Buying the Liga 1 topscorer? Not such a good idea…

We might not be 100% about the name of the league winner, considering the fact – and it’s a fact now – that Gigi Becali is such a poor loser that he contested Viitorul’s win and we’ll be expecting from Lausanne a confirmation that FCSB was simply poorly managed and coached and had a bunch of over-paid under-performers instead of a team. But it will come.

What we know for sure is the name of Liga 1’s best scorer in 2016/17: Azdren Llullaku. The Albanian re-invented forward has netted an impressive 16 goals playing for Gaz Metan Medias, a small club that finished the regular season in the play-out zone. What’s also impressive is that Llulaku did all this in half of season, which also got him a contract with Astana.

Now the less impressive stuff: no other player from Liga I managed to at least get close to him, with six more months to play against mostly mediocre opposition. Bud (CFR Cluj), Chitu (Viitorul), Cristea (Iasi), Nemec (Dinamo) and Alibec (FCSB) finished their season with 11 goals. Chitu was the champions’ best scorer, while the experienced internationals Nemec and Alibec fought until the last round for the title. Pathetic return. It speaks volumes about the lack of both real quality and consistency, about the rather chronic inability to play positive, attacking football in Liga I, even at the very top. There are facts to back this up, just think about the last quality no 9 produced by this competition. What’s the first name that springs to mind?

One can also argue that even topping the goalscoring charts in Romania isn’t such a feat. Basically, it offers no guarantees. Let’s leave aside Llullaku, although his record so far (1 goal in 16 appearances for Astana) would only offer the most recent proof of my argument, and let’s have a look at what happened with previous 5 top scorers from Liga 1:

2015/16: Ioan Hora – 19 goals for Pandurii – Hora signed for Konyaspor, who had finished 3rd in Turkey’s SuperLig and was looking to strengthen the team for their Europa League campaign. The Romanian – same profile as Llullaku, a winger who suddenly found his scoring boots when asked to lead the line in a counter-attacking team – struggled badly in his first season; never a starter in the league, scored just once, a useless 90th minute goal in a 3-0 home win, 3 rounds before the end of the season. He proved more useful in Cup games though, scoring twice, but also converting a penalty in the final’s shootout, after he came on the pitch in the 119th minute…

2014/15: Gregory Tade – 18 goals for CFR Cluj – Immediately signed by Steaua, in a classic Becali move, Tade struggled badly in a team that requires a case study, being the most feared and respected by opponents, often superior and always attacking, but so rarely able to produce a prolific 9… Anyway, the French striker only netted 4 goals in 24 games played in Liga I, a return very similar to the one produced in his first season with CFR. But patience is not a virtue you can find in Bucharest and Tade had to endure some rough treatment before he was able to move away and he only found a deal with Qatar SC, under the command of another Romanian coach..

2013/14: Liviu Antal – 15 goals for FC Vaslui – Another prolific winger, another one season wonder. Sold again to Turkey, like Hora, Antal scored once in nine games for Genclerbirligi. Quickly dispatched firstly on loan to Beitar and then to Hapoel Tel Aviv, netted a total of 5 goals in Israel’s top flight for the two clubs, in two seasons. Hapoel was also left with the option to send him on loan and after two halves of season with Pandurii, Antal found again a decent club to sign for: CFR Cluj. His stats this year? 7 appearances – 0 goals.

2012/13 Raul Rusescu – 21 goals for Steaua – Steaua’s last forward to finish first in the goalscoring chart was subject of a surprising and exciting move – at first – in the summer of 2013. Sevilla paid a hefty fee for him, but Sevilla was desperate and Rusescu’s summer smile was gone after a couple of months of more quality signings from the Spanish outfit, who played him just once and sent him on loan first to Braga (5 goals in 13 games) and then to Steaua (4 goals in 21 appearances). Now with Osmanlispor, Rusescu just finished a poor season, after a rather promising start in 2015/16, when he netted 9 goals in 24 appearances in the league.

