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Can Steaua leave their off-the-field problems and get back to playing football?

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

regheA 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…

Steaua’s terrible work at youth level will soon be exposed

January 8, 2013 5 comments
If Steaua wins the title, Gigi Becali will have to invest in two teams for the next European campaign...

If Steaua wins the title, Gigi Becali will have to invest in two teams for the next European campaign…

Everything’s going great for the Bucharest side: spending the winter break with a 12 points advantage over FC Vaslui, the closest serious title contender, dreaming of a double against Chelsea in the Europa League – stupid mind games played with Ajax, their first and most likely last opponent to meet in Europe, this spring -, and playing around with their top players’ transfer fees, in deals with little chances to go through during the current mercato.

Thanks to a quality roster that once again forms the back-bone of Romania’s national team and a young coach, Laurentiu Reghecampf, that got almost everything right in an excellent 2012, Steaua has every right to feel confident of winning their 24th title and the ultimate goal: playing once again Champions League football. Of course, preliminary rounds await, but UEFA’s prize money seem again in reach and nothing can Gigi Becali happier.

Well, UEFA has also prepared a surprise for the 2013/2014 edition and it’s not a pleasant one for Steaua. The UEFA Youth League, a competition that will offer the 32 clubs qualified for the Champions League group stage the chance to line-up their U19 teams for a European competition, will force the red and blue outfit to think again about investing some money in their youth setup. Becali himself stopped financing properly this vital area of the club some years ago, thinking that he can afford to sign basically every promising Romanian player that might come through. He was right, as Steaua bought indeed most of the hot prospects that proved themselves at smaller clubs in the first division, and the recent transfer of 18 years old Gabriel Iancu – the first important name to come out of Gheorghe Hagi’s Academy – underlines Becali’s financial strength, at least by Romanian standards.

In fact, it’s the man’s problem if he wants to spend more on players raised by others rather than investing less money and developing talent at his own club, but now Steaua could be in a difficult spot, as the club’s image will be at stake in the UEFA Youth League too, not just the Champions League. Not to mention that this competition could also be used to advertise and sale young talent…

I’ve watched Steaua’s U19 and U17 teams recently, outplayed and outscored by arguably the best Romanian club at youth level, Hagi’s Academy. Viitorul Constanta won 7-2 at U19 level and 4-0 at U17 level at the end of September and I felt it made no sense taking notes on more than two players from the visiting team. The teams are a mess and on such short term Steaua has no other option than to sign some talented youngsters in the summer, at least for the U19 squad. In fact, we could see the club change again its’ strategy, but I recall the last massive campaign of signing youngsters. It happened some years ago and Steaua signed a dozen youth internationals in a very short time, hoping to raise them properly in the reserve team and promote them in the top flight. Not a single one made it, with some promising careers destroyed by poor work and lack of interest at that time. A sign that Becali might have the cash, but surely lacks something vital at this level: patience and know-how.

Current standings in the U19 youth league, regular season, regional competition. Steaua looks set to miss the final tournaments scheduled next spring...

Current standings in the U19 youth league, regular season, regional competition. Steaua looks set to miss the final tournaments scheduled next spring…

What could Hagi sell first? A left footed number 10!

December 5, 2012 Leave a comment
Iancu (left) can kiss goodbye Viitorul's blue shirt.

Iancu (left) can kiss goodbye Viitorul’s blue shirt.

After 3 years of hard work and many more millions invested in a football academy and a football club promoted to the top flight last summer, Gheorghe Hagi is ready to collect his first cheque and it could well be a player that has quite a few things in common with the man once nicknamed Maradona of the Carpathians. He’s a precocious left footed attacking midfielder who doesn’t feel the weight of the number 10 shirt nor the pressure of first division football at a young age, in the team with the youngest average age in the league, and has already netted 6 goals in 16 appearances, at the age of 18.

Tested by Ajax Amsterdam, who already has its expert eyes on the likes of Bogdan Tiru and Cristian Gavra – other two talents from Hagi’s Academy – and scouted also by Galatasaray, who could really sell the story of the King’s heir in Turkey, Iancu is now facing the biggest decision of his young career. In need of cash to continue the development of the Academy, as well as supporting the growing costs of a first division club, Hagi has decided to listen to any offers this winter and Steaua Bucharest was the quickest to table a sum close to what’s expected in exchange of a player that doesn’t pop up very often in this part of the world.

