Using a list of players who’ve entered the last year of their current contracts published by GSP, I have decided to put together a best eleven that might prove useful even for some clubs who had no time or interest to scout properly Liga 1. We have national team players, players who won the title or who are fighting for it, who impressed in the Champions League, and it will be interesting to see the type of clubs willing to take a risk. Somehow, I get the feeling that most of good foreign clubs look at players from Romania as a big gamble – lack of proper scouting, as I said – so in this case we’re talking about either small stakes in January or almost free bets in June. It can’t get better than that, can it?
Goalkeeper: Ciprian Tatarusanu
Definitely one of the most interesting “cases”, don’t see Steaua able to go down the sentimental road with this guy and get him to sign another deal. Looking at times laid back, lacking intensity and passion, Tatarusanu will surely take this opportunity to leave and having a national team regular up for grabs (his best years are yet to come) should be tempting enough for some decent clubs from abroad, even though we all agree that we’re not talking about a really good national team, in this case… Good keeper, experienced, tested at all levels, Tatarusanu will probably stay with Steaua until June, unless there will be some decent money on the table in January.
Right Back: Alexandru Matel
It was a difficult choice for this position, considering that Petrolul’s Jean Sony Alcenat is in a similar situation and the Haiti international is, by far, the best attacking right back in the league. Matel is younger, though, a regular in Romania’s senior team and has put behind an injury that halted his development for a while. He’s just as good at the back as he is when going forward and, although he’ll probably never reach a top level, has a tempting package to sell at a discounted price. He’ll need a good offer though, considering that Astra’s owner is reacher than Steaua’s and (still) a free man, pushing his club towards the first trophy…
Central defender: Felice Piccolo
Club: CFR Cluj
Not a fan of the Italian centre-back, but you know what you get with this guy: sound tactical knowledge, a good professional approach, no nonsense style of defending. If you want a bit of pace, some quality on the ball and more hunger to impress, you’d have to look elswhere.
Central defender: Dragos Grigore
A solution for Romania’s national team. Always Dinamo’s alternative for wearing the arm band. Never a central defender to put together a string of eye catching performances, but, in truth, he’ll rarely disappoint either. Reliable might be the right word to describe this quiet, honest defender, and I would have seen him too shy to move away for the Bucharest side. Luckily for him, Dinamo is refusing to pay tempting salaries under the new management, so anything at all that might come from abroad through his agent will look too good to turn down…
Left Back: Guilherme Sitya Haubert
We might be talking for the best left back in Liga 1 and – even though there’s an obvious lack of quality on this position – this guy should have no problems finding another club and a bigger salary. Can’t see Petrolul holding on to the small Brazilian who pushes forward at ease and brings quality upfront for 90 minutes, considering that they’ll be wasting their money on a player with no future, like Adrian Mutu, so the club that already got Guilherme’s CV (his agent has been busy, trust me) and has been impressed might find it easy to get a deal done.
It’s hard to believe that Steaua allowed this to happen, but there’s a big chance that the captain will admit, just like Tatarusanu, that it’s a rare occasion (probably the last) to move abroad to a decent club and on a better wage. Bourceanu looks passionate, dedicated, playing with his heart even against a third division club in the Romanian club, but I often had the impression that his leadership was a bit faked. His instructions and gestures looked good on camera, but watching his colleagues, I have to say I’ve rarely seen them impressed or inspired. Nevertheless, we are talking about an aggressive, hard working, no nonsense pitbull, who did improve at Steaua, but not that much to get the attention of a good, ambitious clubs from an important European league. He should have quite a number of offers, but is he really as confident as he tries to look? I’d put a dollar on him taking up Steaua’s generous offer to extend…
Defensive midfielder: Gabriel Giurgiu
Club: Otelul Galati
He had his chance to get more money and see what’s out there, beyond Liga 1’s borders, but for some reason Giurgiu returned quickly from Rubin Kazan. A regular for Otelul Galati, helping the club write history and win the league under Dorinel Munteanu’s command, Giurgiu is a decent option for a club looking for an experienced hard working midfielder, who can play box to box if asked, who can still play at his best for a couple of years.
