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2 days gone, 3 new coaches in Liga I!

March 29, 2012 1 comment

It’s that time of the season again! The time when the title contenders feel they’re losing chances and the teams fighting to survival feel they’re losing hope. So they all go for the easiest way to “produce a positive shock” for the team…

Steaua‘s Gigi Becali was the first to move and he got rid of Ilie Stan after he managed to collect only one point from the games versus Targu Mures (0-1) and Gaz Metan Medias (0-0). Mihai Stoichita‘s return is such a bad idea, that the poor coach (well, not that poor, because he’ll train everywhere and in any conditions for the right price) has slim chances even to finish the current season. He has been successful in the past, but that’s old history. In recent history, he’s just someone who will obey the orders coming from above and who will try to win the league with Steaua, even though in autumn 2011 he was giving up a fight for survival with the current bottom placed team, CS Mioveni.

At the other end of the table, Petrolul Ploiesti has lost two “six-points games” against Concordia Chiajna (3-4, at home, after leading 3-1 with 7-8 minutes to go) and Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt (1-2, away, after another lead at HT – yeah, I know the odds for these kind of results…) and the manager Valeriu Rachita decided to take a step back and look for another solution on the bench. That solution is Gheorghe Multescu, an experienced coach who will have to perform a small miracle, as you can see for yourselves in the current standings.

The third move comes from Astra Ploiesti, a mid-table club that has one of the wealthiest owners in Liga I, Ioan Niculae. This guy has a history of bad choices when it came to turning his team into a contender for a place in Europe and Antonio Conceicao, who was sacked after only a couple of months in charge, is just the latest example. Now, Astra hired Mircea Rednic, a coach who won the league with Dinamo and Rapid, and also named in charge of the club a certain Dinu Gheorghe, former Rapid and FC Brasov president, who refused to get involved again with Rapid and also Steaua, earlier this month. That’s a very strong partnership, but knowing Niculae and also Rednic, I doubt this marriage is going to deliver and/or last…

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Sportul wins with young, Romanian players. Who would have thought this could work?

March 19, 2012 5 comments

It’s suicidal! Which, in footballing terms, means it’s the safest path to the second division. Nobody would dare to build an all-Romanian team, with the lowest average age in the first division, before the start of the season and not move a muscle in the three months long winter break spent on a place that yells at you “you’re going down, you fool!”. Sportul Studentesc are doing exactly that – and, trust me, it’s not the first time I’ve seen it! – and in 2012 has three wins out of three, the last one on the ground of the (now former) league’s leaders, Dinamo. They’ve climbed a few places in the standings and have determined a few other teams look at the relegation battle from a different perspective.

Vasile Siman running a profitable business with an unappealing "merchandise": young, unproven Romanian players.

The owner of this team is Vasile Siman, the guy you don’t want to call, if you want one of his players. He’ll slap a 1 million Euros price tag on the forehead of any 19 years old that only played a handful of first division games without blinking. Try to negotiate and he’ll leave you at the table, probably with check to cover all by yourself. So, it’s best to order something light. This strategy has allowed this owner – who rarely buys a player and covers sometimes the often unpaid wages by offering to the squad mobile phones, coats and pickles – to make a huge profit by selling for millions players like Gigel Bucur, Ionut Mazilu, Costin Lazar (all playing abroad now) or George Galamaz. He’s so difficult to discuss with that Dacian Varga could only go to play on loan at Kuban Krasnodar. Twice. Now, the winger who was a regular in a play-off side from the Russian first division is back at the struggling Romanian first division club. And not playing…

Yes, Sportul won 3 out of 3 in 2012 without two of their three stand-out players, Dacian Varga and Costin Curelea (the striker all the big Romanian clubs wanted this winter, but couldn’t afford). The third is Viorel Ferfelea, the fragile number 10 who captained the side against Dinamo, scoring twice in the first three matches of the year. Who are the others? Well, guys like Patriche, Stancu and Farmache are the most experienced in Liga I, after moving through different clubs before returning to Sportul (if I’m not mistaking, Stancu and Farmache were playing in the season when Sportul scared the shit out of the big clubs finishing fourth – a feat which caused so much upset that the club became the first ever to be denied a license for the following season, being relegated!). The others are either recruits from second or third division clubs (Lazar, who offers the assist for the 1st goal vs Dinamo and scores the 3rd, was considered too poor by Petrolul Ploiesti, the club that raised him) or products of a renown  youth setup, which offers poor training conditions, but has the satisfaction of seeing its’ best youngsters immediately offered a chance to shine for the seniors.