2011/12 Wesley – 27 goals for FC Vaslui – The Brazilian was a hit; probably the best foreign player to have featured in Liga I. Scored 7 in 16 in his debut season, 12 in 31 in the second, 13 in 32 in the third, before being crowned the league’s top scorer in 2012. But he was not a 9, he was a gifted 10 who, at times, under some clever coaches, played even in front of the back four. His quality though never affected his output and, after 61 league goals in 113 appearances for Vaslui, the ageing Brazilian went to Al-Hilal, scoring more goals, but also a deserved big contract.

Everyone is weaker as Liga I restarts today, but Becali’s club could be this season’s biggest loser

February 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Razvan Marin left the surprising league leaders Viitorul, second placed Steaua lost two key players in Popa and Tosca, while Craiova parted ways with team captain and regular left-back Vatajelu, managing to resist attempts from abroad for their highest asset, Ivan. Heavily weakened from the chasing pack comes out Dinamo, who sold Rotariu and Lazar and finally parted ways with Gnohere, all three attacking men that will be difficult to replace in a team that is yet to be sure of its place in the playoffs, with former champions Astra knocking at their door, in spite of all the torments that probably would have killed any other club by now.

liga-1-standings

From a sporting point of view, everyone comes out weaker from this long winter break, considering that only Steaua had – as always – both the money and desire to re-invest, bringing in a lot of firepower in Alibec and Gnohere, two physical strikers who promise to brush aside weak and deep defensive lines, but who could need time to adjust. Leaving aside their proven quality in the league, shall we try to go back until we find a regular scorer for Steaua in the no 9 role?

The competition will be weaker, no doubt, but the teams that will make it into the playoffs should attack the final stretch of this league that suddenly became interesting again for European clubs from fairly even positions. There’s a lot of ambition in Craiova, but their coach has rarely managed to keep his team (and often his own job) for an entire season, in spite of often very promising spells. Gaz Metan was the surprise package of the first part of the season, but they’ve lost their main scoring threat and the insolvency that will keep them from playing in Europe is anything but good motivation to keep going.

But what about Viitorul, who sit in first place and don’t have an owner capable of messing with the coach’s head, Hagi covering both roles and maybe regretting he’s not able anymore to offer himself some minutes, at least at the end of games that might need a magic left footed touch. Well, they’ve done the right thing by letting Marin go and fingers crossed for the midfielder’s success with Standard Liege, as the Academy’s products really need some good advertising abroad. Hopefully, another youngster will take Marin’s place, although signing Nelut Rosu (who had shown some promise, but that was more than a year ago and playing for a side fighting against relegation) looks a lot like the acquisition of Purece whom Hagi promised to get to national team level. Apparently, it’s trickier than expected to integrate Romanian players with rather questionable tactical knowledge and technical ability, effects of poor work through done at youth level, but also in their first years among the seniors, than to integrate a young player raised properly at his own Academy. Why is he sometimes going round this otherwise natural and key step for his own success I do not know, but recently it happened more and more often, with both Romanian and foreign players whom he’s been trying without luck to transform into influential figures…

No prediction from me, but hopefully Viitorul and Craiova can take into the new year their ability to win points often by taking initiative and playing attacking football, with Steaua’s aura losing its strength even more in recent months. The pressure is on and, come summer, Becali’s club could lose both a title that nobody was looking able to challenge at the beginning of the season and its famous name.

Razvan Marin joins Standard Liege. A good move for everyone involved!

January 20, 2017 2 comments

Fans of Standard might know little about him, but what’s important from them is that the club’s board made a smart, justified (it was about time, right?) move by going for his signature. Marin is the brightest and most consistent young player in Liga 1, is younger and a lot cheaper than Anderlecht’s huge transfer from the same competition six month ago (Stanciu going at 23, with less re-selling potential for an absurd transfer fee) and will find in Belgium a competition that will challenge and help him develop.

