Five rounds before the end of the season and during the weekend that most of Romania celebrates Easter – obviously, a sign from God for Gigi Becali – Steaua is crowned champion once again, after a very long wait, a period which exposed all the faults of Becali’s dictatorial regime. Nothing radical changed in his hands-on and loud approach, it was just one of those years when everything fell into place.
Steaua’s spine became finally strong enough. From the keeper Tatarusanu, through the complementary pair of defenders, Szukala (great in the air) – Chiriches (excellent on the ground), the warrior-captain Bourceanu and to the free scoring Rusescu, finding the ideal eleven was always easy for Laurentiu Reghecampf. Nevermind the problems at right back, the poor form of Tanase or the struggle to identify a reliable centre-forward, with Latovlevici’s energy from left back, Pintilii’s discipline in central midfield and Chipciu’s quick runs from the second line of attack, there was always too much quality for a mediocre competition like Liga 1. And for those who doubted and argued, biased or not, Steaua delivered in Europe beyond expectations.
I remember one of Reghecampf’s first games as a coach, as he came to Ploiesti with FC Snagov for a match in the 2nd division. Someone else was officially in charge of the team, but everyone knew that Steaua’s and the national team’s former right back was running things. So, at the end of the game, when he gathered around all the players on the pitch and sent them for a few laps, he was the one who had to deal with the irony of the few fans that stayed behind. “You should have made them run before the final whistle!”, they shouted, but the young coach didn’t answer then. He did it in the following years, helping Concordia Chiajna pull out a miracle and avoid relegation in the second half of the previous season, but also during his first campaign in charge of Romania’s best supported club. Because his players do run. And, if this can be assigned to his German fitness coach, nobody can deny that the team is well organized, moves the ball quickly, knows how to react when cornered and can interpret different tactics and scenarios because of him. Besides that, he won quickly the affection of fans and players and, even more important, had the needed diplomacy to deal with Becali’s changing mood and hands-on approach.
He might be hugely unpopular among the fans of every other team in the country, but a lot of them would secretly want someone like Steaua’s Mihai Stoica in their club. His return to the Bucharest club – although he once said that he’d rather live on the streets, like a bum, than work again with Gigi Becali – has ensured the following: the team and the coach had protection from the owner’s often brutal intrusions, as well as the attacks coming from the opposition and some of the journos. “Becali’s little brother” has seen the job done and his presence has surely influenced the club’s performance and results this season, for which he was ready to go all the way. At times, way beyond the boundaries of respect, fair play, common sense. Outrageous for the rival fans and neutral spectators, admirable for Steaua’s supporters, MM’s behavior spearheaded and eventually won the psychological battle that goes on during a season…
Speaking of arrogance and offensive behavior, the club was quick to announce years of domination in Romanian football, but, for the good of the game, the level of the league will somehow manage to rise again at a decent level. This season, it was all too easy, with Dinamo and Rapid tormented by changes and financial struggle, CFR Cluj focused only on Europe and mediocre in Liga 1 and Vaslui without direction and the usual ambition from their wealthy owner. Plus, there’s a huge amount of uncertainty at the moment for the new champions: Becali’s yet to decide if it’s wise to cash in on some names or really go for it in the Champions League; Reghecampf has impressed and wants to play hard ball with Becali, having offers from abroad on stand-by; a number of key players (Tatarusanu, Chiriches, Latovlevici, Bourceanu, Rusescu) are on the shortlist of better clubs for some time now; the recent appointment of Daniel Stanciu in the club has fueled the not so silent war going on when it comes to selling and buying new players.
