It was a summer to remember for Romanian clubs (although the newspapers haven’t noticed it just yet…)! With Chiriches finally moved to Tottenham, we have a new record transfer fee paid for a Liga I player. We also have 5 players signed by Serie A clubs, 3 gone to Ligue 1 and 1 in La Liga, none other than last season’s top scorer. Teams from Belgium, Croatia and Switzerland – good European stepping stones – have made their picks, with Russia and Turkey paying good money to either clubs or players (or both) to sign no less than 7 established footballers. And Steaua decided to keep some in-demand players to make it into the Champions League’s group stage, otherwise the numbers would have been bigger and the figures even more impressive. Below, you can find my top ten transfers of the summer, which is of course debatable, but I’ve tried to filter the twenty-something important moves using as filter the quality and potential of the player in question, age, level of the buying club and level of the league he’s going to.
I, for one, don’t remember a more prolific transfer window in recent years, in terms of fees paid for Liga I’s top names and number of exports, especially to top leagues from Western Europe. Is it just a coincidence or the Romanian league has gained a better reputation? If this would be the case, then we’d have another premiere on our hands, with the clubs’ performances in the internal and European competitions drawing attention, not the exposure offered by Romania’s national team(s). Take Gheorghe Grozav’s case, who was heavily promoted by Victor Piturca and only got a late move to Terek Grozny. Or Ciprian Marica’s, who is struggling to find himself a new club, just like Gabriel Tamas, released by WBA, or Gabriel Torje, who had troubles convincing another club to loan him, a full transfer being out of the question…
Do we have stronger clubs? I can only think of exceptions. Is Liga I more competitive? It surely was two-three years ago – remember the days when Steaua, Dinamo, Rapid, CFR and Vaslui were fighting to get the title from Otelul Galati -, but that race got less and less tensed, with Dinamo’s and Rapid’s financial trouble, and CFR’s and Vaslui’s loss of investment/interest. Do we sign / promote better players? I’d say mainly by accident, considering the amateur take on player recruitment and lack of funds, knowledge and dedication allocated to the youth sector (of course, I will keep Hagi’s Academy out of this!).
Having the chance to see most of the European leagues in the past couple of years, given my assignments in scouting, I think the answer to the question of attractiveness gets a positive note only when related to the level of leagues from Croatia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Poland, not to mention Slovenia, Hungary or Bulgaria. The gap is rather discrete, I must say, and a good player from Liga I is tested in an equally if not more competitive environment than in the mentioned countries, making him prepared enough for a step abroad, in the eyes of visiting scouts. Add some good runs in Europe, like CFR’s or Steaua’s and we’re only kept back by reputation. One that surely doesn’t speak in Romania’s favor, but can be changed by each and everyone who gets the chance to play abroad…
Romania’s national team coach and players said they want 4 points from the double against Hungary and Holland. They got just one, snatched in the overtime of a poor game in Budapest, losing 0-4 in Amsterdam a few days later, after a similar display.
Victor Piturca’s starting eleven for the second game was shocking, with lots of changes and several high risk bets, and the team had no reaction during the second heavy defeat against the Dutch during a campaign that can still have a happy end. In 3rd place, just one point behind the play-off spot, Romania plays at home against both Hungary and Turkey, will travel to Andorra and host in the last game Estonia. Nevertheless, lots of issues must be addressed in order to make it and, apart from the players’ form, the manager’s ability to identify, admit and correct his mistakes is vital for our chances to be just two games away from a place at the Brazilian World Cup. That’s why I think we’re doomed :)
Unfortunately for us, Piturca lives in a world of his own, refusing critics, entertaining suburban attacks and explaining us that his dictatorship will continue until 2016, when his current deal expires. A deal that stipulates as sporting goals qualifying Romania for the next final tournament of the European championship, a deal that excuses him from any mistakes during the current qualifying campaign, saying that he’s supposed to find the winning formula for the next one. Angry at the heavy, deserved criticism following recent display, Piturca organized a press conference to defend himself, but a lot of his statements can be
twisted turned against him…
- “During the winter, some bookies offered odds on my imminent sacking. It’s very difficult to achieve something under these circumstances.”