Right winger: Laurentiu Iorga
Club: Otelul Galati
One of the players I enjoyed watching a few years ago, Iorga was quite often linked with Steaua, but Otelul kept asking for the moon. In truth, his development stalled and in my opinion he’s playing below his potential. Definitely needs to move away from the club he served since 2007. He’s quick, suited for a counter-attacking team and, with some guidance, should be able to chip in more than 5 goals a season in the right team and the right league…
When the Portuguese attacking midfielder scored a hattrick against Braga in the Champions League, CFR’s owner probably congratulated the management for this shrewd signing. Now, in theory, there should be a more tense atmosphere in Cluj, with the player able to move on a free transfer next summer. In theory… In truth, the player has some consistency problems and never managed to influence games that didn’t seem exciting enough and, when the few top games from Liga 1 came, he was just as bad as the team that seems unable to get back to winning ways…
Left winger: Lucian Sanmartean
Club: FC Vaslui
Oldest guy in the team, lacking hunger, but surely desperate to move away from Vaslui. He’s probably the only skipper in the world resented and criticized by the club’s owner almost on a weekly basis. Apart from all that, Sanmartean IS the best dribbler in Liga 1, a gifted winger who can break the lines and decide games, a player I would like to see playing against his current club. Unfortunately, Vaslui is no longer among the “elite”, so the former Panathinaikos player can only hope and look for an exotic, well-paid last stop in a career that could have been great, but ends up just average. Such a shame, really…
Striker: Thaer Bawab
Club: Gaz Metan Medias
Have to say that Liga 1 lacks quality strikers, so it’s hard to find a good one, especially on a free, but Bawab has something hard to find around here: the ability to take out his direct opponent using both pace and skill. He scored 10 goals in the previous season and rarely played in this one, scoring just once. Can play upfront alone or supporting the main striker and, could be a decent rotation player, but I can’t see a Romanian club – better than Gaz Metan – interested in his services…
The rivalry between Steaua and Dinamo might have been created by the communist regime, but it lasts way beyond that dark period, when the two clubs were wrestling for trophies using all means at hand. Now, it’s all about financial strength and it was no surprise to see Dinamo struggle to keep up with Becali’s high investment in players (and the great decade of Arpad Paszkany’s CFR Cluj), but the gap seems to get bigger with every season.
After a long process, the Red Dogs finally changed ownership and Ionut Negoita decided to try and hurt Steaua using a wiser and cheaper plan, aware that he lacked the financial strentgh to fight Steaua on the transfer market: Dinamo was ready to invest small money and pay low wages for young players with potential to follow the path of Marius Alexe or Constantin Nica, both raised by the club and sold this summer to Serie A clubs. That required some good work in scouting and recruiting, top coaching and a lot of patience. Well, after 8 rounds, when Negoita decided to release the experienced coach Gheorghe Multescu, as “the team needs a wake-up call”, it became clear, at least to me, that the Bucharest side lacks all of the above… And that Dinamo’s bosses didn’t read Soccernomics, a book that makes some interesting points regarding how much can a coach raise the level of a team or how much results depend on the wages the players are getting…
In truth, it wasn’t Multescu’s fault that in this first couple of months Dinamo struggled, looked average most of the times and promising once or twice. The work in recruitment was extremely poor, with unproven African players (Fai, Zougoula, Pape), rejected Romanian players (Grecu, Mardare) and poor foreign players with some experience in Liga I (Durimel, Thomas, Hasanovic) unable to add quality. Some promise arrived from the youth team, as Romania U19 international Dorin Rotariu netted his first goals in Liga 1, and maybe this is Multescu’s only fault: he gave more credit to the club’s new signings rather than to the 17-18-19 years old raised in the club’s youth system. And, having seen them, I can say that there’s more talent there than on a transfer market Dinamo has no ability to exploit.
Apart from that, it’s all down to the management, who asked for a reconstruction, but also for a European spot at the end of the season. In light of this firm goal, Multescu was on the wrong path, having collected 9 points in 8 rounds, but how can you ask for both, considering that Dinamo has failed repeatedly to finish among the top teams in recent years, when there was no reconstruction in place? That’s just nonsense and the new coach, the inexperienced Flavius Stoican, will realize it soon enough. Dinamo’s problem is that the new board won’t…
Whenever I was asked about the level of Romanian football, I was pointing out to the 5-6 teams that, theoretically, were fighting for the title, a fact that was setting Liga I apart in Eastern Europe, where 2 or 3 teams usually race for the top spot. Unfortunately, it won’t be the case anymore, as well hidden financial trouble surfaced in several “big” clubs threatening their own existence…
As the new season kicks-off today, with Timisoara hosting Dinamo, in what was a while ago a hugely anticipated game, I will try to go quickly through the changes that took place this summer, to give you an idea of what the league should look like in the new campaign.
Title contenders: Steaua Bucharest, CFR Cluj
- Steaua Bucharest – the incarceration of Gigi Becali was and still is a problem for the reigning champions, who used to rely on Becali’s cash injections every once in a while, to keep things running smoothly. It won’t be the case anymore, so it all depends now on a) entering the group stages of the Champions League or b) selling the top players. After Raul Rusescu’s departure to FC Seville, Steaua decided to give it a go in Europe, putting on hold the otherwise imminent departures of players like Tatarusanu, Chiriches, Latovlevici, Chipciu or Bourceanu, all demanded abroad. If plan A succeeds, it is difficult to see this team challenged in Liga I, having every chance to defend the title won in style last year.