This final point could be the cause for more harm to Steaua than any other Romanian club could produce next season, but at the same time this state of alert, the constant tension can lead to good things. Keeping in mind that everyone involved in it keeps the club’s best interest above their own. Which, to be honest, rarely happens, and not only in football…
- Gaz Metan Medias – Viitorul Constanta 4-1 (Bawab 4, 91, Llullaku 18, 31 / Chitu 39)
- CSMS Iasi – CFR Cluj 1-1 (Milea 56 / Rada 69)
- Astra Giurgiu – FC Brasov 3-0 (Budescu 20, Seto 40, Fatai 61)
- Rapid – Petrolul Ploiesti 0-0
- Otelul Galati – Pandurii Targu Jiu 1-0 (Iorga 87 pen)
- Ceahlaul – Steaua 3-4 (Gheorghiu 8, Golubovic 35 pen, Constantinescu 91 / Bourceanu 3, Rocha 10, Pintilii 12, Leandro Tatu 60)
- U Cluj – CS Severin 1-0 (Buleica 65)
- Dinamo – Concordia Chiajna 2-0 (Axente 86, Matei 94)
- FC Vaslui – Gloria Bistrita 1-1 (Sanmartean 95 pen / Bucur 2)
- Gaz Metan Medias – Gloria Bistrita 3-1 (Llullaku 31, Bawab 45, 60 pen / Antonache 34)
- Concordia Chiajna – CS Severin 1-1 (Ispir 18 pen / Fl. Costea 58 pen)
- Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt – Pandurii 0-1 (Matulevicius 28)
- CSMS Iasi – Rapid 0-1 (Cretu 4 og)
- Otelul Galati – Petrolul Ploiesti 0-1 (Bokila 80)
- Dinamo – FC Brasov 2-1 (Alexe 18, 33 pen / Paun 60)
- Astra Giurgiu – Viitorul Constanta 2-0 (Budescu 28, Fatai 71)
- U Cluj – Steaua 0-1 (Rusescu 34)
- FC Vaslui – CFR Cluj 0-0
Liga I resumes today, after another long break, but earlier than it was decided, in typical Romanian fashion. Another week might have helped some coaches that changed sides and might have allowed some new faces blend in better, although nothing really prepares you for the realities of our football…
A look at the standings shows there’s little movement to expect upfront, where Steaua feels little to no threat from a chasing pack that’s missing two traditional rivals, Dinamo and Rapid, both paying now (and in the next few years) for the poor management that has now come not only to affect their results, but even to threaten their survival.
5. CFR Cluj
A new record of points for Romanian football in the Champions League’s group stage created the perfect opportunity to cash in on some shrewd investments in foreign players. It was not nice to see CFR give up the fight with Inter in the Europa League and with Steaua in Liga I, but it was realistic and in perfect agreement with the club’s long term business plan, the same that made the Cluj side such an important name in Romanian football, in the last decade.
Rafael Bastos and Modou Sougou left for important transfer fees and the board was not desperate to spend, gambling again on unknown names from abroad, with Robert Maah looking so far good enough to step in and command a place in Paulo Sergio’s first eleven. The Portuguese coach was criticized for the number of defenders used against Inter, but I liked that he worked on a plan, adjusted to the type of players available and his ability will be put to the test until the end of the season, when a place in Europe is a must. Either through the league or the Romanian Cup.
4. Pandurii Tg Jiu
Probably the most entertaining team of the autumn season suffered two big losses: the top coach that’s Petre Grigoras (signed for Otelul Galati) and a top talent like Alexandru Maxim (transferred to VfB Stuttgart).
Ok, we are talking about a club free of financial trouble, who signed a good coach like Cristi Pustai, but I think Pandurii will settle for a European spot, if they can resist the temptation to give up easy points to some clubs in need… Two good moves on the market, with the midfield pair Anton-Predescu moving for almost nothing from the cash-strapped Gloria Bistrita.
3. FC Vaslui
Once aggressive on the market and very ambitious in the league, the club that always managed to finish on a higher position than in the previous year won’t be able to respect the tradition. Vaslui made no significant move in terms of transfers and decided to part ways with top goalie Daniel Coman, probably in an attempt to cut down the wage bill, losing at the same time a leader and a consistent performer. Not the kind of move a title contender does, but it seems that Adrian Porumboiu wasn’t bluffing again, when he stated he’ll try to distance himself from the club…
2. Astra Giurgiu
A wealthy, ambitious, and obviously controversial owner like Ioan Niculae has decided to give it a go this season, taking advantage of the poor season of the usual contenders for the European spots. All the good players stayed and the team is still ran by the caretaker and long serving coach Valentin Sinescu, but he should worry now that with the matches the dangerous TV sports shows will also resume.
10 points behind Steaua, Astra will probably be more concerned looking over the shoulder, as CFR and Vaslui still look stronger, at least on paper, and would definitely enjoy finishing second.
