Appreciated for his football knowledge, eye for players, ability to ease Gigi Becali’s harsh words into Steaua’s dressing room and especially protect the club from outside attacks, Mihai Stoica received a deserved warm welcome at his return from Unirea Urziceni. The chaos within the club packed with Becali’s relatives and obedient professionals was going to end and Steaua was going to at least leave the impression of the most professional and well organized club in the country. Not to mention look like it has a strategy for more than the current season and all the mercato activity will turn into profit and sporting success, something everyone witnessed at Unirea.
The winter break arrived and there are some strange things going on at the Bucharest side, who gave up easily on the experienced Bulgarian midfielder Angelov and the prolific Greek centre-forward Kapetanos (who, for the record, spent part of last summer in South Africa, enjoying some World Cup football), considering their wages too high and that the squad provides enough quality replacements. Two debatable arguments, as 250.000 Euros/season isn’t a big salary for a title contender/Champions League team wannabe, while the use of the mentioned alternative solutions will make the bench look short and unreliable.
Even more strange is Steaua’s approach when it comes to buying players, with the first important signing a highly rated right back, you’ve probably never heard of, if you’re leaving outside Romania. No, it’s not Otelul’s Cornel Rapa, available for under one million Euros, who recently made his debut for the senior national team and is topping the standings at club level, showing impressive consistency at the tender age of 21, having played for 90 minutes in all the 18 games of the season. We’re talking about Gabriel Matei, also 21, who will only be taking Rapa’s place in the U21 and is hoping to avoid relegation for his second consecutive season in Liga I. A player with a total of 33 matches at this level, which determined Steaua to pay an incredible 600.000 Euros and promise Pandurii either 20% of his next transfer fee or another half of million Euros. Of course, the kid, who will continue to fight to avoid relegation until the summer, is tipped for greatness, but I invite you to put your imagination on hold for a second and look at it like a piece of business:
1. How often Romanian clubs manage to sell a player for over 1 million Euros?
2. Why did Steaua rush to finalize the deal now, if the agreement states that the player will stay Pandurii for the rest of the season?
3. What could have raised Matei’s value until the summer so highly, that a deal would have become impossible under the current terms?
4. Wouldn’t have been as many chances to see a possible increase from a few more U21 caps compensated or even outdone by a possible relegation from Pandurii, at the end of the season?
Linked with clubs like Newcastle, Eintracht Frankfurt or Brescia, all summer long, Dinamo’s top scorer from last season is very close to a move to 2. Bundesliga. According to the Romanian media – with the reports confirmed with discretion by the player himself -, Karlsruhe offered around 400.000 Euros for a one year loan, having the option to make the deal permanent for one million Euros next summer, and the Red Dogs have every reason to accept such a bid:
- The veteran Ionel Danciulescu returned from Spain, Marius Niculae is the team’s captain, while the young talented Alexe, Torje and Liviu Ganea need to have maximum of exposure this season, hoping that the high-scoring games will get them on the score-sheet often enough to get the much craved attention from abroad.
- Cristea comes after his best season in Liga I in terms of efficiency, having scored 16 goals in 27 appearances, and it’s unlikely to repeat such a feat.
- He’s not the most popular player in the squad, since he realized close to the end of last season that he needs to think about himself rather than the team, working hard to end the previous campaign as the league’s top scorer. His attitude didn’t change during the summer break and he was involved in an incident two rounds ago, when he insisted to take a penalty, even though the team’s specialist, N’Doye was on the pitch. Read more…
Very close to a deal with Hercules Alicante a few weeks ago, Dinamo’s first choice at left back for years ended up on Getafe’s shortlist as well, which determined the newly promoted club in Primera Division to renew its interest and close the deal. One that sees Cristian Pulhac move on loan for one season to Hercules, in exchange of 400.000 Euros, with the Spaniards able to complete the transfer next summer and exted the player’s contract for three more seasons. The attacking full back was on Esteban Vigo’s wishlist, the same coach that had asked the club to get him another Dinamo player, Danciulescu, and had no problem releasing the striker without explanation or warning, after one good season. So, Pulhac shouldn’t get too comfortable in Spain, but the taste of real football could give him an idea of what he’s been missing while feeling so well underachieving in Romania, wasting his own time and talent.
As my friends from Twitter (rbaicu) already heard, Ionel Danciulescu signed a two years long deal with Dinamo, after a surprising release from Hercules. “Danciu-goal” refused a very tempting offer from the newly promoted club FCM Targu Mures, who offered a fabulous 250.000 Euros per year plus 70.000 Euros upfront, hoping to catch one more European adventure with the Red Dogs, before ending an oustanding career in Liga I.