- “I don’t see the point of a question regarding my departure from the national team. You can talk about it, but I am not pressured by the results. The president of the Federation was laughing when we talked about it.“
So, the pressure gets to him, but, of course, it doesn’t get to him. The fans and the media harm the national team by talking about it / betting on it, but do not harm him, who is untouchable until 2016. And laughs about it with the guy nicknamed The Godfather.
- “Initially, I didn’t want to call Mutu, as I didn’t and still don’t think he’s physically able to play for both club and national team. I did create a special schedule for him, asking him to come earlier to the training camp. He came late and I told him he’s free to do whatever he wants, that he’s out of the team. The second day he arrived and was a mess for hours, begging to be forgiven. He wasn’t acting, he even cried.”
So, Mutu is not physically ready and he misses out on the special fitness schedule, staying “at a level not good enough for the national team”. Still, Mutu will be among the starters in the first game and will play 90 minutes against Hungary, on a heavy pitch, in Budapest.
- Steaua’s Cristian Tanase was the player with the worst physical shape, according to tests made in the national team’s training camp.
Tanase was in the starting lineup against Holland, playing for 60 minutes, ahead of team-mate Alexandru Chipciu, who had scored the late equalizer in Budapest and was looking in top shape, ahead of Alexandru Maxim, who had also played in the 2nd half of the game vs Hungary and, a few days later, would have started and scored for Stuttgart, against Borussia Dortmund.
- “In this campaign I have given up playing with three defensive midfielders, I only field two. You asked for a spectacular, offensive game, you got it. Our game has changed a bit. Against Holland, we could have defended the entire game and, with a bit of luck, get a point. But we played to win the game!”
In other words, the fans and the journalists are to blame for the defeat against Holland. Didn’t understand the “you got it!” part…
- “This is the country we are living in: we’re quick to judge people, to offer advice, but we don’t look at ourselves first.”
Well, he’s got a point. As the national team coach, I am ashamed of the way the team is playing, but I would like to remind everyone that I am under contract for the rest of my days, so back off! :)
Victor Piturca has assembled a squad for a training camp that will take place in Antalya, starting the 21st of January, a period that should make the national team coach realize which players from Liga I should enter/stay in his plans for the next qualifying campaign. A decision that was obviously criticized by some clubs, especially afterthe news that the 6 players from Steaua will be allowed to return to their club after the first few days and the friendly game vs. Turkmenistan. A double standard that won’t help Piturca, but should offer more time to impress to those from smaller clubs.
Let’s have a look at “the squad”:
Goalkeepers: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Steaua), Silviu Lung Jr. (Astra), Cristian Balgradean (Dinamo)
With Tatarusanu and Pantilimon the first two choices, Balgradean will have to confirm the excellent first half of season this spring, with Lung still promising, but not as convincing as the Red Dogs’ 24 years old who conceeded only 10 goals in the first 18 matches.
Defenders: Cornel Rapa (Otelul Galati), Srdjan Luchin (Dinamo), Valerica Gaman (Astra), Paul Papp (FC Vaslui), Dragos Grigore (Dinamo), Vlad Chiriches (Steaua), Laszlo Sepsi (Poli Timisoara), Constantin Grecu (Universitatea Cluj)
In central defense, we have Gaman and Papp who could challenge Chiriches – impressive in the game vs France and looking forward to a second half of season under constant pressure at Steaua -, as I don’t believe Grigore can play better than he does right now. Consistent, reliable, but only decent, and there are lots of options for Piturca in the middle. Things are a bit different on the left side, where Piturca is looking for a reliable back-up solution in case anything happens to Razvan Rat, while on the right I don’t feel that Rapa and Luchin are in direct competition, being quite different in terms of qualities, but the absence of Marian Pleasca (Pandurii) is a(nother) sign of inconsistency from Piturca, as the youngster was getting a call-up last November ahead of the relegated to the U21 Cornel Rapa…
Midfielders: Mihai Roman (Rapid), Claudiu Bumba (FCM Targu Mures), Alexandru Bourceanu (Steaua), Ionut Neagu (Otelul), Mihai Pintilii (Pandurii), Florin Gardos (Steaua), Cristian Tanase (Steaua), Alexandru Chipciu (Steaua), Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)
Roman is a disappointment at club level and just like Chipciu, who just took a step forward in his career, will need to prove themselves in the league, while the likes of Neagu, Pintilii and even Bourceanu have already proved their limits, at least in my eyes. Good to see Bumba getting a call-up, he’s the youngest player (just turned 18) in Liga I who gets to play on a regular basis, but I’m sure it’s a too discrete signal for the club owners/managers/coaches to start promoting talents at a very young age. When this will become a habit in Liga I, there will be once again some hope for the national team.
