, as far as results are concerned.
With just one important loss, the captain Bourceanu, sold for a handsome 1.4 million euro fee, difficult to obtain for a player running out of contract, Steaua only hopes to regain the fitness level and enthusiasm that impressed the most in Reghecampf’s regime, as the winning team is still there: a reliable keeper, a solid back four, the intelligent Pintilii, the number of offensive choices to rotate in search of the best output…
Signed from Bastia, Keseru should add competition and quality upfront, in spite of the media’s haste of labelling him as a flop based on his pre-season performances, ignorring the fact that very few players actually impressed for Steaua during their two training camps on Spanish soil. The late signing of veteran winger Lucian Sanmartean is though a sign of fear, but, at the same time, Steaua’s fear should be a concern for their title rivals, who could have done with a more relaxed reigning champion…
Can go well if… Steaua was just a machinery running out of gas.
Can go bad if… The motivation isn’t just the same. Too many regular starters will be thinking about the summer mercato. The defense will be left only with the protection of Pintilii, as Reghecampf has enough reasons to replace the departed pitbull with a more offensive midfielder.
Important players in: Paul Papp (Chievo), Denis Alibec (Inter/Bologna), Laurentiu Iorga (Otelul Galati), Stefan Popescu (Ajaccio)
Important players out: -
Not rated among the contenders at the beginning of the season, Astra managed to gain a lot of points and respect during the first half of season. The wealthy owner and an old fox in charge of the club have made up for the coach’s lack of experience with a winning team, which can still come to work against the club as the finish line will get closer and the pressure will reach levels never touched before by Daniel Isaila and most of his players.
Still, Astra’s winter mercato has been solid, with two Romanian players with a point to prove brought back from Serie A clubs and all the key players kept on the roster without problems. The squad looks stronger, is hungry for success and looks surprisingly relaxed. With no pressure from the fans or the media, the club recently moved from Ploiesti to Giurgiu, already played Steaua twice, failing to defeat the champions, but their strength has always been to crush smaller opponents
Can go well if… The chance to go all the way will keep on inspiring the team & won’t instill fear. The inexperienced Daniel Isaila has that special something to take up such a challenge and see it through. Budescu will create play and score goals at the same rate as in the 1st half of season.
Can go bad if… The owner won’t be able to control his level of interference.
Important players in: Adrian Mutu (Ajaccio), Ianis Zicu (Gangwon), Gerson Ferreira (Ferencvaros), Toto Tamuz (Ural)
Important players out: Hamza Younes, Alexandru Benga, Ferebory Dore (all to Botev Plovdiv), Damien Boudjemaa (Slavia Prague)
Mutu’s arrival was the winter mercato’s big and unexpected hit. Image, mood, perspective – all changed for Petrolul, but things are not as bright after one month, with the financial support of the Local Council currently on hold, some interest from abroad in Cosmin Contra’s work and an intense transfer activity that can work both ways… Petrolul might have signed one/two (falling) stars, but was forced to sell a proven goalscorer like Younes and no less than 3 other players who, for bad or worse, did play an important part in the team’s excellent 2013.
With fantastic support and a winning aura at home, Petrolul will have to do better on the road and start turning more draws into wins. The extra class in their attacking midfield might help out, but will the defense be able to hold on?
Can go well if… Mutu and Zicu will be in the mood to show their class. The away form will improve. The attack will compensate for the defensive fragility and lack of backup.
Can go bad if… Financial problems will surface right away and the ownership won’t be able to hide them well enough until the summer. The lack of a balanced squad (poor backup un the flanks, average quality in central defense, no proven goalscorer available for the lone striker position) will be exposed.
The reigning champions, the only Romanian club to win a European trophy, a constant presence on the European stage, the team with the largest fan base in the entire country and the only Bucharest “giant” still performing these days organized a try-out for kids born in 2002, 2003 and 2004. 14 turned up. A shocking number really, not only for Steaua, but for Romania. Still, the red and blue outfit, who is trying to revitalize its youth sector with Italian coach Massimo Pedrazzini in charge, must take a big chunk of the blame.
Having a wealthy and impatient owner – he’s taking a course on this, now that he’s behind bars – has worked against Steaua in recent years. Used to pick the best talents from all over the country, Gigi Becali’s favorite toy made one attempt to build a proper academy some years ago. Of course, it was burning some stages and basically missing the point, as 16-17-18 years old were bought and integrated into the youth teams, so it’s no surprise, really, that Becali pulled the plug once he saw that a dozen of youth international actually went on to waste their talents under poor guidance and with no early shot at senior football.
