Position last season: 1st place
CFR was one of the least impressive champions in recent years and I would rate the team below the likes of Unirea Urziceni and Otelul Galati, considered huge surprises when they won the league, although they did possess two vital attributes: physical preparation and tactical discipline.
Brought to avoid what looked like a probable poor end of the season, Ioan Andone didn’t manage to take more out of the team than his predecessor, Jorge Costa, the former fierce FC Porto defender. The squad looked old, slow, predictable, lacked style and impressive performers (Greek striker Pantelis Kapetanos would be the exception from the rule), but somehow the most effective team in recent years in terms of winning trophies managed to add another title to its’ ever growing cabinet.
Important transfers out: Beto (goalkeeper, key player), Sixto Peralta (central midfielder, key player)
Beto was in Portugal’s squad for Euro 2012 only as a backup, but he was the only player from Liga I present at the final tournament, and CFR couldn’t extend the loan from Porto for a second season. It’s a blow they’ve covered with another Portuguese goalie, but they’ve lost a player used to be part of a winning team with one that barely avoided relegation with FC Brasov.
Peralta’s another big name and, in spite of the criticism he got sometimes, I still consider him the midfielder with the best vision and intelligence that has been seen in Liga I in recent years. Slow and not too sharp from the physical point of view, the Argentinian was an asset for CFR, who tried to get rid of him – or at least his big salary – in the past too, but realized back then that it would have been a mistake. One that they’ve made now, probably, not just by releasing him, but by failing to add to the roster a central midfielder capable to organize the build-up by looking forward, not backwards or sideways.
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…
The Red Dogs spent the winter with their noses in front of a group of at least four other teams convinced they can fight for the title until the very end and have started the year with an important win, 2-0 against Gaz Metan Medias. The club made a bold decision by renting the National Arena for this match (Dinamo’s average attendaces at home have been nothing short of embarrassing) and the players and the fans had a really good first meeting which could pay dividends for the rest of the campaign.
7 players have left the club this winter, but only 2 departures could have an impact on the first team: Zie Diabate, the starting left back, was sold to Dijon, and the promising (for a few years now) Liviu Ganea was allowed to move to a rival like CFR Cluj, as the young forward was refusing to extend a deal that was going to expire in the summer.
Last season: 1st
Squad quality: Average
Key player: Gabriel Paraschiv
Hot prospect: Laurentiu Bus
Strengths: Teamwork / Work ethic
Weaknesses: Lack of firepower / The presence in the Champions League’s group stage
The champions have a slim chance to win another title. Although the Supercup (1-0 against Steaua) showed that nothing changed with Dorinel Munteanu’s team in terms of players, tactics and hunger for success, the Champions League will surely affect their concentration in Liga I and will leave its mark on a reduced roster. Plus, the bigger clubs will make sure that Otelul will not pull another stunt like they did last season, when their title chances were rated at 67/1 by the bookies.
Keep an eye on Laurentiu Bus, a small attacking midfielder who already decided the Supercup with a very nice goal, another one of Marius Stan’s top signings from the second division, but expect Otelul to suffer when they’ll be missing the impressive veteran Gabriel Paraschiv.
It might not be a winning season for Otelul, but it will surely be one to remember!
Last season: 3rd
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Wesley
Hot prospect: Razvan Neagu
Strengths: Squad cohesion / Quality attackers / Hunger for success
Weaknesses: No winning pedigree
Since Adrian Porumboiu took over the club, FC Vaslui finished every season in a higher position and I have to say that the tradition has every chance to be respected. The club has been banned from signing new players and this brought a stability that should help them not just in Europe, but also in the first part of the season, when they’ll be matched only by Otelul and Dinamo in terms of team cohesion. If something goes wrong, Vaslui could fix it anyway, as the wealthy owner will have a chance to prove himself between the 10th (when the transfer ban will end) and the 20th (last day of summer mercato in Romania) of September.
The team relies on an excellent attacking trio formed by Wesley, Adailton and Lucian Sanmartean, but Romanian youngster Razvan Neagu, who had an off-year in his development, impressed in pre-season and might add something upfront.
