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…
It was all perfect back in 2012! Steaua dominated the league, a reminder of the good old days, and qualified for another European spring, having the
arrogance guts to take Ajax lightly and speak of the possible double with Chelsea in the Europa League. As January passed by without anything spectacular happening, other than the usual game of asking unrealistic prices for players like Chiriches, Tanase or Rusescu, things got hotter as the Amsterdam trip came into sight.
A huge betting scandal involving Laurentiu Reghecampf kept the media busy, as the young coach was placed at the heart of a possible fixed game that took place in the 1.Bundesliga, when he was playing for Energie Cottbus. It proved big enough to make the Bucharest side react “in style”, shutting down all access during the team’s second training camp.
As things weren’t bad enough, Steaua’s owner scored a hat-trick of legal issues in the past few days, as his name featured in three cases and at least one of them did some damage, as Becali received a 3-year sentence with conditional suspension of execution for trying to make justice for himself by forcefully retaining the people that had tried to steal his car.
All these issues seriously damaged Steaua’s image and it might have also affected the team’s morale and focus ahead of the first official match of the year. If they also diverted the attention from the on-the-pitch problems that Reghecampf had to address during this long winter break, the fans optimistic of having a strong chance to go through might have a few surprises on Thursday.
Steaua has defensive problems: at right back there’s a dilemma whether to use new signing Cornel Rapa from the off or still improvise with Alex Chipciu, the quick winger that had to cover the role a few times in the past; Lukasz Szukala, who would have probably started in central defense suffered, a broken nose during a friendly game and he’s out, so the central pair will be formed by Vlad Chiriches and Florin Gardos. Both are young and, judging by the recent unconvincing performances of the highly rated Chiriches, inconsistent. Should I also mention the indifferent form of starting goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu? Or move upfield and remind of the absence of Cristian Tanase – suspended – which has created little debate, but the right footed left midfielder will surely be missed.
Steaua still thinking of a double with Chelsea? At the moment, it seems more likely to happen in autumn, in the Champions League…
Romania kicks-off another qualifying campaign and Victor Piturca won’t have to resign in case he misses out on the tickets to Brazil. His goal is to make it to Euro 2016 – that what his contract says, if you believe it or not – and already some of the players say that it’s not vital to take six points from the first two games, versus Estonia and Andorra. Makes sense, considering there’s no real pressure to finally reach a final tournament…
So, quite relaxed, Piturca should be looking to find the right setup, so he can take the best out of the current set of players and, as I think the current 4-2-3-1 isn’t delivering, I’ll share my thoughts on how I’d see the starting eleven and best tactical setup, using a selection that should have included goalkeeper Dani Coman and attacking midfielder Lucian Sanmartean, both from FC Vaslui.
In goal, I’d go for Pantilimon, who has been training with some of the best players and coaches and has the brightest future of all. Lobont lacks competitive games and the kind of size that will be required at least versus Estonia, while Tatarusanu is so inconsistent that he’s a rotation player even at club level.
The back four poses another problem: who deserves to pair Vlad Chiriches in central defense? Luchin played in the center for Dinamo last weekend and could be a solution, but I’d go for Astra’s captain Valerica Gaman. Would have preferred a quicker centre-back or at least one with a lot of experience and ability to sweep any activity that might happen behind Chiriches, who’s very comfortable on the ball and loves to show it. This way, Luchin can return at right back, as I don’t consider Matel back to his best (and not sure that his best is national team material either).
I’m sure Piturca will pair Steaua’s Bourceanu and Pintilii in front of the defense, in a 4-2-3-1, but I think Pintilii is a natural anchorman and, just like Bourceanu, is more effective when operating alone there. That’s how he earned his first call-ups, that’s how he got the chance to move to Steaua from Pandurii. And I’d prefer him instead of Bourceanu, who’s a hard working guy, aggressive and all, but more limited in terms of vision and timing, vital attributes at this level.
In front of the only anchorman, three dynamic attacking midfielders would push back Estonia and keep its’ defense and midfield very busy, with Tanase and Torje in their favorite positions and the in-form Alexandru Maxim deployed in the central attacking midfielder role that lacks solutions in Liga 1 at this point. He’s great on the ball, mobile, works well on tight spaces and should not miss from Romania’s starting eleven tonight. With an option for the number 10 position, I would have left on the bench Torje and started Maxim on the right side instead – he’s definitely playing better these days!
Upfront, I’d go for a pair of strikers. Definitely! Marica lacks the qualities to play alone upfront, he’s a second striker, useless when forced to play with the back at the goal and to challenge for high balls, sent from the defense or from the flanks. Niculae is this type of player, able to win balls, hold them up, create spaces and also finish and I’m sure Marica and Romania as a team would benefit from his presence on the pitch. It would finally make sense to develop the play on the flanks and go for the cross when opportunities appear…
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…
“I said no to a written offer of 6 million Euros”, said a cocky Gigi Becali a week ago, so you can imagine the prices he’ll dream of and offer to the Romanian media now that Vlad Chiriches, the 22 years old centre-back, appeared on Milan’s radar. But even Becali’s fantasies shouldn’t be a problem if the Italians will be looking for Thiago Silva’s replacement, considering the huge transfer fee paid by PSG for the
unavailable Brazilian. The question is: can Chiriches step in and do the job of one of the finest central defenders in the world?