Both teams come after wins to nil away from home, but a way bigger challenge awaits in Europe, one that promises hefty rewards, but also threatens CFR’s and Steaua’s consistency in Liga 1, where both clubs are considered the main contenders for the title. If the Bucharest outfit started really well, the reigning champions have dropped points and also lost a number of good players and they’ll be heading into the most demanding part of the season with a tired, damaged team, hoping that the new signings will have enough quality to skip quickly over the period needed to adjust to a whole new environment. But, for now, both sets of fans will be thinking of Braga and Stuttgart and I’m sure that there’s also interest from Portugal and Germany, so here’s a quick look at the state of the two Romanian teams.
One word to describe it: inconsistent. The champions won on Friday away at Dinamo (1-0), but in spite of a solid start, struggled to keep the same pace and focus throughout and went close to conceding in the final minutes. Nothing new, really, look at the two halves from Basel and other league games when the defence fell asleep, with the entire team losing shape and balance. All this using pretty much the same starting eleven, due to the large number of injured players…
Basically, there’s unpredictability as far as the game is concerned, although coach Ioan Andone might try to surprise both Braga – the team’s first opponent from the Champions League’s group stage - and his team’s fans. Most likely, he will be gambling on either Sasa Bjelanovic (Kapetanos had some medical problems during the game vs Dinamo) or Luis Alberto, as only these two of the last additions are in good shape and have also been included on the list registered with UEFA. If Bjelanovic can only take the place of the Greek goalscorer, Luis Alberto will challenge Gabriel Muresan and Nicolas Godmeche for a place in front of the back four, with the Frenchman most likely to drop to the bench, in case Andone wants some fresh blood in midfield, where another substitution could see the talented but inconsistent Rui Pedro take the place of Diogo Valente, who’s yet to impress in CFR’s shirt.
A comfortable away win against newly promoted CSMS Iasi came at the right time, offering a boost of morale without asking for too much effort in exchange. Unfortunately for Laurentiu Reghecampf, who was in Germany to watch Stuttgart’s weekend game, left midfielder Cristian Tanase couldn’t finish the game due to some muscular problems. If the highly rated Romanian international can’t get to full fitness in time, there are two options to replace him: Paul Parvulescu, who also played at left back, can do the winger’s job, allowing Reghecampf to secure the flank, or Alex Chipciu can move on the left and do the exact same job as Tanase, given that he’s also a right footed wide midfielder who likes to cut inside – something he excelled at while playing for Brasov and also earned him the transfer to Steaua. In this case, Adrian Popa would take his place on the right side, adding a lot of pace and some decent skill, but no experience at all in such games. Either way, the Bucharest side, who managed this weekend to claim the first place in Liga 1 after two years, promises to test Stuttgart’s defense with a high paced attacking maneuver that this club had in its DNA, but no other coach had managed to activate it in recent years.
Position last season: 3rd place
Looking back at the club’s yet another tormented season, you could say it didn’t end too bad after all. As expected, Ilie Stan couldn’t finish the campaign and the very experienced and too humble Mihai Stoichita took charge towards the end, with the team showing glimpses of what could be done if everyone would mind his business. Last winter, some quality Romanian players were added to the roster, investments that could pay dividends this year, with the likes of Vlad Chiriches and Alexandru Chipciu already settled, but is it wise to predict that everything will go smoothly under the ownership of Gigi Becali – in spite of all the efforts of Mihai Stoica to protect the team?
Important transfers out: Geraldo Alves (central defender, key player)
I can’t understand how a player like Bruno Alves’ brother, experienced, solid & professional, can be released without a second thought. He played some excellent games in central defense & gave his best in other positions, when the team was in need, and – mark my words – he will be missed this season, when Steaua has decided to promote so obvious the pair Chiriches – Florin Gardos that simply forgot to take into account suspensions or, worse, long term injuries. Alongside Geraldo, the Bulgarian Valentin Iliev – who also provided good cover, making a couple of great matches along the way – was also released and Steaua signed an injured Doru Bratu, from Concordia Chiajna…
According to the Romanian media, Ilie Stan has one dilemma ahead of tonight’s game: who should play at right back? The first eleven looks something like this: Tatarusanu – Dananae or Martinovic, Chiriches, Geraldo, Brandan – Rusescu, Prepelita, Bicfalvi, Tanase – Tatu, Nikolic.
