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Can a tough season help Chiriches toughen up?

July 21, 2013 Leave a comment

1 and a half seasons with International Curtea de Arges, 1 and a half seasons with Pandurii Targu Jiu, 1 and a half seasons with Steaua – even statistically, it looked like this summer was the right time to move for Vlad Chiriches. Without a doubt the best and most exciting defender from Liga 1 and one of the very few Romanian players gifted with enough quality to make it big in the near future, the 23 years old is “on the verge” of a transfer abroad for more than six months now. Not sure if he knows it, but this is the biggest (mental) challenge of his still young career. Linked with several important names, including AC Milan, Chiriches started another season with the Romanian champions. Not a bad situation, after all, especially if the red and blue outfit qualifies for the Champions League group stage and looks likely to defend the title, but the “what if” syndrome takes full control of Romanian young talents who dream of a (big money) move abroad as soon as the media publishes the first transfer rumors.

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“What if they’ll stop following / wanting me?” “What if I get injured? *knocks on wood* “What if I will never get this chance again?” Usually fueled and speculated by the agents, these questions torment only Chiriches, at this point, with Victor and Giovani Becali obeying orders received from behind bars, where their cousin, Gigi, will spend at least 3 seasons. Sorry, years. Although the quick selling of topscorer Raul Rusescu to Seville hinted that Steaua decided to cash in this summer and get the money to keep going from selling its best players, a change of strategy appears to have taken place and now Steaua gives everything to reach the group stage of the Champions League and the millions that come with this performance. The bad thing for Chiriches (and Tatarusanu, Latovlevici, Bourceanu and others…) is that there is no rush to sell and the centre-back carries a 8 million euros price tag that managed to scare away even the interested Russian clubs.

Intelligent and realistic enough, he knows he’s not worth that kind of cash. And it’s not only because of him, things might have been different if he would have been a national team player of Croatia or Serbia, not Romania… The problem is he’s now trying to live up to his asking price, at least this is what I saw in his first official games of the season. Which weren’t bad, far from it, but looking close enough you could see him desperate to stand out. A ball playing centre-back, Chiriches has also been used in the past as a full back or in central midfield (hints that he does lack the physical structure for his natural role?), but the problem is that he now looks determined to try a 3in1 role, pushing forward with the enthusiasm of an offensive fullback when he’s not stepping up from the back to dictate play from a deep position – bonuses to his defensive work in central defense.

Yes, the opponents barely posed any questions to Steaua’s defense so far, but this type of approach will soon backfire. You can see him misplacing passes in dangerous positions, you can see him gone missing from the area he was supposed to defend, you can see him (this is something new) easily unsettled by an aggressive striker who dares to hassle him. He is the elegant, ball playing centre back who can run from the back, go past five players and find the top corner of the net, the kind of rare defender maybe worth the 8 million. The problem is that Chiriches is that player once every 10-15 games and, in order to make the step abroad (my bet is Steaua will never get that money), he needs to be ” just” an excellent defender, very good on the ball, who doesn’t put the team at risk, for 10-15 matches.

In fewer words, he has to focus and focus on the right things. To improve where he needs to, not to become better at what he’s already good enough. To keep working and pushing himself now, when all seems too easy, and to enjoy himself when he moves on. And to find some patience and self confidence. That moment is just a couple of million Euros away… :)

Wesley Lopes, best foreign goalscorer in Romania

October 7, 2011 7 comments

Wesley celebrating on "Olimpico" alongside the man with the last pass, Adailton

The Brazilian ace needed just one goal to break the record established by the Albanese former international Sulejman Demollari, who had scored 36 goals in 100 matches played for Dinamo Bucharest between 1991 and 1995. Wesley scored a hattrick instead, in the 5-0 away win at CS Mioveni, doing all this in style, something he never lacked since his arrival in Romania two and a half years ago.

With 1,5 million Euros paid to Leixoes, FC Vaslui was making this one of the signings that were going to confirm the club’s intentions to keep on improving, aiming for matches in Europe, as well as internal trophies. So far, they only managed to break into the Europa League group stage, stunning Lazio on “Olimpico” with a 2-2 draw in which Wesley himself got both goals. But Vaslui, who every year managed to finish in a better position than in the previous season, look now only two steps away from the league title, after a 3rd spot well deserved in the previous campaign.