With him in the squad, Dinamo has to options: either loan once again one of their young forwards, Liviu Ganea or Georgian Paun (this one has the biggest chances), or sell one of the big names: Andrei Cristea or Marius Niculae. With Cristea too expensive at 1,5 million Euros for interested clubs, like Newcastle or Brescia, Dinamo could be tempted to accept Karabukspor’s 500.000 Euros for Niculae, who is also one of the highest earners at the Bucharest side and has been looking for his best form for the past year, without any luck.
Fourth place last season wasn’t that bad, considering the poor quality of the team and the huge conflict between the fans and the club’s owner, but Gigi Becali realized that he needs to change not for Steaua’s sake, but thinking about the lost money in recent years, where he dictated everything at the club, making a mockery of what still is the team with the biggest fan base in Romania. That’s why he accepted Victor Piturca’s conditions, including the toughest of all: keeping his big huge mouth shut. The former national team coach took up the manager’s role – Premier League style – supervising the training sessions conducted by Eugen Neagoe, former Pandurii coach, bringing back former Steaua players and offering them jobs in the youth academy, installing Emerich Ienei (the man that brought Steaua the biggest European trophy in 1986) as club president, getting the fans back in the stands and behind the team. He did so many important things for the club that missing out on the title this season shouldn’t matter that much. But I’m sure this is unacceptable for the ambitious Piturca…
Players in: Stanislav Angelov (central midfielder, 32, Energie Cottbus), Iasmin Latovlevic (left back, 24, FC Timisoara), Cosmin Matei (central attacking midfielder, 19, Farul Constanta), Geraldo Alves (central defender, 30, AEK Athens), Yordan Todorov (right back, 29, Lokomotiv Plovdiv), Novak Martinovic (central defender, 25, Pandurii), Alexandru Pacurar (central midfielder, 29, Pandurii), Razvan Stanca (goalkeeper, 31, Pandurii), Florin Gardos (central defender, 22, Concordia Chiajna), Dorel Stoica (central defensive midfielder, 32, El Ettifaq), Mihai Radut (central attacking midfielder, 20, International Curtea de Arges), Octavian Abrudan (central midfielder, 26, FC Brasov).
Players out: Arman Karamyan (forward, 31, released), Artiom Karamyan (left midfielder, 31, released), Petre Marin (left back, 37 , Unirea Urziceni), Zhivko Zhelev (central defender, 31, Inter Baku), Gora Tall (central defender, 25, APOP Kinyras – loan expired), Pepe Moreno (striker, 29, Independiente – loan expired), Pawel Golanski (right back, 28, released), Stelios Parpas (central defender, 25, AEL Limassol), Ovidiu Petre (central defensive midfielder, 28, Al Nasr), Alexandru Tudose (central defender, 23, Gloria Bistrita), Juan Toja (left midfielder, 25, Aris Salonic).
Massive changes in Ghencea, where Piturca wanted and had every reason to create a new team. Among the rare important losses is Ovidiu Petre, but the manager had on the anchorman role his favorite player already lined-up, Dorel Stoica. For the rest, he went on to bring on a mixture of young & promising players like Radut and experienced guys like Angelov, which proves that his goal is building a new squad, without sacrificing this season’s trophies at stake. Interesting fact, Steaua relies on the same forwards from last year, even though Pantelis Kapetanos doesn’t seem to fit the lone striker’s profile preferred by Piturca, which means that Bogdan Stancu should enjoy the best season of his career and start fulfilling his potential. But what if he doesn’t or gets injured? Back to the Greek one more time? What does this guy has to do – this year, against all odds, got to play in the World Cup! – in order to start a season as the number one choice for the centre-forward role?
- Coach: Victor Piturca (new)
- Preferred system: 4-1-4-1
- Ideal first eleven: Tatarusanu - Emeghara, Abrudan, Geraldo Alves, Latovlevici - Stoica - Nicolita, Radut, Angelov, Tanase - B. Stancu
- Reliable subs: Stanca (goalkeeper), Pacurar (central midfielder), Szekely (right winger), Kapetanos (centre forward).
- Key player: Dorel Stoica. Able to play in central defense, the 32 years old was convinced by Piturca to sign for Steaua, even when the manager wasn’t sure that he’ll return to Ghencea. Deployed in front of the back four, Stoica has the ability and the experience to protect not just the back four, but also the “front four”, as the line of midfielders will have to think how to open up the opposition’s defense, not be afraid that a missed pass or a miscontrolled ball could expose their own defense. In his own half, Stoica will win balls in the air, shut down channels, anticipate the midfielders looking to drop into space, but once Steaua regains possession, he will organize the build up, draw the back four as high as possible and eventually pose a threat with his long shots, especially from free kicks.