This spells big problems in defense and midfield! Steaua’s transfer activity, in spite of some good buys, like Chiriches or Chipciu, has proved once again the lack of someone with brains, influent enough to explain the owner on what (type of) players he should be spending his money.
Ahead of the first and most important match of the year, the coach realizes that Dananae, THE right back, isn’t fit and offers no guarantees right away, so the ONLY other option is to keep playing Martinovic, the guy he wanted to replace due to his obvious limits (especially when going forward). Chiriches and Geraldo will be playing their first official game together in the center, but they are intelligent and good enough to do well, while on the left side there’s a chance to see Brandan? Brandan, the natural left sided player, but who has been Steaua’s best central midfielder in the first part of the season? Nice!
And we move forward, in midfield, where on the right side, either it’s going to be Rusescu or Tatu (more likely), it means Steaua keeps on playing without a natural right midfielder and improvises with a forward. After a two-months long break, nothing has changed… A look in the middle? There is no Bourceanu (suspended), while Brandan should play at left back, so the pair that has done so well last year, the one that kept this team balanced, is now gone. The Prepelita-Bicfalvi pair will work hard defensively, but will eventually drop too deep, so all the threat Steaua will be able to pose tonight should come from the left flank – something Twente is definitely prepared to deal with.
Terrible planning by Steaua, really! I always thought that the winter break in Romania is too long, but looking at how the clubs work in this period, it looks now like it’s not long enough…
After Chiriches and Chipciu, who have already joined the club, Steaua has reached an agreement with FC Vaslui for Wesley’s transfer, but the Brazilian ace is not in a hurry to leave his current club, although the owner, Adrian Porumboiu, is sending some disturbing messages.
In a period expected for almost a year, when the transfer ban should finally be lifted, instead of a spending spree, Porumboiu keeps underlining his decision to retire next summer, looking eager to offload the highest earners and the best players, in order to reduce the costs to a minimum until the moment when he’ll be passing on the club to the local authorities. Wesley has two more years on his current deal – impressive by our standards – and is waiting for Gigi Becali to at least match the wages in order to complete what could be the hit of the winter mercato in Romania.
With the all time best foreign scorer in Liga I ineligible for the Europa League matches, it’s obvious that Steaua will try to push for the title in 2012, and the red and blue outfit is getting some positive signals from league leaders, Dinamo, who are having a hard time keeping Marius Niculae from nailing a last big contract abroad. In fact, the Top 3 teams (Dinamo, CFR Cluj and Rapid) are yet to make a move, with Universitatea Cluj, currently in 7th place, getting two important additions already.
Goalkeeper Mircea Bornescu – impressive in the handful of matches played for Petrolul, after his failed attempt to play in the Greek SuperLeague – and central defender George Galamaz – who left Steaua on a free transfer – will add experience and further strengthen a team that was looking good on paper anyway before the start of the season, but failed to impress in the league, staying quite far from the European places.
In the rumors section, we have Dinamo looking to sign Paul Parvulescu from Gaz Metan (they’ve been trying to do it for two years now…), but also Radu Barbu, a former U21 national team player who was released on a free transfer by… Petrolul, due to his below par performances. A name everyone uses when it comes to big clubs in need of a good striker is Costin Curelea, captain of Sportul Studentesc, who scored 3 goals for the team placed third from bottom.
Steaua seems to have some problems selling Iasmin Latovlevici for around 1 million Euros, heavily linked with Saint-Etienne by the Romanian media for a couple of weeks, and are yet to make a move regarding the Costea brothers, who are unsettled and unsettling for the dressing room. I expect Rapid to offload a few players, with Cassio Vargas, Iulian Apostol and Glauber Berti among the favorites, but they definitely need at least one good front man. There are some similar signals coming from Otelul Galati, with the president Marius Stan saying that they could have Unirea Urziceni’s faith. Obviously, that’s too much and it means that the club is preparing the fans for some important sales.
There haven’t been any rumors lately, but with Steaua in big need of a right back and Otelul willing to cash in on the best players, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cornel Rapa, half of year ago looking good enough for the senior national team, completing the Bucharest side’s impressive transfer activity…
Steaua parted ways with George Galamaz, the centre-back who moved on a free transfer to Universitatea Cluj as soon as the competition stopped, but the former champion with Unirea Urziceni makes way to one of the most promising central defenders in the country.