Now, after years of mediocrity, some heavy defeats in the youth leagues and a desperate move made to avoid embarrassment in the UEFA Youth League, there’s really no surprise that a message on the club’s website and Pedrazzini’s personal Facebook page (this is another story…) failed to erase the feeling that Steaua, as shiny as the first team looks, provides a bleak future for your kid. The lack of strategy, know-how and patience within the red and blue structures means drastic measures can rock the “academy” at any time, out of the blue. Add to this the chances close to zero to make it in the senior team and it’s obvious why even kids (and dads) who do love Steaua understand that there’s a more concrete opportunity to see such a dream fulfilled by learning the game someplace else. From this point of view, this is a club worth loving from a distance. A 5 star hotel – by Romanian standards – to enjoy as an adult, not a home to grow up in…
Going to Turkey once, years ago, I was stopped at the security check on Ataturk airport and asked to go inside a booth for a body search. It never took place, as I’ve spent a couple of minutes talking about Hagi. And the officer there wasn’t even a Galatasaray fan…
They love him. They really do. And those who don’t sing their love for him, because they support Fener of Besiktas, respect him. I sometimes wonder if it’s the same in Romania. At times, I’m convinced we don’t. Experts in mocking those doing better than us, we’ve found Hagi’s weakness: his speech. Aware that a man so good on the ball can’t be that good with words, we laugh at his interviews. We’ve reduced his fantastic personality to some phrases. We’ve decided to ignore all his ideas and projects and have a good long look (and laugh) at his words. I admit, he can be funny. Hell, I even use one of his funniest expressions every once in a while, for a good laugh…
The question is: if I will ever have the chance to meet him, will I be able to find my words? Will I be able to avoid embarrassment and put together a few words? I hope so. At least three of them are necessary. Because I do love him for the fantastic player he was. And for the honest and humble person he is. And for blessing a nation with his skill and for the way he keeps forgiving us for laughing at his continuous attempts to keep on doing some good to Romanian football…
Today, the great man turns 49. La multi ani, Gica! We do love you, it’s just that, for some reason, we either don’t know or don’t want to show it…
Back in September, I made a Top 10 list of the Liga 1 exports in the summer of 2013. A list topped by Vlad Chiriches, who just had set a new record in terms of transfer fees with his move to Tottenham, a list that now, with half of season gone, deserves a second look. So let me walk you through the first five months spent by 10 ex-Liga 1 “stars” at their new clubs, in stronger leagues, competitive and professional environments, under pressure. Those who love to promote the Romanian league should look away :)
The most valuable, both in terms of quality and price, turned out to be also the one who delivers from the start. Vlad Chiriches, the ex Steaua defender and current national team captain, made a bright start in the toughest league, in an ambitious team packed with quality players, winning over the fans and making commentators like Clive Tyldesley say recently that he’s “a fine advert for Romanian immigrant labor”. Irony aside, he is indeed. And it’s enough to look below him in my Top 10 list…
With the exception of Portugese right back Ivo Pinto, who impressed with Dinamo Zagreb (although I’d place the Croatian Prva HNL below our Liga 1 in terms of competitiveness), there is nobody else who made the switch easy, with good results also on the pitch, not just in their bank accounts.
Ok, signing Denis Alibec was a gamble from Bologna, as the striker revived by Gheorghe Hagi and his club, Viitorul Constanta, disappointed upon his return to Serie A. He featured for just 2 minutes in the first part of the season, against mighty Juventus, but that was just a desperate use of a forward with good feet, but a mind that still looks unable to focus on football. Two other Romanian players moved to Italy last summer and both need (and unlike Alibec who is close to a transfer to Astra Giurgiu) and will have more time to adjust and prove themselves. Alexe struggles with struggling Sassuolo, featuring 6 times in the league, but just once as a starter, while Nica got a red card in his second and last appearance in Serie A for Atalanta.
Life isn’t easier in Ligue 1 either, where Dan Nistor and Aurelian Chitu started just once in half of season, each with a handful of appearances as substitutes for Evian and Valenciennes, respectively. The biggest disappointment though came from Raul Rusescu, who joined FC Sevilla as the top scorer of the Romanian league, but already left La Liga, moving on loan to Sporting Braga after a total of 7 appearances and 3 goals, but only 64 mintues of football in the Spanish top flight…
With Fatai unable to feature more for Club Brugge, in spite of a bright start (scored against Anderlecht in his first game), and Herea looking average in a league that, in theory, should have allowed him to impress, we can draw the line: just 2 out of 10 players stepped into their new clubs and claimed a place in the first eleven.
Not at all surprising is the fact that we’re talking about two of the most expensive deals. It might look strange that a proven scorer like Rusescu failed at Sevilla, but in fairness it was the Spanish club who got it wrong and rushed to gamble of a player that didn’t look ready for them! Saying that the Romanian was going to replace Alvaro Negredo was a (good) joke and the 25 years old’s signature was followed by those of Carlos Bacca and Kevin Gameiro. And while these two got playing time, Rusescu was following an intense fitness regime to help him lose weight and gain the pace and agility needed in La Liga…
On the disappointing side I’d put Alexe’s struggle, given his intelligence and first team experience, but he did join a newly promoted club and he’s the type of forward who can “enjoy” quite long periods of indifferent form, risks both himself and the club should have taken into account. Hopefully, he’ll have the time and the opportunities to come good, just like Nica, who has the fortune of being in a youth-friendly club…
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