Linked previously with clubs like Zenith, Roma or Fiorentina, Marin will find with Standard the much needed playing time at this age and in his first adventure abroad and I have a feeling that everyone involved in this deal can look back smiling to this very moment in a couple of years.

razvan-marin

Having just lost Trebel (25), Standard nailed a central midfielder with a rather similar profile, who can add more going forward, but who needs to progress physically and mentally to reach similar levels in the defensive phase of the game, especially if Standard will continue to use a 4-4-2.

Ideally suited for a 4-3-3, Marin can adjust to a midfielder pairing in a 4-4-2 or in a 4-2-3-1 with a physically strong number 6 able to allow him the freedom to move forward and also protect the back four. Just to be clear, the Romanian international shows good work ethic and will play his part defensively, being quite a tireless runner and showing discipline in tracking back, pressing and cutting off passing and running channels in his own half, but he’s not the most aggressive tackler you’ll meet and in terms of vigour and ability to make successful challenges defensively 1v1, well, there’s some homework for Standard’s coaching staff right there…

If allowed to express himself, Marin will prove quite influential in developing attacks with his passing and movement range and you’re in for a surprise when you’ll see this guy take his chance on goal from long range… I won’t spoil it for you. Erm, ok, maybe just a little bit 🙂

To conclude, Standard gets a 20 years old with a lot of first team experience,who has made an impact in Romania’s senior national team and has every reason to add caps to his name with consistency, who is already on the radar of some big clubs and who was signed at a realistic price, which ensures quite a big margin for profit if Marin does impress.

Marin, on the other hand, has no reason to be down for missing out on the speculated transfers; he takes a step forward, will play in a league that posed problems to fellow internationals Chipciu and Stanciu at Anderlecht, both more experienced than him, and won’t need to fight the same level of doubt when scouts will be sent to (re)asses his level and potential.

He’ll get to learn, to play and to taste football abroad with all the challenges that have seen similar Romanian talents waste important years in bigger leagues and clubs. He has the mentality and ability to see this through and be more prepared for what everyone thinks is his future.

We should see some more happy faces in Constanta, where Hagi just nailed the biggest transfer fee received for a single Academy product. Leaving aside the much needed cash, which is in the region speculated even if Marin would have really gone to the above mentioned clubs from Italy or Russia, he desperately needs a player to go from Viitorul and succeed abroad. Having done some business with Italian clubs, trying to place youngsters in their Primavera sides, he saw Chitu return from Valenciennes, Iancu come back from Turkey (after an initial bad spell with Steaua), Manea on the sidelines in Mouscron. In Romania, he can only get some cash from Steaua, so he could do with some sort of proof that his players are ready for the next step and can do it away from the best setup and facilities that youngsters can find around here. I surely wish that for he’ll find the means and motivation to keep on working just as before at his Academy, just as I wish we finally see more Romanian players make it abroad, away from a league that’s slowly dying…

Can Romania play attacking football? Daum might be optimistic, but not suicidal…

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment

The image of Daum taking notes on Liga 1 players in the unglamorous stands from Voluntari or Chiajna had a wow factor in the first rounds of the new season. It said two things:

  1. his time to evaluate eligible players before the first official game of the qualifying campaign was extremely limited.
  2. the time when we knew *without even looking* who can should play in the national team was gone.

This is one of the big advantages of bringing in a foreign coach. If he’s serious and dedicated, but also aware that a change of approach and an objective reevaluation of things is needed for a team that finally played again at a final tournament thanks mainly to a more permissive format and to a weak qualifying group, he will really look at things and people. He will surely not like what he finds, but at least he’ll be operating with fresh data and ideas, leaving the past behind.

For a few days now, Romanian media reports of an attacking philosophy, presenting offensive line-ups and quoting positive, optimistic statements about how the team will play. Come match day and the brave, attacking predicted line-up features Sapunaru and Hoban in front of the back four and a 4-2-3-1 and the always out of place striker Stancu on the left wing. Hard to call that either offensive or innovative… But it’s not the official starting eleven, so surely better to wait and see.