The best example? Razvan Popa, who’s only 16 and had started football at Steaua Bucharest, was handed a debut on Sunday. He played less than a minute, but if you ask Siman, he’s worth at least half of million. It’s a crisis, he understands that clubs cannot pay the same crazy amounts as before, but you’d better act quickly, as you don’t want this kid to score his first goal in the top flight… 😉

Title contenders: Rapid Bucharest

March 8, 2012 2 comments

A draw at home against Universitatea Cluj meant that Rapid started the year by dropping two valuable points and I think this is a first confirmation that nothing really changed over the long winter break. We’re talking a strong, hard to break down team, that can easily go on an unbeaten run in the league, but will probably end up drawing more matches than winning. Instead of looking for a reliable striker and a creative midfielder, the two things this team badly needed needs in terms of personnel, the Bucharest side was very discrete on the market and with just some decent investment could have left Razvan Lucescu with no excuse for not mounting a more serious title challenge in this second half of the season.

Transfer activity

Rapid parted ways with Cassio Vargas, the Brazilian striker who in his first year managed to score only in the home games, while this season he did even worse, failing to find the net in 9 outings, playing 5 of those league matches for almost 90 minutes. The only other player with a decent status who left in the winter breal was Iulian Apostol, who Lucescu Jr. used to call to the national team, but lately failed to make him useful even for the third placed team. If Apostol was replaced by Milos Pavlovic, from FC Vaslui, who is not quite the same type of player, being very limited when it comes to building up the play, Rapid should have done better in adding some more firepower, as Sabrin Sburlea is not a central striker and the veteran Daniel Pancu needed some serious help / backup upfront. The only offensive signing is Alexandru Ionita, now 23, who comes after a very bad spell with FC Koln and is back home in search of match fitness and confidence, something that won’t do much good to a team that badly needs goals, to turn frustrating draws into vital wins. Ionita played as a sub versus Universitatea Cluj and got some deserved criticism from both fans and the media, but the worst news is that Pancu suffered a long term injury and will probably miss for a couple of months – a huge blow for Rapid, who really needs either Sburlea or Ionita to use this opportunity and prove themselves.

Strenghts and weaknesses

Marcos Antonio, the Brazilian centre-back, is probably the most consistent and reliable foreign player that ever step foot in Liga I and he will make sure the excellent goalkeeper that Dani Coman still is has very good protection. The central midfield adds extra steel, but fails to help the team in attack (the prolific Ovidiu Herea, currently injured, being the exception), yet it’s almost impossible now to point out a midfielder able to take out his man and offer a quality through ball. Felipe Teixeira might be that man, but he’s been very inconsistent, just like Stefan Grigorie.
So, we have a very solid team at the back, a group of experienced players already adjusted to Lucescu’s tactical plans (who needs to become more adventurous to turn from a contender into a winner), but not enough creativity and ability to turn chances into goals when going forward. If this team manages a good run of results early on, there might be a chance for a come-back, but they will probably drop too many points along the way to hope for more than a place in Europe…

Title contenders: CFR Cluj

March 6, 2012 1 comment

Just one point behind Dinamo, CFR has failed to impress me in the first half of the season, not to mention their first game of the year, won 1-0 versus FCM Targu Mures. Still, what will happen if this teams finally clicks? The manager Jorge Costa has changed from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 to make better use of the available players, but there are question marks regarding their back four, especially on the flanks, as well as their attack. The schedule could favor them though, as they’ll play away only against FC Vaslui and Dinamo, but the consecutive matches between rounds 23 and 25 (vs Otelul, Vaslui and Rapid) should find them in top shape…

Transfer activity

Two Brazilians have been released and Costa will have problems replacing at least one of them. If Pantelis Kapetanos, once a reliable goalscorer for Steaua, has already netted a winner vs Targu Mures, playing instead of Weldon (7 goals in the 1st half of the season), a certain Nicolas Godmeche has been signed to replace Renan Garcia, who now plays for Sampdoria.

Read more…

Title contenders: Dinamo Bucharest

March 5, 2012 2 comments

The Red Dogs spent the winter with their noses in front of a group of at least four other teams convinced they can fight for the title until the very end and have started the year with an important win, 2-0 against Gaz Metan Medias. The club made a bold decision by renting the National Arena for this match (Dinamo’s average attendaces at home have been nothing short of embarrassing) and the players and the fans had a really good first meeting which could pay dividends for the rest of the campaign.

Transfer activity

7 players have left the club this winter, but only 2 departures could have an impact on the first team: Zie Diabate, the starting left back, was sold to Dijon, and the promising (for a few years now) Liviu Ganea was allowed to move to a rival like CFR Cluj, as the young forward was refusing  to extend a deal that was going to expire in the summer.

Read more…

Steaua, forced to improvise for the first clash with Twente

February 16, 2012 Leave a comment

According to the Romanian media, Ilie Stan has one dilemma ahead of tonight’s game: who should play at right back? The first eleven looks something like this: Tatarusanu – Dananae or Martinovic, Chiriches, Geraldo, Brandan – Rusescu, Prepelita, Bicfalvi, Tanase – Tatu, Nikolic.