Last season: 4th
Squad quality: Very good
Key player: Danut Coman
Hot prospect: Sabrin Sburlea
Strengths: Top competition within the team / Crowd support at home
Weaknesses: Inconsistent form when playing away / Completely reshaped midfield
Razvan Lucescu returns at club level, after an experience with the national team that should serve him well. Last time he was in charge, Rapid recorded the best ever performance in Europe, but now the club will give it all for a title that, if it has a chance to return to Bucharest, than this is the best equipped club of the “big guns”.
Rapid lost some quality players like Costin Lazar, Juliano Spadacio and Marius Constantin, but they’ve made good moves on the market, adding the likes of Alexa, Apostol and Deac, all national team players, without spending much. They might need some time to gel, but they’ll be very difficult to break down, will remain a force at home and, with more consistency, they could be going all the way.
Last season: 5th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Ciprian Tatarusanu
Hot prospect: Raul Rusescu
Strengths: Top defense / Club stature
Weaknesses: Huge pressure / Lack of support at home
It was all looking good for Steaua, after the arrival of Ronny Levy, but the Supercup showed exactly the same team that disappointed last season. Well organized at the back, but lacking creative midfielders and prolific forwards, this club has big chances to disappoint once again, especially after the decision to abandon the stadium that has recorded basically every success achieved by the red and blue outfit.
Ciprian Tatarusanu might play his last season for Steaua, as he should move abroad soon enough, and I’ve decided to “gamble” on Rusescu (yet another transfer from the dead and buried Unirea Urziceni), as I consider Florin Gardos more of a certainty, after his excellent first season in Liga I.
Last season: 6th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Gabriel Torje
Hot prospect: Cristian Balgradean
Strengths: Top quality in the last third
Weaknesses: Lack of support at home / Inexperienced coach / Poor teamwork
The club lost contact with the fans, had a summer in which Liviu Ciobotariu (finally confirmed as head coach) looked like he was preparing the team for another coach and will start a season without the same hunger for success. There are problems in the board and the players often look to be playing for personal success only, hoping for moves away that obvious talents like Gabriel Torje or Marius Alexe are yet to complete.
In spite of its strike force, Dinamo should struggle with the same fragile defense and a very thin midfield line that will be lacking steel and ability to protect the unreliable back four.
Last season: 10th
Squad quality: Good
Key player: Ricardo Cadu
Hot prospect: Sergiu Bus
Strengths: Ambition to succeed again / Quality midfield
Weaknesses: Lack of cohesion
CFR had a terrible season, but finally looks once again eager to fight for the league. They have in Jorge Costa an ambitious coach and the sort of person that can dominate a dressing room disrupted in the past couple of season by the Portuguese legion. It’s still there and with a number of new faces, but the key is to get team captain Cadu in the right state of mind.
CFR doesn’t look at all short in terms of quality and quantity, but the team might need a couple of months, if not more, to gel and become a force. Of course, if the club made the right moves on the transfer market…
P.S. You should also check this interview, to have a better overview of the league, ahead of the new season.
FC Vaslui’s title hopes suffered a blow yesterday, when Adrian Porumboiu’s club dropped two points against Astra Ploiesti and lost contact with the first two teams, FC Timisoara and Otelul Galati.
Timisoara had no problems in putting three past Unirea Urziceni, while Otelul’s controversial win away at Victoria Branesti ignited a huge scandal, with the skipper Gabriel Paraschiv scoring from an offside position a late winner to grab all the points and stay on top of the league, with two rounds left to play.
Vaslui ends another season without a trophy and it’s a delicate moment for the club’s ambitious
owner sponsor, who had hopes as high as the wages paid to important players like the Brazilian pair Wesley – Adailton or Slovakian goalie, Dusan Kuciak.
Porumboiu and Timisoara’s owner, Marian Iancu, launched an attack not just towards Otelul’s experienced president, Marius Stan, but also towards “dark forces” they have failed to identify.
“They’re trying to show us that anyone but us could win this league”, stated the two, but this is a theory they too have to struggle to understand. The fact is that we’re close to a poor season, marked by the mediocrity of the title challengers and the numerous decisive mistakes made by the referees thoughout a year to forget that will be followed by yet another set of disappointments in Europe.