Daum is experienced enough though to look for a result in the opening game, rather than attempt to impress with an attacking game that he had little time to implement, both tactically and mentally. Even if he plans to change Romania’s style, he needs more than just a few days and, as you can imagine, not everyone was happy to see him take over this role and a defeat against Montenegro would surely turn on the heat and the hate. Let’s not forget that key elements like Tatarusanu, Chiriches and Pintilii are also missing, but it’s good to see that the search for a new left-back has begun, now with veteran Razvan Rat is out of the picture. You can also see young, fresh faces in the squad, like Marin and Benzar from Viitorul or Dinamo’s Dorin Rotariu. I’m puzzled by the call-up received by Enache, who has been awful at right back lately and I do hope the media got it wrong about the tactical setup and selection of his first eleven, but I’m hopeful it’s only a matter of time until Daum understands who’s reliable or at least who has a chance of fitting his ideas and playing style in the future.

Trickier than in appearance, tonight’s game will be a test not for Daum’s selection and ability to quickly implement new ideas, but also for our understanding of the game, of the time needed to change an approach that has stayed with us for decades. We have praised Iordanescu for making a great counter-attacking team when he had Hagi, Sabau, Gica Popescu, Dan Petrescu or Ilie Dumitrescu at his disposal; I find it quite funny that people read so much into Daum’s words of playing a different football and expect this still mediocre national team to attack and impress with the likes of Grigore, Hoban, Achim and Chipciu…

Romania’s number 10, Nicusor Stanciu, cannot handle the pressure. Really?

June 18, 2016 2 comments

“Stanciu played a good game against France. But he is young and there is an important amount of pressure he has to deal with; we tried to take that pressure off his shoulders”, said Viorel Moldovan, sent by Iordanescu to explain one of the strange decisions made after Romania’s first game at Euro 2016.

And they took it off, leaving Romania’s number 10 and one of the very few creative midfielders on the bench for the 90 minutes played against Switzerland.

stanciu

Now, just a few episodes that Romania’s coaching staff surely know, but maybe forgot, when they realised that there’s some explaining to do regarding its controversial decision:

  • Stanciu makes his debut in second division for the senior team of Unirea Alba Iulia before turning 16.
  • Plays his first Liga 1 game when he was only 17. Against Steaua. In a match surprisingly won 2-1 by Unirea.
  • Signed by FC Vaslui, captained his club and scored from the penalty spot against Inter, on Giuseppe Meazza, aged 19.
  • Signs for Steaua and earns quickly his place in the team.
  • Makes his debut in the senior national team and goes on a scoring streak – 4 goals in his first 5 games – that puts to shame every striker that played in recent years for Romania.
  • Took the no 10 shirt and played a solid game against Spain, in a recent friendly, daring to lob Casillas from over 40 meters.

Finishing off, one question for Iordanescu, who lacks courage both as a coach and as a man, sending others to defend his choices: does the must-win game against Albania, in which I expect Stanciu to play from the start, have less pressure than the match against Switzerland?

Budescu’s move to China is actually a good sign?