With Wesley flanked by Lucian Sanmartean and Adailton, behind a powerful lone striker like Mike Temwanjera, Vaslui certainly boasts the most powerful attack in Liga I and these guys have made up so far for an incredible amount of injuries that has affected the team’s defense. Games versus Lazio or Sparta Prague have shown that they can afford playing a 21 years old striker like Ionut Balaur at centre-back, yet avoid defeats, and the mentioned players also deserve praise for their approach and willingness to track back and give a hand in defense.

Wesley himself, as the team’s skipper, has been an example, but he certainly is of more help this season playing as a central attacking midfielder, after almost an entire year spent as a central midfielder with playmaking duties performed from deep, in a 4-2-3-1, a role that hasn’t kept him from netting an impressive 14 goals.

Still, it was a mistake the experienced coach Viorel Hizo found the strength to acknowledge and the Brazilian has now 7 goals in 9 Liga I matches, using to full service his exceptional eye for a goal, composure in front of the keeper, precise heading ability and simply amazing knowledge of attacking an empty space inside the box at just the right time.

It’s all in Pantilimon’s hands now – not a bad situation for a goalkeeper, right?

August 7, 2011 4 comments

After Bogdan Stancu’s 6 million Euros move to Galatasaray in the previous winter mercato, another Romanian club is involved in a major transfer deal this summer, as Costel Pantilimon moves to Manchester City in a loan deal with an undisclosed buying clause in 2012, depending on his season with the Citizens.

"Gulliver" gets his shot to make it. Big deal for the big lad, but not necessarily for Politehnica Timisoara too...

Ok, Stancu’s move was fishy, because he was probably worth half that sum, but we would have not moved a muscle if Pantilimon’s transfer fee/conditions were made public. It was Manchester City, the mercato champions of recent years… The surprise of an undisclosed fee was even bigger, as Politehnica Timisoara was also involved, a club that used to impress with its transparency being partially financed by the city’s local council. Put this two together and add the information that Udinese was ready to sign Pantilimon this summer in a permanent deal and you’ll get the image of a deal that would have made City’s sheik look like they’re running out of money. Or, even worse, start to look a bit cheap!

Timisoara’s usually vocal owner, Marian Iancu, limited himself to the following announcement: “The club still co-owns the goalkeeper, as we aim to earn as much as possible from his transfer. The longer it takes to complete the deal, the more money we’ll be making and we’re talking in millions.”

Basically, it is all in the hands of the big lad who was impressing only in size at second division outfit Aerostar Bacau, six years ago. Timisoara’s current number two, Gheorghe Chivorchian, who used to run another club from Bacau, FCM, decided to “splash” 50.000 Euros, at Gheorghe Hagi’s request, but apparently made what now looks like a very costly mistake when negotiating the deal: accepted a 30% sell on clause, which might just be one of the reasons Timisoara makes the transfer to City look so complicated and mysterious.

The Viola outfit probably got lot less from Manchester than what Udinese was ready to pay upfront, but certainly puts its hopes in Pantilimon’s chances to fulfill his potential at a top club. Problem is, Roberto Mancini doesn’t like to rest his number 1 and a look at the previous season shows that England’s number one played 38 games in the Premier League, but also 8 in the FA Cup and another 9 in a Europa League campaign that would have made Harry Redknapp put the gloves on himself, in an attempt to avoid fatigue and injuries to such a vital member of the squad.

So, does Pantilimon really have a chance to impress and earn Timisoara more money in his one season loan with an undisclosed buying clause? I guess not, but on a personal level he should definitely benefit, training with the best and entering a regime that will do him more good than 100 more official appearances in Liga I.

He still needs to improve his ability to deal with high balls, yes, at 2,02 m, Pantilimon has “a short leash” and his focus needs to be a lot better, which is something a bit different than his desire to deliver in the big games – see the excellent performances for Romania on “Parc des Princes” or for Timisoara in the European ties against Shakthar Donetsk and, no coincidence, Manchester City. He wasn’t always convincing for Timisoara in Liga I, which lead to a lost battle with Steaua’s Ciprian Tatarusanu for the number one spot in Romania’s national team in the last year, so this transfer comes at a possibly critical moment of his development. If he goes up or down from here, it’s all up to him, but I reckon the decent/hard working goalie will keep his feet on the ground, the eyes on the ball and catch this big chance, not palm it away.

Steaua makes the second most expensive signing in the club’s history: Mihai Costea, from Universitatea Craiova

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Mihai Costea will have problems coping with the pressure that surrounds the Bucharest club...