Vlad Chiriches had signed with the red and blue outfit for a few months and the fresh Romanian international has now completed his move from Pandurii Targu Jiu. He teams-up with a certain Florin Gardos, a player who was basically at the same level a few months ago, but will hope for better fortunes, as Gardos has failed to regain his place in the team, after an impressive debut season.
The second finalized deal involves Alexandru Chipciu, a 23 years old wide midfielder, something Steaua definitely needed, but there’s an interesting issue here: Chipciu has played the majority of his games on the left side, a place occupied by Cristian Tanase, one of the highest rated players in Ilie Stan’s team. Just like Tanase, he’s also right footed, and there’s no way he was bought to compete with Steaua’s number 10. That would mean that the club just paid the reported 1,5 million Euros for a player who is not used to play on the right side of the midfield? Wouldn’t be too surprised, but those who expect an instant impact from Chipciu should have the common sense to offer him some time to adjust…
Wtith over 2 million Euros paid for 2 players, one in an area that was very well covered, Steaua needs some more money to make the team competitive. There’s a desperate need for a reliable right back, with Ifeanyi Emeghara unrealiable, Novak Martinovic not gifted for the role and Gabriel Matei out injured for a long period. There’s nobody in the centre of the park able to either play box-to-box or show at least some playmaking ability. Pablo Brandan, who’s just a versatile left back is now in the position to pull the strings in the middle, with Alexandru Bourceanu very hard working, but limited on the ball.
In spite of all this, Gigi Becali is now very close to adding a new forward to a team that definitely doesn’t lack options upfront. But, if he indeed gets FC Vaslui’s Wesley, one of the best players in the league, it’s worth the extra investment. This is the sort of buy that can provide an instant return in terms of result, exactly what Steaua needs in order to have a chance to make up for the 8 points gap currently separating them from the Liga I leaders, their arch-rivals, Dinamo.
It’s a shame to see FC Vaslui out of the Europa League, really! They’ve done incredibly well in a very tough group, with the likes of Lazio and Sporting Lisbon and were in a good position before the last round of games in spite of the numerous problems that Viorel Hizo had to deal with this autumn. He never had something at least close to what you’d call an ideal first eleven, playing with an improvised back four and losing for the last three games one of his best players, but he still managed to go to Zurich for the last game without having to depend on what was happening on the “Olimpico”. Of course, if everything was going to be fine in Switzerland…
It wasn’t. Cerniauskas, the goalkeeper, had to leave the field injured in the first half. The outstanding Sanmartean resisted just until after the break, in a game Hizo had in the stands three regular starters suspended: Temwanjera, Papp and Wesley. It was simply too much for a team that has a transfer ban for almost a year and a small and very unfortunate squad. They’ve lost 2-0, but I think everyone should be proud of the club’s first ever European presence and hopefully the sometimes impulsive owner, Adrian Porumboiu, will have a good look at the big picture. It definitely doesn’t make you turns your eyes away!
Surprisingly, Steaua did a lot better, in spite of a more delicate position, as the Bucharest side was also depending on a good result managed by the already qualified Schalke in Israel, not just on the win against AEK Larnaca. In front of 50.000 fans, who are starting to forget that their boycott was provoked by a club owner who’s still there and getting behind the team once again. The fans’ defeat meant the team’s victory though and it was a vital one, as the Germans played their part, inspired by Ciprian Marica who scored his first goal of the season for Schalke!
After a nervous first half, Rusescu kept his cool and converted a penalty, but AEK struck back and things were looking bad for Steaua. Pablo Brandan’s quality and experience kept the team balanced though and Ilie Stan got all his subs right, although at least one of them came a bit late. A corner and a perfect counter were converted by Stefan Nikolic, the 22 years old striker loaned from Poli Timisoara netting a brace and sending Steaua in the European spring for the 9th time in the club’s history.
I wouldn’t say they were the better team, but there’s something about this club that often comes to the rescue and offers them that little plus that makes the difference between the Romanian sparring-partners and the Romanian clubs that every once in a while make it in Europe…