- CFR Cluj – probably the only other club ambitious enough, financially ready and well equipped to mount a title challenge. It will be tough, anyway, as CFR went yet again through massive changes especially in terms of personnel. Lots of players were simply released on a free transfer, with only Ivo Pinto and Bakary Sare sold for handsome fees to Dinamo Zagreb, and the new coach, Mircea Rednic, supervised the arrival of no less than 12 new faces… and counting. Although there’s quality in the staff, on the bench and within the team, it will take time to create a team, but CFR’s chances could be boosted by Steaua’s (logical) gamble of trying to focus on a European adventure in the first part of the season.
Teams fighting for a place in Europe: Vaslui, Astra, Petrolul, Dinamo
- FC Vaslui – in its’ short history, Vaslui had created a nice habit of always finishing the league on a higher position than in the previous season, but the wealthy owner Adrian Porumboiu decided it takes too much time, money and nerves to always unsettle the hierarchy and took a step back. This is why I am downgrading the yellow and green outfit this season, in spite of keeping the team at a competitive level, with some good free agents signed from abroad, to compensate the departure of Coman, N’Doye and Milanov, all regular starters last season.
- Astra – qualified for the first time in Europe last season, Astra kept basically the same team (can still sign one or two interesting names) and will probably experience less financial trouble than others. I don’t trust their coach, but I guess this goes for the owner as well, who has the bad habit of changing things at least 2-3 times per campaign. If he nails a good one and sticks with him, he has every chance of repeating last season’s feat.
- Petrolul – unfortunately, the club that benefits from the fantastic support of a passionate fan base failed to capitalize on a good season. The Romanian Cup winners didn’t work very well during the summer and the squad looks seriously weakened, so I doubt they can aim higher. It will be hard to win against them on “Ilie Oana”, but the 12th player, no matter how good he is, can’t enter the pitch and do the work of the first 11.
- Dinamo – Massive changes took place at the Bucharest club, but at least the Red Dogs reacted quicker than Rapid and balanced the club’s budget in time. Good players like Nica and Alexe left, but that’s the way to keep alive a club with little income and the experienced coach Gigi Multescu seems the right man to mix the old players with some new faces that could help the team this season and become transfer targets within a year or two.
Mid-table teams: Pandurii, Gaz Metan, Ceahlaul, Rapid, Otelul
- Once at least a team fighting for a place in Europe if not for the title, Rapid barely avoided the drop and will mix a lot of youngsters with the few experienced players that refused to abandond the derailed train will probably aim for a safe season, which will also be a test for the club’s much awaited new ownership. Financially safe, Pandurii and Gaz Metan should have no relegation worries, although the beautiful team from Targu Jiu created by Petre Grigoras is now history, with the coach and the best players allowed to leave in the last few months. Ceahlaul added some experience with the likes of Emil Jula and Gabriel Canu and will be an interesting first coaching experience in Romania for Vasile Miriuta, while Otelul‘s worries depend mostly on the club’s financial state.
Teams fighting to avoid the drop: FC Brasov, Universitatea Cluj, Viitorul Constanta and the four promoted clubs, Sageata Navodari, Corona Brasov, Poli Timisoara and FC Botosani.
The champions kicked off the season in style, winning 3-0 against the Cup winners, Petrolul. It might have been harder for the Bucharest side (Petrolul played in 10 men for more than an hour), but just as well the difference could have been bigger. With just one important player sold this summer, Laurentiu Reghecampf could focus on the players’ fitness, on helping the new faces blend in and on fine tunning a team that delivered not oly in Liga 1, but also on the European stage.
Steaua missed the injured Chipciu, who needs a few more months to recover from a nasty injury, so offered a start to the promising Gabriel Iancu as a number ten, a role he’ll be trying to keep from Nicu Stanciu, one of the players I enjoy following, and Mihai Radut, recalled after a loan spell with Pandurii. With Chipciu fit, there will be no less than four skillful players to deploy in what was Raul Rusescu’s favorite role, so there should not be too much fuss about his transfer to Sevilla.
With a solid back four to protect a composed Tatarusanu, guarded also by the complementary midfield pair formed by Bourceanu and Pintilii, Steaua can contain the opponent and inspire those going forward to create and attack at will. That will be key, as the red and blue outfit continues to lack a quality number 9. In the SuperCup, Nikolic started and even scored the opener, but he’s rarely on the same page with his teammates. Unfortunately, Piovaccari, who came on as a substitute, raised eyebrows on National Arena after missing a sitter and failing to make an impact. “He needs more time” was the quote to defend the former Sampdoria man (looking at his career stats, I wouldn’t call him like that), but even though switching clubs and leagues is always a challenge, we are not talking about a 20 years old. The Italian is an experienced striker who’s expected to deliver. Or, better said, Steaua needed to find one player this summer: a no 9 who is at least at the team’s current level, if not better.
But, of course, it’s too early for definitive sentences, so Piovaccari is expected to file an appeal and win… some games. Preferrably in Europe, as the Romanian league looks destined to finish for a second consecutive season at the feet of Reghecampf’s army. Only CFR Cluj, a club more inspired in terms of imports, might pose a serious challenge, but the big difference is that Steaua built what CFR tries to buy: a winning team.