This spells big problems in defense and midfield! Steaua’s transfer activity, in spite of some good buys, like Chiriches or Chipciu, has proved once again the lack of someone with brains, influent enough to explain the owner on what (type of) players he should be spending his money.

Ilie Stan needed more time and better planning to stand a chance versus Twente.

Ahead of the first and most important match of the year, the coach realizes that Dananae, THE right back, isn’t fit and offers no guarantees right away, so the ONLY other option is to keep playing Martinovic, the guy he wanted to replace due to his obvious limits (especially when going forward).  Chiriches and Geraldo will be playing their first official game together in the center, but they are intelligent and good enough to do well, while on the left side there’s a chance to see Brandan? Brandan, the natural left sided player, but who has been Steaua’s best central midfielder in the first part of the season? Nice!

And we move forward, in midfield, where on the right side, either it’s going to be Rusescu or Tatu (more likely), it means Steaua keeps on playing without a natural right midfielder and improvises with a forward. After a two-months long break, nothing has changed… A look in the middle? There is no Bourceanu (suspended), while Brandan should play at left back, so the pair that has done so well last year, the one that kept this team balanced, is now gone. The Prepelita-Bicfalvi pair will work hard defensively, but will eventually drop too deep, so all the threat Steaua will be able to pose tonight should come from the left flank – something Twente is definitely prepared to deal with.

Terrible planning by Steaua, really! I always thought that the winter break in Romania is too long, but looking at how the clubs work in this period, it looks now like it’s not long enough…

FC Vaslui had the players, but Otelul won with the right coach

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment

That could be the conclusion of the awards offered today by the Romanian Football Federation and the Professional Football League, with one official game left to play in 2011. Here’s the list:

Best coach: Dorinel Munteanu (Otelul Galati)

Won the league with an average team judging by the players’ quality and, leaving aside some favorable calls from the referees that helped the team cope with the pressure applied by the followers towards the end of last season, Munteanu certainly has done something outstanding. Something that could be compared to what Unirea Urziceni achieved a few years ago. But maybe I should stop, as this would not do any favors to “the best Romanian coach in 2011”, considering the fact that Dan Petrescu’s team went on to collect a record eight points in the Champions League’s group stage, while Munteanu’s men failed to collect a single one…

Munteanu deserves it not just because there’s nobody else with something to show at the end of the year, but because he managed to take the best out of a mediocre team, to create the perfect tactics for the given group of players, to make everyone believe that winning the league is possible in Romania even if your only or, better said, main ability is to work harder than everyone else.

Best player in Liga I: Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)

Lately, I get the feeling that Romanian players are ready to move abroad only in their 30’s. Buying them with millions, hoping to make a profit, is a costly mistake, because those who indeed have the talent and the skill need around 10 years to get their heads straight and understand what’s this all about. That it’s a job. And it needs dedication. Plus a lot of work. Sanmartean is just an example. Not the best, because the attacking midfielder has had a lot of medical problems in the past and, without them, he could have made it while in Holland or Greece. He’s delivering now and the outstanding skill on the ball has made even Claudio Lotito ask around for his age, after Vaslui’s encounters with Lazio, in the Europa League. He’s too old, as the man was quickly informed, but that’s good news for Adrian Porumboiu, who was able to renew and extend the player’s contract, a proof that Vaslui will continue to aim high for at least two more years. Of course, if Sanmartean will stay fit :).

Best foreign player in Liga I: Wesley Lopes (FC Vaslui)

The Brazilian has become this year the best foreign scorer in Liga I and he definitely deserves the title, although very, very close to him I would place Rapid’s centre-back, Marcos Antonio. But this guy doesn’t score often enough and got no help from a team that always looked equipped to win something, but failed for some reason to also become, not just look successful. Also in his 30’s, Wesley forms alongside Sanmartean and Adailton the best offensive trio in Romania and he certainly deserves one of the highest (if not THE highest) wages in Romania. Talented and dedicated, this guy has an incredible eye for goal and it’s a bit of a surprise to hear rumors about a possible move to Steaua in the winter mercato. It’s not the first time he tries to leave Vaslui, but it’s certainly the first time the club’s owner looks willing to accept it…

Other awards:

  • Best young player in Liga I: Cristian Balgradean (Dinamo Bucharest)
  • Best referee: Cristian Balaj
  • Best club president: Iuliu Muresan (CFR Cluj)
  • Man of the year: Mihaita Nesu (FC Utrecht)

Interesting fact: not a single winner came to collect the award. Unfortunately, the unlucky, but incredibly brave Nesu has the best excuse of all…

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