Let’s have a look at the stats: he’s got 68 appearances in Liga I – not the most challenging in Europe – and only 29 of them for a club that challenged for the title (and lost). To compare, Udinese’s Gabriel Torje had collected 125 matches in the top flight by the age of 21, before moving to Serie A (and failing to impress in the first season). Ignored most of the time by Romania’s youth national teams, he had recently earned his place in the senior team, collecting 6 caps under two different coaches. Ok, he’ll be playing there for many years to come, but apart from these matches he can only add to his international experience 2 other games played with Steaua in the Europa League.
Now let’s have a look at the player. If his name came up in Milan’s search for Silva’s replacement, it’s because he’s got a good age and is the type of ball-playing centre-back that can solve difficult situations with elegance and also start the build-up from the back.
And he’s from Romania and he shouldn’t be that expensive. The truth is, Chiriches has a technical skill that’s beyond doubt and has determined different coaches to use him with confidence both as right back and defensive midfielder, but his place is at the heart of the back four. He’s mature and assured and has impressed with his response to the biggest challenges of his short, but promising career, enjoying the big matches and displaying an impressive confidence against stronger and better opponents. In my opinion, he still needs to gain in strength and he can have problems against very quick strikers in the first five meters, but usually his positioning sense and ability to read the game avoid embarrassing situations. He’ll use both feet, which is a big plus, and is good, but not perfect in the air, and might also have a fight on his hands while playing against a big fellow, that’s why the intense work in the gym is a must, in order to become a more commanding figure at the back.
Now that I’ve offered a positive response to the question from the title, we can only ask ourselves if a Romanian version is enough for Milan and what’s the latest figure in Becali’s mind: 10, 15 million Euros? It’s also interesting to note that Cosmin Contra recommended Chiriches to Getafe recently. Contra who played for Milan as well…
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.
This club should have been playing in the second division, based on last season’s results, but yet another compromise from the Professional League allowed Pandurii to take International’s place, following a deal that saw numerous players, plus the technical staff to move from Curtea de Arges to Targu Jiu. 10 rounds gone and this “2 in 1″ team occupies the last place in the standings, with just one win out of ten games, already 5 points away from the 14th place that guarantees salvation, of course, unless Pandurii will find another way to dribble through the so called laws of the game.
The two weeks break was make or break time for the board, who decided to release the young & promising Ionut Badea – who was linked with a job at Dinamo, in spite of his position in the standings! – and handed over the team to a more experienced coach like Petre Grigoras. Known for his ability to make his teams play attractive football, Grigoras comes after a difficult period, as he had to stay away from the game for medical reasons, and takes over one of the ugliest teams in the league. Pandurii were a tough nut to crack especially under CFR’s current coach, Sorin Cartu, nicknamed Sorinaccio for his ultra-defensive style, and Grigoras will be seriously tested by a roster divided in two groups of players: those who had played for Pandurii last season and the 16 that came this summer, from International.
The new coach will get to know the team in a five days training camp in Antalya, with the exception of two central defenders, Chiriches (selected in Romania’s U21) and Viera (called-up for Cote d’Ivoire’s match in Burundi), and has the biggest challenge in getting the team’s strikers in shape, as only Apostu scored so far (a brace, in Pandurii’s single win of the season), with the likes of Stromajer, Adrian Iordache and Antohi looking useless, unable to take advantage of a decent midfield, which contains decent players like Voiculet, Ilie Iordache, Orac and Bacila.
- RICARDO CADU - CFR Cluj
- GEORGE GALAMAZ – Unirea Urziceni
- Mihai Pintilii – International Curtea de Arges
- Octavian Abrudan – FC Brasov
- Sergiu Costin – Otelul Galati
My view: The top two teams in the league offer the top two centre-backs in this analysis, which is fair, given the fact that in Romania destroying the opposition’s game is the main task of most of the clubs. Cadu‘s main asset is the leadership and the abilty to step up and deliver in the most crucial moments, while Galamaz is, for two years now, the most consistent Romanian centre-back, a very commanding presence indeed and a player that has kept on working and improving. International’s Pintilii is a nice surprise – it’s his first season in Liga I – and I remember him being offered to Steaua two or three years ago .
My choices: Just missing out on the top five is another International defender, Vlad Chiriches, who I consider to have a nice future ahead of him and I dare to put him in line with Universitatea Craiova’s highly rated Valerica Gaman. Sarghi from Otelul and Papp from FC Vaslui are two other interesting Romanian defenders, so we can say that at least in this area we do have some players coming from behind.
Note: the top five is taken from Gazeta Sporturilor, a newspaper that uses the service of Digital Soccer Project. These results are based on a series of specific criteria for each position, include only players that have collected at least 1.200 minutes on the pitch in the past season and the only subjective part of the analysis consists in the average marks received by the newspaper’s writers.