Strikers: Dorin Goga (Poli Timisoara), Marius Niculae (Dinamo), Costin Curelea (Sportul Studentesc)
The latter is wanted by Steaua and Rapid, so this is just one of Piturca’s usual involvement in the market, not the first time it happens. Niculae will feel a bit awkward, as he’s 30, the league’s topscorer and still bitter for not getting a call-up when it really mattered for the national team, while Goga is coming for a second divison club where he was often attacked by the club’s officials for not giving 100%. In talks with FC Vaslui, apparently willing to move to Universitatea Cluj – pretty much a similar scenario to the one described above. So, we have just Dinamo’s striker really tested, one possible solution for what’s probably the weakest area of our national team…
This goes out to the security guards, the policemen, the honest workers that every once in a while get together to play in San Marino’s national team. They did it again on Wednesday evening, when offered the Romanian national team yet another chance of a fresh start, under the recently appointed head coach Victor Piturca. The match that ended with a 1-0 win for our national team was helpful for a lot of reasons and you can find some below:
- Showed us exactly where we are at this point: slightly better than one of the worst national teams in the world.
- Offered another strong reason to get rid of some of our “star players”, with Adrian Mutu and Gabriel Tamas excluded from the national team after returning late to the hotel from a few hours break offered by Piturca.
- Helped the always generous Banel Nicolita fulfill yet another dream, as he wore the armband on his 31st cap.
- Proved to Piturca that 75% of those called up to refresh the national team cannot play better here than they are doing at club level. What a surprise!
- Made the coach think very seriously about avoiding the same mistake done by his predecessor, Razvan Lucescu, who was called to rebuild the squad in the middle of a campaign and decided to defy the odds and fight for a qualifying spot, having to rebuild at the beginning of the next one, when he should have had the team ready to go.
You can find below the captain’s goodbye note, but I find very interesting some comments made by some Romanians involved in the game.
Ioan Sdrobis, one of Chivu’s first coaches: “He just proved that he’s not a man. He left the battlefield, in the middle of the war – he could have done this after the games versus Bosnia.”
Ioan Becali, Chivu’s agent: “I had no idea, but in the end we have to respect his choice. I think that his wife Adelina talked him into this.”
Gheorghe Hagi, legend: “He was an outstanding player for the national team and we have to be proud of what he did for Romania. I’ve known him as a person and as a player and I say with all my heart that he has my outmost respect.”
Not hard to tell the difference between a bitter old man, a greedy agent and someone who knows what’s it all about, right?
Here’s Romania’s squad for the vital game against Bosnia:
- Goalkeepers: Pantilimon (FC Timisoara), Tatarusanu (Steaua), Lung Jr. (Universitatea Craiova)
- Defenders: Sapunaru (FC Porto), Rapa (Otelul Galati), Tamas (WBA), Chivu (Inter), Goian (Palermo), Gardos (Steaua), Rat (Shakthar), Salageanu (Otelul Galati)
- Midfielders: Torje (Dinamo), Ropotan (Dinamo Moscow), Florescu (Alania), Alexa (FC Timisoara), G. Muresan (CFR Cluj), Deac (Schalke 04), Cocis (Karpati Lviv)
- Forwards: Stancu (Galatasaray), Zicu (FC Timisoara), Mutu (Fiorentina), Alexe (Dinamo), Marica (Stuttgart)
Calling four similar central midfielders – I was expecting to see Alexa called-up, especially after he was praised by Razvan Lucescu, who called him a “discovery and a plus” after the last friendly, when Timisoara’s captain scored a brace. For the record, the man’s 31.