Gigi Becali didn’t learn a single thing from the 2009 deal that saw Cristi Tanase move from FC Arges to Steaua, in exchange of an incredible 1.8 million Euros, for just 50% of the player’s rights! Tanase has been a huge disappointment so far, in spite of glimpses of quality, like the Anfield display, when he scored against Liverpool, in the Europa League, but that doesn’t stop the Bucharest side make a second, very similar deal.

Yesterday, Becali announced that in a matter of days the smaller of the Costea brothers will join Steaua in the summer. The transfer’s details: 1.4 million Euros for 60% of the player’s rights! Becali said that he initially tried to get Florin, but in spite of a 3 million Euros offer, Craiova’s owner refused to sell, as the deal would have angered the fans. In fact, this is probably a strategy to calm them down anyway, with a third hot prospect joining a Bucharest club, after the other two former U21 players, Valerica Gaman and Stefan Barboianu, now playing for Dinamo.

Does Mihai Costea, who scored only 2 goals in 20 appearances this season!, deserve such an impressive investment? Definitely not. Do you expect to sell him for what? 4 million Euros? Another detail that doesn’t click: looking at the standings and knowing Universitatea’s financial struggle, there was absolutely no rush in concluding the deal now, not to mention the lack of competition for Mihai Costea’s signature! Why not wait until the summer, then, when Craiova might be below the line and with a bigger pressure to sell?

Well, selling Stancu to Galatasaray for 6 million Euros (only half goes to Steaua, the other half wil fill the agents’ pockets) might have something to do with Becali’s “generosity”. In my opinion, though, this deal is definitely related to the “liasons” that make the ball bounce strangely in some matches and Romanian football just a fascinating game, amusing if watched from the right distance, but scary at every approach. With no clear financial rules, no relation to the other European markets and just a firm belief that every player that gets to start a Liga I game should deserve at least one million Euros. But, there’s saying: stupid is the one who pays, not the one who asks…

A Portuguese answer to a Romanian problem: if you’re good enough, you can skip training!

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Rui Duarte (left), not showing his "I love to skip training" shirt

It’s not news anymore, but it’s another interesting story, which says a lot about the game in Romania and the struggle to behave like professionals. Rui Duarte arrived in Romania from Estrela Amadora back in 2008, when, thanks to CFR’s rise, it was not just trendy to buy players from the Portuguese market, but also the almost guaranteed way of adding quality to the roster, without spending a lot of money. It was cheaper to buy from a mid-table team playing in Liga Sagres than from a newly promoted squad in Liga I or even a second division club, the lack of common sense and realism when it comes to discussing a transfer fee being still an issue in Romanian football.

For less than half a million Euros, FC Brasov managed to buy the player that went on to establish himself as the best right back in the league, an award claimed on a regular basis, year after year, and the move to one of the Bucharest clubs made perfect sense, from this point of view. Those who like to look at football as a business, where players are getting paid to work like almost any other professional out there, have always looked at Rui Duarte from a different perspective, though. The Portuguese full-back had developped a habit of returning late for almost any holiday, but this was overlooked, as FC Brasov was considered a mediocre team, with no quality backup solution to take a stand against this practice, and, for some reason, Rui Duarte would have stopped acting like an amateur  once he had made a move to a truly professional club. Like Rapid? Neah, it doesn’t fit the profile, although we’re talking about a title challenger. Rapid is 11 (eleven) days away from the first official game of 2011 and what does the board do? Organize a trip to Portugal, to convince Rui Duarte to return to the club! After missing the entire winter preparation, he is kindly asked to come back and make every single team-mate look like an idiot, for wearing themselves out for two months, to secure a place in the first eleven. Something Rui Duarte doesn’t have to do not because he’s an excellent player – by the way, he’s not! -, but because he got some interesting results to the repeated tests conducted on the guys allowed to run first division clubs, either as board members or as part of the technical staff. They are always ready to make a compromise, yet never understand why the lack of professionalism is such a common disease even at Liga I players, either homegrown or signed from abroad. The thought that it might be actually their fault probably never crossed their rested minds…

Ribeiro Moraes Junior to Metalurg Donetsk!

February 11, 2011 1 comment

Gloria Bistrita’s president admitted that today the two clubs agreed terms and, with the player’s father at the same table – the discussion took place just outside the pitch that hosted today one of Gloria’s friendly matches! – we can say it’s a done deal already. Metalurg will pay 1.2 million Euros, taxes included, and makes this the best ever deal done by the Romanian club, considering that, a year ago, Gloria was paying 20.000 Euros to secure the player’s services! In the meantime, the Brazilian striker produced excellent numbers, with 18 goals scored in 32 appearances, in the two halves of seasons spent in the white and blue outfit, playing for a rather mediocre team.