With two rounds to go, it’s going to be either Otelul Galati or FC Timisoara, as the two teams will meet ,on Sunday evening, on the leaders’ turf in what looks like the league’s Final. Unfortunately, before thinking of a potential match winner within the two teams, it’s wise to wait and hear the referees’ names. It might be there, among the officials…
…and we’re off! We’re strating with a game decided even before it took place, but we’re off! It has been an interesting winter in Romania, with some important moves on the market. Steaua and CFR Cluj cashed-in big time on their most promising players, Bogdan Stancu and Lacina Traore, with another very good forward by Liga I standards, Ribeiro Moraes, leaving Gloria Bistrita and the country. Even though we haven’t seen any outstanding signings, this should be a very interesting second half of season, with the first division perfectly divided in two categories: title contenders (yes, CFR Cluj, currently in 8th place, still hope to win the league!) and relegation candidates. We have no mid-table teams, a category that should be defined during next month, when we’ll see who had either their hopes or fears killed in the first couple of matches.
Otelul kept all the players, which might look good and show ambition, but this was the perfect moment to profit from the rise of Cornel Rapa, the 21 years old right back who’s now an option for the senior national team. They might not get the best price in the summer, unless the excellent physical preparation and tactical discipline from the first half of season will deliver until the end. The league leaders have been discrete as always on the market, signing a second division player and a rather unknown Serbian centre-forward, Bratislav Paunosevac, who could make an impact considering that Otelul lacked options upfront last year. And also generate some profit from a future sale – a trademark buy for the experienced president, Marius Stan. Although they managed to get three points already, Dorinel Munteanu’s men are expected to struggle, with all the stronger clubs taking measures, which translates into extremely motivated opposition in every single game and some dodgy refereeing when it matters. Would be a real surprise to see them holding on until the end…
Undefeated in 18 matches, The Viola will start losing games, as Dusan Uhrin Jr., who returns as a coach, for the fans’ delight, has been asked to take a different approach – try to go for wins and push for a league title that’s in reach. As usual, Timisoara signed a lot of players, releasing the always over-rated Hristu Chiacu and loaning to Urziceni Ioan Mera, a centre-back that would have had little chances to feature, considering the competition. The experienced Sorin Ghionea was signed on a free transfer, with Nikola Ignijatevic coming from Red Star Belgrade to cover for Sepsi’s imminent departure. Tosaint Ricketts is expected to add pace upfront, something badly missed after Timisoara sold Gigel Bucur to Kuban Krasnodar more than a year ago. This is a solid team all over the pitch and a real title contender, although they miss the players and the coach who can cope with a level of pressure that will increase with every round.
Looking at the club’s activity on the market, you might get the wrong idea. The club released Burdujan (forward), Pancu (attacking midfielder), Hugo Luz (left back), Haisan (goalkeeper) and punished severely the Brazilian Gerlem (left midfielder), all of them useful players, who could have helped at least as reliable backup solutions, and couldn’t sign a single name, given the transfer ban that will expire only in June 2011. Still, the old dog Viorel Hizo should be satisfied both in terms of quantity and quality, while these departures could make those who stayed and are a bit more confident about their places in the team to act more responsible and focus on delivering what would be an outstanding and, given the recent investment, a deserved achievement for Porumboiu’s club.
In some games, they have played excellent football, looking very strong especially at home, where they simply lay siege on the visiting teams and eventually break them, with the support of one of the hottest crowds in the league. Unfortunately for them, the away form remains a problem at Rapid, no matter the quality of the team or the name of the coach, it has to be down to mentality. I was surprised to see that the club didn’t adress the squad’s biggest problem: adding another quality striker, as the Brazilian Cassio delivers only at home and the talented Sburlea’s too inconsistent and yet to turn into a poacher. They’ve released a few players – Cesinha could have turned some games around! – and signed three players that should add even more strength and quality in defense (the Bugarian international Vidanov) and midfield (the Brazilian Olberdam and the fans’ favorite player, Daniel Pancu). They’re very strong, but the 10 points gap demands from Rapid exactly what they’ve missed in the first half of season: consistency.
Last weekend, we’ve reached the halfway mark in Liga I, but, with a schedule that makes absolutely no sense to me – two more rounds will be played before the winter break – it’s time to take a quick look back at the 17 rounds gone.
The title race
With Otelul Galati ahead of everyone else, you can imagine that things didn’t really go as planned for the usual title contenders. The Bucharest clubs failed to do better than in the past couple of years and they’re quite a long way back, with Steaua, the only Romanian club still involved in an European competition, sitting in 7th place! Reigning champions CFR Cluj are even in a worse position and, with so many clubs eager to do better in the second half, it’s hard to see them fighting for more than a place in Europe.