CFR’s Muresan has also impressed, but in the last league game, against the bottom placed team, but it would definitely be strange to see him starting alongside Alexa. They’re exactly the same type of players. Slightly different – a bit more dynamic and with a small plus in going forward – are Florescu (who is now playing second division football in Russia!) and Ropotan, but, in any combination between these four, Romania will only be able to secure the central zone and build-up by directing the balls to the wide players. We’ll be organized, hard-working, but extremely limited when going forward.
The credit for out of form & squad players – Deac and Marica haven’t played for months, Ropotan hasn’t featured for Dinamo Moscow in 2011, Florescu went down with Alania. But, for Lucescu Jr., this principle applies just in some cases, not when there are players he likes in this situation. Then, it’s important to rely on pretty much the same group of players throughout a campaign, in order to be successful. Yeah, right!
Mutu’s return - it could seem that Lucescu’s looking for the team’s and the nation’s best interest, by calling up Mutu and forgetting what has happened in the past. He’s not, he’s just trying to save his position. He probably won’t. So, this is just a sign of desperation, from a weak man and just an average coach. A lethal combination for our chances to catch the next final tournament…
These are agitated days for the national team, with Razvan Lucescu under huge pressure from the public disgusted that the young coach blamed everyone but himself, for a start so poor that could compromise the entire qualifying campaign. Romania has two points from three matches and slim chances to turn things around, yet the Football Federation decided not only to defend its choice, but also to add two more years to the current deal and some extra cash, offering Lucescu Jr. a deal until 2014, paid with 375.000 euros per year! All this, in spite of the agreement that the coach will walk if he cannot get Romania to Euro 2012 and in spite of his obvious struggle to rebuild the team (the idea was to use the last official matches of the previous campaign to find new players and refresh the NT, but Lucescu preferred to take his long shot at landing the second spot in a group eventually won by France and Serbia).
This hard to explain support offered by Mircea Sandu and Ionut Lupescu has been balanced by the justified attack launched by the legendary Gheorghe Hagi, who played down the idea that Romania cannot get better results due to the quality of the available players. Very quiet until now, busy with running his excellent football academy, the former Barcelona & Real Madrid asked Mircea Lucescu’s son to step down, if he doesn’t have faith in the players’ ability anymore. Here are the most interesting quotes of their diallogue: Read more…
Razvan Lucescu has a problem. And if he has a problem, our national team has a problem. After making a bad choice when appointed – he decided to hang on to the very slim chances to qualify, instead of building a new team, based on his coaching philosophy, offering official games to the new faces and trying to integrate them into a new, fresh squad – he doesn’t know where to go from here. He realizes that he cannot fail in the campaign for Euro 2012, so he cannot start a team from scratch, with a lot of new names, young players and so on, but he’s also aware that counting on pretty much the same team that missed tournament after tournament will lead to his dismissal after the first couple of failures. So, he has just a few chances (friendly games) until the official kick off of the new campaign, to both find those new faces and also try to blend them into the national team. And he does what? Calls to the U23 nine players (out of 18!) from just one team, Otelul Galati! Wouldn’t have been a better idea to ask Otelul take a trip to Belgium and play a friendly against their U23, with Lucescu in the stands or, even better, at home, waiting for the DVD?
For those interested, here is “Romania’s U23″ for tomorrow’s game against Belgium, part of the “International Challenge Trophy”:
Goalkeepers: Cezar Lungu (Steaua II), Alexandru Pena (AS Roma Primavera)
Defenders: Cornel Rapa, Samuel Cojoc, Silviu Ilie, Cristian Sarghi (Otelul Galati), Vlad Chiriches (International Curtea de Arges)
Midfielders: Liviu Antal, Ionut Neagu, Laurentiu Iorga, Razvan Ochirosii (Otelul Galati), Sorin Stratila, Alexandru Stan (Astra Ploiesti), Vasile Olariu, Viorel Nicoara (Victoria Branesti – second division)
Forwards: Mircea Axente (Otelul Galati), Mihai Radut (International Curtea de Arges), Liviu Ganea (Astra Ploiesti).