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Archive for January, 2011

Pantilimon and Tatarusanu, defeated! Grahovac is the best keeper in Romania, after half of season

January 6, 2011 2 comments

Grahovac: 9 clean sheets in 18 matches, 78,95% of the shots on goal saved!

It’s that time of the year and Andrei Vochin, probably the only football journalist in Romania who writes and speaks just about football, starts providing the standings with the best players from Liga I, after the first half of season. And it’s no surprise to see up there, as the best keeper in Romania, Otelul’s Branko Grahovac, who managed to keep a clean sheet in half of the 18 games played so far. He is protecting the goal for the current league leaders and he was on the podium at the end of last season too, so the 27 years old, bought for 70.000 Euros exactly one year ago from Borac Cacak, has every right to feel good about this “award” and point the finger at the media that cannot stop praising the likes of Tatarusanu (Steaua – 6th place in the standings) and Pantilimon (Poli Timisoara – 11th!): “This is based on stats, not sympathies, so it means I’m better than those two. I agree, Tatarusanu is Steaua’s best player, but I cannot understand how can Pantilimon be the first choice for your national team!”.

Far from perfect (still prone to the odd incredible goal-causing error), Grahovac should thank not just Otelul’s defense, but the entire team, as Dorinel Munteanu asks the same involvement from every player in protecting the goal and getting the ball back. And wouldn’t look bad at all, if he’d show a little modesty, even if he came to Romania to make money, not friends.

Plesca (Gaz Metan – who did a great job covering the absence of Buchta, who was the best keeper in the league, last season!) and Kuciak (FC Vaslui) are just behind Grahovac in the Top 3, who shouldn’t feel too comfortable in this position if he looks to what happened with the keeper that was leading the standings last winter, Robinson Zapata, who spent on almost a year among Steaua’s reserves before leaving the country on a free transfer, not on a high horse…

The rise and fall of Marius Niculae

January 5, 2011 1 comment

Cristiano Ronaldo and Marius Niculae, back in 2001

Made his debut in Liga I when he was only 15, but already looked equipped to take on stronger opponents, thanks to his father, a former European Champion in judo, who took really good care of the young Niculae. The fact that Sensei Constantin was also a fitness coach with Dinamo also helped, but the young centre-forward soon repaid all the confidence with his constant development. Five years later, in the summer of 2001, he was on his way to Portugal, as Sporting Lisbon was impressed with the 20 years old who had finished the season as the league’s best scorer, with 20 goals. So impressed that they paid a total of 5.3 million Euros, a fee that included a 1.7 million Euros installment fee that should bring back some good memories to the Becali brothers and some of Dinamo’s shareholders…

Under the command of Laszlo Boloni, Niculae was surrounded by top players like Mario Jardel, Joao Pinto and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the fairytale ended a few months later when he suffered a nasty knee injury, which kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. The strong kid, who was ready to take on any opponent, never regained full fitness nor the bravery that had made him famous and – as a friend from the football world once told me – had raised his market value to 10 million Euros, an asking price available at that time for any interested club.

The centre-forward was going to leave Portugal on a free transfer, with a record of 14 goals in 59 appearances, and rejoin Boloni, with the coach willing to offer him a second chance, but unable to save a career that was going to register another two free transfers, to Mainz and Inverness, in the following years. A season high of eight goals in the Scottish top flight finally determined a club to pay something for the player’s services. It was his first club, Dinamo, who came up with half of million pounds and the same old plan. He was going to be the leader of the team, he was going to have all the support to score goals in double figures – Dinamo is an expert in “polishing” players for expensive exports – and he was supposed to help the club at least make some profit, if achieving sporting success is something that the red and white club fails to do for years. Unfortunately for him and Dinamo, the 12 goals scored in 2008/1009 were followed by one and a half seasons of mediocre football and a string of rumors that linked him to exotic destinations. One in particular looked interesting, but Boloni failed to convince Al Wahda to pay one million Euros for a front man who scored 7 goals in his last 36 matches, as part of probably the most offensive team from Liga I.

This winter found the player in a mess. With half of this season’s matches started on the bench and a wage that’s a problem for the club, Niculae is again ready to go. To China, on a free transfer, obviously, where Beijing Guoan are ready to pay 30.000 Euros/month until his next move. Which could be hanging up the boots, unless someone comes to his rescue. The Romanian press immediately thought of the same old Boloni, who just signed for Lens, but Niculae, now 29, is too old to be still living in the world of dream-moves and way too far from his best form to think that he could swap Liga I for Ligue 1. He should be more concerned about saving money rather than hopeful of saving his career…

Winter mercato in Romania: the Bucharest clubs release high earners, those from Cluj have money to spend

January 4, 2011 Leave a comment

The huge financial problems from Liga I have made most of the clubs look & act normal this winter, not only in their refusal to enter bidding contests and pay high transfer fees, but also in their reluctance to bring in a high number of players during this mercato window. The main concern is getting the wage budgets under control and mainly the Bucharest clubs are releasing some top players without a second thought. Steaua already parted ways with the Bulgarian utility man Angelov, who was earning 250.000 Euros/season, and is looking to offload a prolific front man like Kapetanos (who had a ratio of a goal scored every two games and also featured in the World Cup, last summer!) for the same reason. Dinamo cleared an important debt with former shareholder Florian Walter (now the owner of Universitatea Cluj) by sending there probably the most talented attacking midfielder in Liga I, Adrian Cristea, with other big names like Florin Bratu and Ousmane N’Doye already out the door. Rapid’s board looks more experienced and balanced, though, considering it’s still early to release the un-wanted players, a strategy that could produce some results in the coming weeks.