Ribeiro Moraes Junior needed just one year to prove that he's too good for this league!

A complete forward, Ribeiro Moraes Junior has a nice combination of skills, being able to score with both feet, with his head, through well-placed free-kicks. He can link-up play upfront, play as a second striker or even alone upfront. Bistrita’s number 10 looked destined for a move to Steaua this winter, especially after he signed a contract with Ioan Becali, but the Bucharest side never met Gloria’s asking price, trying to bargain and losing, in the end, a very, very good player, at least by this league’s standard.

It’s an excellent deal for Metalurg, as well, nevermind the paid fee, it should generate good results on the pitch and even some profit, after one or two seasons, and it speaks about the club’s progress, considering that the last forward bought from Romania was the never outstanding Ciprian Tanasa, signed in March 2009, who has a record of 13 goals in 45 matches and turned 30 this year…

Pantilimon and Tatarusanu, defeated! Grahovac is the best keeper in Romania, after half of season

January 6, 2011 2 comments

Grahovac: 9 clean sheets in 18 matches, 78,95% of the shots on goal saved!

It’s that time of the year and Andrei Vochin, probably the only football journalist in Romania who writes and speaks just about football, starts providing the standings with the best players from Liga I, after the first half of season. And it’s no surprise to see up there, as the best keeper in Romania, Otelul’s Branko Grahovac, who managed to keep a clean sheet in half of the 18 games played so far. He is protecting the goal for the current league leaders and he was on the podium at the end of last season too, so the 27 years old, bought for 70.000 Euros exactly one year ago from Borac Cacak, has every right to feel good about this “award” and point the finger at the media that cannot stop praising the likes of Tatarusanu (Steaua – 6th place in the standings) and Pantilimon (Poli Timisoara – 11th!): “This is based on stats, not sympathies, so it means I’m better than those two. I agree, Tatarusanu is Steaua’s best player, but I cannot understand how can Pantilimon be the first choice for your national team!”.

Far from perfect (still prone to the odd incredible goal-causing error), Grahovac should thank not just Otelul’s defense, but the entire team, as Dorinel Munteanu asks the same involvement from every player in protecting the goal and getting the ball back. And wouldn’t look bad at all, if he’d show a little modesty, even if he came to Romania to make money, not friends.

Plesca (Gaz Metan – who did a great job covering the absence of Buchta, who was the best keeper in the league, last season!) and Kuciak (FC Vaslui) are just behind Grahovac in the Top 3, who shouldn’t feel too comfortable in this position if he looks to what happened with the keeper that was leading the standings last winter, Robinson Zapata, who spent on almost a year among Steaua’s reserves before leaving the country on a free transfer, not on a high horse…

The rise and fall of Marius Niculae

January 5, 2011 1 comment

Cristiano Ronaldo and Marius Niculae, back in 2001

Made his debut in Liga I when he was only 15, but already looked equipped to take on stronger opponents, thanks to his father, a former European Champion in judo, who took really good care of the young Niculae. The fact that Sensei Constantin was also a fitness coach with Dinamo also helped, but the young centre-forward soon repaid all the confidence with his constant development. Five years later, in the summer of 2001, he was on his way to Portugal, as Sporting Lisbon was impressed with the 20 years old who had finished the season as the league’s best scorer, with 20 goals. So impressed that they paid a total of 5.3 million Euros, a fee that included a 1.7 million Euros installment fee that should bring back some good memories to the Becali brothers and some of Dinamo’s shareholders…

Under the command of Laszlo Boloni, Niculae was surrounded by top players like Mario Jardel, Joao Pinto and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the fairytale ended a few months later when he suffered a nasty knee injury, which kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. The strong kid, who was ready to take on any opponent, never regained full fitness nor the bravery that had made him famous and – as a friend from the football world once told me – had raised his market value to 10 million Euros, an asking price available at that time for any interested club.

The centre-forward was going to leave Portugal on a free transfer, with a record of 14 goals in 59 appearances, and rejoin Boloni, with the coach willing to offer him a second chance, but unable to save a career that was going to register another two free transfers, to Mainz and Inverness, in the following years. A season high of eight goals in the Scottish top flight finally determined a club to pay something for the player’s services. It was his first club, Dinamo, who came up with half of million pounds and the same old plan. He was going to be the leader of the team, he was going to have all the support to score goals in double figures – Dinamo is an expert in “polishing” players for expensive exports – and he was supposed to help the club at least make some profit, if achieving sporting success is something that the red and white club fails to do for years. Unfortunately for him and Dinamo, the 12 goals scored in 2008/1009 were followed by one and a half seasons of mediocre football and a string of rumors that linked him to exotic destinations. One in particular looked interesting, but Boloni failed to convince Al Wahda to pay one million Euros for a front man who scored 7 goals in his last 36 matches, as part of probably the most offensive team from Liga I.