February 3, 2016 Leave a comment
Warningtry looking at the piece ignoring Budescu’s struggles to adapt there, integrate a hard working environment, the history of Romanian players transferred abroad and sent home after 6 months of disappointment, etc 🙂
Let’s put aside his playing style, his weaknesses on and off the pitch and focus on these facts:
  • he’s been scoring more than 10 goals per season in the last 4 championships;
  • he’s been the most decisive player in Liga 1 in the past 2 years;
  • he forced his way into the national team against the will of Anghel Iordanescu (who had to give in to a lot of pressure from the public and media) and has chipped in important goals already.
Constantin Budescu, Astra’s number 10 who helped a club with important debt towards its players finish last year topping the standings in Liga 1, was hot property and was destined to move away this winter. With Astra needing desperately cash to pay salaries, Budescu’s options were either Steaua or Umm Salal from Qatar. Too few, but apparently the player refused for years to work with an agent thinking that he could manage his career by himself. Not the brightest of ideas, but the guy was always better with his feet than his head…
As it often happens, of the two option he ended up picking a third, which raised more eyebrows and questions, but what really intrigues me is that it also prompted quite a few jokes over here.
budescu-astra
Yes, it’s China and it’s actually a second division club that got the player’s signature for the following three years. Yes, he moved there for the money and put in jeopardy his first and probably last chance of playing at a final tournament with the national team. But maybe, before laughing (without his millions in the bank), maybe it would be best to get off our high horses and stop thinking about China like Liga 1 is actually La Liga or 1.Bundesliga and he’s going actually to an inferior competition. And ask ourselves if it really is the end of the (footballing) world. Looking only at the moves of Jackson Martinez, Ramires and Gervinho, to name a few, should be enough to reconsider all this and also acknowledge the fact that it’s all reasonable and makes perfect sense. Would anyone had considered Budescu ready to compete in the same league with such names? Oh, and did any of those making fun and criticising his decision have watched lately any games from the Chinese leagues?!
Isn’t it quite possible that one or two years from now, when Dalian Aerbin could allow Budescu play against the above mentioned star players and when other top footballers would have moved there, to look at all this from a different perspective?

Steaua’s old faces, for a brand new league title

December 28, 2015 Leave a comment

If I’d be the owner of a Romanian club I’d choose Reghecampf as a coach. Why? Because he is the best!

Those were Laurentiu Reghecampf’s words in May 2014, when he was leaving Steaua after 2 league titles and 1 SuperCup and heading for Al-Hilal’s big money contract. A statement that surely made Becali smile happily that he had no more competition within the club in terms of bragging and speaking about himself in third person. Now, one and a half season later, fearing that he might lose the title, Becali made the call and the dozen promises and got back the 40 years old. Steaua will make it to the playoffs in Liga 1’s first season in the new format, but is now 4th in the standings, behind Astra, Viitorul and Dinamo, so the vocal owner can’t take anything for granted. He’ll have to accept Reghecampf and all his (and his wife’s) wishes.

poza

It’s not a bad move, let’s be clear. Actually, it makes perfect sense that a club owner in charge of transfers who only knows current or ex-Liga 1 players to appoint a coach whose wife is an agent and who is ready to accept such a terrible transfers policy without issues. It came as no surprise to see headlines in December announcing Steaua’s first “new” signings. Old faces on the bench, old faces on the pitch too: Pintilii, a 31 years old, who had followed Reghecampf to Al-Hilal, will leave Hapoel Tel-Aviv after 14 matches; Bourceanu, a flop at Trabzonspor, will return for a second time to Steaua.

The two formed a very successful pair in central midfield when Steaua was indeed an impressive force in Liga 1, but the spine of the team also featured Tatarusanu in goal, Chiriches and Gardos at the back, Rusescu upfront. Chipciu was in great shape, Popa was impressing as well, and not with the Christmas pictures taken in Reghecampf’s house, in Las Vegas…

Although the team is in a worse shape than two years ago, Steaua has every chance to successfully defend the title. Dinamo and Viitorul look to be lacking the strength and belief to go all the way when the big games will come in succession, while current league leaders look like a team that can be dismantled in January, with offers flowing in since word came out that Ioan Niculae, currently behind bars, wants to cash out. Maybe that’s why Reghecampf doesn’t see as a challenge getting Tade (top scorer in 2015), Alcenat or Guilherme (best right back and left back, respectively, when playing for Petrolul) back to their best and accepts Becali’s decision to get rid of them at all costs. In the end, it will only create more room for his wishes and his wife’s deals.

Unfortunately, such a chaotic approach has little chance to be punished on the pitch, as the level of the league is still too low to produce a genuine title contender for Steaua, a club that in recent times has lost his aura, abandoned by fans, forced to play not only away from their stadium, but also away from Bucharest, and none of its bad habits. Reghecampf has every chance to secure another title for the red and blue outfit and we can’t say we hadn’t been warned by the man himself: “Reghecampf is the best”.

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