Madness! Kapetanos came as a free agent, scored a lot of goals, played in the World Cup, yet could be released for free!

A different situation can be seen in Cluj, where CFR and Universitatea have played a mercato derby, signing a few players each, in attempts not really to save their current campaigns, but more to build for the future. The champions have a long list of players that will not travel for the team’s training camps and have been instructed to find new clubs and the names are impressive: the former Rosenborg striker Yssouf Kone, by far the highest earner in Liga I, the right back Tony, who really helped the club win its’ last seven trophies, plus Alcantara, Sforzini, Peskovic and Anselmo Ramon. They didn’t waste any time and already secured the right flank with the experienced Maftei, from Unirea Urziceni, but also bought the in-form Nicoara, from newly promoted Victoria Branesti, a 23 years old left sided midfielder. Their other two signings are rather strange though, as Homei (23, right back) and Minca (26, goalkeeper) still need to prove themselves, in spite of a quite long time spent at this level…

It was nice to see Universitatea continue its’ ambitious project (there’s also a new stadium, Cluj Arena, under construction in Cluj) and the team looks stronger in almost every compartment: former NT keeper Marius Popa has signed from Pandurii, while Aburdan (Steaua) and Cristea (Dinamo) add quality and experience in defense and midfield, being the type of players that you’d expect to see playing for top six teams, not move to one currently placed just above relegation zone.

Still, in spite of a few clubs moving on the market, the fact that top targets like Wesley (FC Vaslui), Eric de Oliveira (Gaz Metan), Ribeiro Moraes (Gloria Bistrita), Cornel Rapa (Otelul Galati) or Gabriel Matei (Pandurii) are considered too expensive at the moment should do well to an always inflated market. Not long ago 50% of Torje (Dinamo) or Tanase (Steaua) was bought for millions, an approach that could have lead to losses even if the players had moved to better leagues from abroad, not better clubs from Romania, a country full of teams lead by excellent managers. Experts in buying high and selling low…

A Serbian defender could be the first ever foreign player to wear Steaua’s armband!

January 4, 2011 Leave a comment

If it was down to the fans’ vote, then Novak Martinovic, a 26 years old Serbian centre-back, could make history in Ghencea, six months after his transfer from the relegation threatened Pandurii Targu Jiu! Although this has small chances to happen, as Marius Lacatus will ask the players to name the team’s captain during this winter break, it’s interesting to see how such a low profile player gathered over 40.000 votes (the poll was launched by gsp.ro).

Bleeding for the club - that's what the fans always love to see!

Martinovic had previously played 36 matches in Liga I for Pandurii Targu Jiu and was brought as back-up to Steaua this summer by Victor Piturca for around 100.000 Euros, being the fifth choice for a place in central defense. His chances to feature looked even slimmer once Piturca left the club, although some might remember a quote that brought smiles a year ago or so: “Martinovic is the best centre-back in Liga I”. It belonged to Sorin Cartu. Yes, that Sorin Cartu!

His record at Steaua isn’t impressive either! He featured in just three games in Liga I (six matches in all competitions), yet this is not a prank planned by Steaua’s passionate fans, who were impressed with the excellent attitude displayed with each appearance. He gave it all, even when playing as a desperate solution at right back, where his modest technical ability could have been exposed and used as a reason to send him away during the current break. The Serb took each match as it was his last and the fans’ vote might not impress Lacatus, but should definitely send a signal to the entire squad, packed with more quality players, but one that has gone through so many changes in a short period that lacks a true leader on the pitch.

Anyway, it’s comforting to know that, in such an over-priced market full of mediocre footballers, you can find passion, ambition and determination at affordable prices. Caused by the lack of demand, obviously…

One year of scoutingromania.com!

January 4, 2011 2 comments

A year ago, I was on the sidelines, having stopped the excellent project that I had the privilege to be working on for Boutique Football, and decided to offer something that nobody around here thought of: the chance to find information, opinion and insight on Romanian football for those who don’t speak Romanian. One year later, I can look back and find motivation to continue, in spite of a limited time, as I’m back working in football as a scout, which has been always THE goal. But I feel I’ve made too many friends around the world who are interested in what’s (really) going on in the fascinating (not always for the right reasons) Liga I to abandon them now…

So, thanks to some stats offered as a birthday present by wordpress.com, I can tell you that:

I wish all of you a great 2011 and invite you to return here in numbers!

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