Although both made the same call as CFR and changed the coaches that had prepared and started this season, FC Timisoara and FC Vaslui have definitely been more inspired and successful. Timisoara remained the only undefeated club in the league, while Vaslui suffered only one defeat in the last 11 rounds (against Timisoara!), winning eight times thanks to the team’s offensive quality and a bigger dose of luck than the rest of the pack.
Basically, Otelul‘s excellent run and Gaz Metan‘s fifth place repay the clubs that had a long term project, were satisfied with a slow, but steady growth in recent years and faith in their coaches, even when things weren’t looking bright, showing that it’s not all about the money spent on an over-priced Romanian market, the foreign players offered for free and the buys from abroad based on highlights presented on DVD, usually by the respective players’ agents!
The relegation battle
The reunited “mad bunch” from Sportul Studentesc failed to deliver more than a few entertaining matches and the bottom placed club wil probably go down mainly because the owner is satisfied to see good individual performances from the players he is hoping to sell. Unlike the rest of the struggling teams, Sportul’s players will never be desperate to get a result, an attitude easy to find in clubs like Victoria Branesti or FCM Targu Mures.
If Victoria keep faith in the young coach that won promotion last year, Ilie Stan, who doesn’t look at all out of his depth in Liga I!, Targu Mures and Pandurii are in good hands, after a poor start. In fact, Targu Mures could struggle to start 2011 with Ioan Ovidiu Sabau still in charge, as he’s considered one of the best choices by CFR’s board, as the champions are looking for the right guy to take over the team, during the winter break.
As expected, FC Brasov and Unirea Urziceni, who had suffered massive losses in terms of quality players, are down there, but they’ll put up a fight until the very end, even if top players like Chipciu (Brasov) or Maftei (Unirea) are likely to leave, as well.
What to expect
As you can see, we have no mid-table clubs, with CFR secretly dreaming of a spectacular come-back in the title race and Universitatea Craiova, who, right after Piturca’s appointment, dared even to speak of the title!, only three points away from the danger zone. With everyone still very much in it, it’s impossible to predict what is going to happen in 2011, but here’s what I think it’s pretty vital to change and what’s important to stay the same at the clubs fighting to win the league.
- Do: sell the players in demand! Rapa’s market price has rocketed and will only go down from there. The title isn’t a realistic goal for Otelul and a place in Europe could be achieved without one or two of the current regular starters. Plus, Marius Stan can buy a whole new team with a million Euros!
- Don’t: dare to think of the title. The other clubs have the money and means to make sure this won’t happen!
- Do: make a call regarding the coach, as Contra should either hang up his boots and focus on the new job or leave it to someone else. It’s been going well until now, but enthusiasm and good fortune don’t last forever.
- Don’t: keep on buying from Dinamo! It has become a
suspectstrange habit in recent years…
- Do: get back the injured defenders or buy new ones – it’s vital to find some balance within the team
- Don’t: keep on playing Wesley as a central midfielder and keep on using Burdujan
as a winger.
- Do: decide if you want the title or not; offer Lazar and Bozovic new deals; buy a new striker
- Don’t: act like amateurs; allow Rui Duarte or anyone else to skip training and leave the country without severe punishment; act like amateurs!
Gaz Metan Medias
- Do: offer the excellent coach Cristi Pustai a new deal; buy another striker; go for the chance to play in Europe next season
- Don’t: further unsettle Eric de Oliveira, you’re going to lose him anyway!
- Do: sell Torje, Adrian Cristea, Alexe – they’ll bring a lot of cash; get rid of Niculae, N’Doye, Scarlatache, Bordeanu, Moti – they’ll save you a lot of money and spare further embarassment; respect Danciulescu.
- Don’t: keep on using the old methods! You’re doing serious damage to this league and will continue to play in front of just a few hundred fans!
- Do: try and keep as many of the current players
- Don’t: act upon Becali’s mood and “knowledge”; lose the fans once again
- Do: sell all those that have spent too much time in Cluj and consider themselves more than just players; decide the club’s strategy before choosing the coach
- Don’t: think about the chance to win the league