This winter found the player in a mess. With half of this season’s matches started on the bench and a wage that’s a problem for the club, Niculae is again ready to go. To China, on a free transfer, obviously, where Beijing Guoan are ready to pay 30.000 Euros/month until his next move. Which could be hanging up the boots, unless someone comes to his rescue. The Romanian press immediately thought of the same old Boloni, who just signed for Lens, but Niculae, now 29, is too old to be still living in the world of dream-moves and way too far from his best form to think that he could swap Liga I for Ligue 1. He should be more concerned about saving money rather than hopeful of saving his career…

Eric de Oliveira, very close to a move to 1. Bundesliga

December 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The Brazilian has been the best player from Liga I in the first part of the season and Gaz Metan’s efforts to keep away the interested clubs would have been admirable, if they would have tried to offer their star player a better deal, rather than lie about his real contract situation. The board, represented by Ioan Horoba, who previously worked for Gloria Bistrita – only the most controversial club in the country, in the past two decades -, offered the press a version nobody went to the trouble of verifying, so it has been said more than once that Eric was bought from Metropolitano and signed a new five years long deal. Of course, that wasn’t true, but the player’s agents minded their business and continued to work on finding a new club for the Brazilian, who should have returned to Metropolitano, next summer,  unless no other club (except Gaz Metan) would have triggerred a release clause of 350.000 Euros – way below his current market value.

According to Eric’s agent, he’s 90% close to a move to 1. Bundesliga and, considering a detail he shared on Twitter, the three possible destinations are: Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Hannover 96, a club I used to work for, which I believe to have the right profile for the Brazilian and viceversa…

You can read more about the player here and here.

 

Transfer analysis: Rapid Bucharest

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

The return of Dinu Gheorghe as club president offered Rapid the opportunity to buy the best players from his former club, who had only missed out on a place in Europe in the previous season. Further more, the new executive guy went over the transfer and wage budgets, with some free signings and expensive deals (Cassio Vargas was bought for 700.000 Euros from Portugal), trying to ensure that the coach has every position doubled and there will be a fierce competition for a place in the first eleven. It was the kind of effort that every coach and passionate fan would like to see, yet the fourth spot occupied at this point by Rapid shows that signing twelve new players in the summer cannot guarantee instant results.

Rapid should be thanking Jesus for finding such a good player on a free transfer...

Best transfer

Name: Marcos Antonio
Position: Central defender
Age: 27
Games/goals this season: 18/1

Recommended by Rapid’s former striker, Daniel Niculae, now at AS Monaco, the Brazilian centre-back was signed on a free transfer and has been a rock at the back. Impressive physical strength, focused, he’s been outstanding so far and doesn’t really look like someone who stayed away from the game a year ago, when he was busy winning the fight with cancer. With offers coming in already, from Russia and Greece, he could turn out to be an excellent deal from all points of view.

Worst signing

Name: Cassio Vargas Barbosa
Position: Striker
Age: 27
Games/goals this season: 16/7

Before you call me crazy, let me help you take a look at the good stats from above: he scored in just 4 games, was decisive in only two of them (the brace that decided the derby against CFR Cluj and earned a point against Pandurii), never scored away from home, not to mention that most of his goals were from close range. So, it was a decent return from a striker who could easily double this tally by the end of the season, yet I feel he could have been a lot more influential, which is usually expected from an expensive buy. His total lack of efficiency away from the home ground – where he just has to wait for one of the many quality box that reach the penalty area – can be seen in the standings and it’s something he and the coach must address during this winter break.

Winter mercato

Rapid cannot afford any important operation during the winter, when they’ll probably try to get some cash, as I don’t see the club determined to go all out for the title – a “strategy” used in recent times by a lot of clubs, which only lead to inflation on the market, absurd wages to mediocre players, all in the name of a possible chance to get all the money back after a shameful presence in the Champions League group stage. The pressure is on the board, who must: choose between the two top goalies, Bornescu and Coman; get as much money possible on players in demand, like Herea or Marcos Antonio; either cut loose the top players that will enter the last six months of their deals or give up on high earning reserve players and come up with convincing proposals.

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