- Underrated player: Pantelis Kapetanos. The Greek isn’t a pleasure to watch, I agree, but he’s been a very prolific scorer even when Steaua was playing miserably - I wonder what he could do in a team that has superior possession and creative midfielders able to increase the number of scoring opportunities. His presence at the World Cup will keep him out of the team in the first month, but once “Kape” is fit, Stancu’s age and (unfulfilled) potential won’t be enough to keep him in the first eleven, ahead of this modest, hard-working and effective front man.
- Liability: Ciprian Tatarusanu. Promising, definitely gifted, looks to me like the kind of keeper that will need to turn 30 to be really something. But I might judge the guy a bit too hard and based mainly on last season’s performances, when Steaua’s defense was a joke.
What to expect:
A serious title challenge from a club offered by its clown of an owner to a very ambitious manager, Victor Piturca, who changed absolutely everything at Steaua and now it’s only a matter of time until the results will show that this is the way to run a successfull team. It will be hard to win the title right away, mainly because the league changed a lot in recent years and this isn’t just an affair between the Bucharest sides, but the fact that all the other title contenders point towards Steaua when asked who’s the favorite proves that the name still weights enough to crush the clubs that only recently enjoyed the sweet taste of success.
- Tempted to move away this summer, Muresan agreed to a new deal with the champions that will expire in 2015! The anchorman played a key role in CFR’s first eleven since his arrival from Gloria Bistrita, showing excellent work ethic, leadership and quality on and off the pitch. Paid until now with 80.000 Euros per season, almost five times less than what Sixto Peralta was getting for playing as a rotation midfielder, Muresan probably will receive a salary in the region of 150.000 Euros (a couple of good offers from abroad paid dividends), but the official details of his new contract have not been released.
- Unirea Urziceni signed the veteran full-back Petre Marin, from Steaua Bucharest, who gets a two years long deal, in spite of his age! The 36 years old leaves the red and blue outfit after six years of consistent performances and basically gives the green light for Pablo Brandan‘s move away from Urziceni. Marin will be followed to Urziceni by his former colleague, Adrian Neaga, who terminated his contract with Neftci Baku and was also recommended to Ronny Levy by Mihai Stoica.
- Astra Ploiesti made the first two signings of the summer, showing that Steaua’s former manager, Mihai Stoichita, is really close to take over from Marin Barbu. Pierre Ebede, a 30 years old keeper from Cameroon, has been transferred from AEL Limassol, while the Bulgarian Atanas Bornosuzov comes from Litex Lovech to strengthen a team that will aim to finish in the top half of the standings next season. According to several press reports, the two should be followed in the next few days by the likes of Zhivko Zhelev (released by Steaua this summer), Mihaita Plesan (out of favor at Steaua, available for 100.000 Euros) or Stelios Parpas (available for 100.000 Euros)
Well, this is, more or less, what I expected. Although Lucescu Jr. seems determined to stick to a 4-4-2, the players selected, the trained&tried moves, the ability to switch from a defensive approach to a very offensive one during the game, all speak of a team that is finally working on a style, while adding the needed new faces. And the coach deserves credit for that. For his mistakes, he will always pay, look at the decision to field Lobont (out of form and severely lacking match fitness – please forgive the Football Manager language!), but this is a period when we can afford them, as long as we’ll be looking to fix them in the near future.
Anyway, in spite of the three goals, we look pretty good at the back, with Chivu pushing the line upfield and both centre-backs composed on the ball, helping the build-up. We have Goian and Galamaz in stand by, we’re rock solid there, Rat is in good shape and Sepsi – a promising reserve. But we still need a keeper and also an alternative to Maftei, on the right. Read more…
It’s a six months loan deal, but Dinamo’s forward stated today that he hopes to impress and earn a permanent move in the winter, which shows that Bratu wants to make it there and isn’t just looking for some time away from Romania. In spite of his medical problems from last season, Bratu is a classy player, a forward who likes to drift wide and cut inside, preferring always a placed shot instead of a powerful finish.
Litex could get their hands on another experienced and good Romanian player very soon, as FC Brasov’s left midfielder Catalin Munteanu is currently between a move to Bulgaria and a return to Dinamo, with Ioan Giovani Becali taking care of negotiations.