He started just like me, at a young age and in the sound of goals. He’s skilful and has the ability to make quick decisions. By doing so, Iancu looks quick in everything he does, although he’s not the fastest player around.

Gheorghe Hagi on Gabriel Iancu

“Steaua must now discuss personal terms with the player”, admits Hagi, who refuses to say that the race between interested clubs has now ended, but as far as I know, has demanded some guarantees that the youngster will be offered the chance to play for the senior team, so he can continue his impressive development. Hopefully, Steaua will keep its’ word, not only for Iancu’s sake, but also for the club’s image, more famous recently for wasting talent, rather than properly nurturing it…

Is Bonetti finally coming around or are we finally admitting he was right all along?

October 8, 2012 1 comment

Under heavy criticism since the start of the season, the Italian coach looks to have finally earned some credit and the quiet atmosphere that comes along with it. It might have been down only to Dinamo’s first winning streak of the season (the Red Dogs only managed a draw in Medias this weekend, after three consecutive wins) but behind this good run of results is a playing style that starts to define a team under construction, with a roster that combines the huge experience of Ionel Danciulescu and Catalin Munteanu and the youth spirit of George Tucudean, Cosmin Matei or Constantin Nica.

Very ugly in the beginning, refusing to play, sitting back and working only to frustrate the opposition, even if it was inferior in terms of squad quality and club size, Dinamo was heavily contested. Supported only by the board and a part of the fans, but at war with the influential agent Victor Becali and most of the journalists, Bonetti deserves credit for his consistency and the hidden work that lead to a surprising transformation of a team that now is quite difficult to play against. The more you try to hurt it, the bigger chances you’ll be the one to suffer, by the quick reaction of a tight unit able to unleash deadly counters. Lacking enough attacking flair and worried about a rather young defense which lost its pillar, Cosmin Moti, to Ludogorets this summer, Bonetti knew that he would have struggled to create a solid offensive team, so he started his work from the back. Using his first matches to put this to the test, he managed to calibrate his team in a matter of weeks, being lucky enough to get some points along the way (including a lucky last minute win against Petrolul). The climax was the impressive display against the revelation Pandurii, a team able to create – and waste – a ton of chances, but which allows you to do the same, if you can absorb this sort of pressure. And Dinamo certainly can, an ability that might see the team struggling to break weak, defensive opposition, but offer an advantage in the derbies that can decide, in the end, who deserves to be up there and who doesn’t.

Undefeated for almost a month now, Dinamo sits now in 5th place with 18 points and looks prepared to earn a European spot this season without glamorous displays, but with determination and hard work. And, comparing to the previous seasons, marked by an unrealistic, cocky approach, this time a place in the top five Romanian clubs will look like an achievement, not as a failure.

* foto from gsp.ro

Can CFR Cluj beat Steaua and get back in the title race?

October 6, 2012 Leave a comment

In a weekend packed with derbies all over Europe, Liga 1 offers Steaua – CFR Cluj, the battle of the main title contenders and of the only two Romanian clubs that have made it in to the group stage of European competitions.

With four points after two rounds, Steaua has made a bright start in Europa League, even though luck was on the team’s side both in Stuttgart and, more recently, at home against a stubborn and well organized FC Copenhagen. Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf deserves credit though for ignoring the the owner’s call for full focus on the title challenge (and that’s always a suicidal approach…) and so far has done a great job in both competitions, as we are also talking of the current Liga 1 leaders.

CFR on the other hand has three valuable points in the Champions League, after the games versus Sporting Braga and Manchester United, and waits for the double versus Galatasaray that will shape the club’s future in Europe. The problem in Liga 1 is that the reigning champions have lost a lot of players and a lot of points already and a defeat on Sunday night would leave them 12 points off the top spot after only 11 rounds. A huge difference considering the poor opposition Steaua encountered so far in the league! As well as the mediocre displays from the likes of Vaslui, Dinamo and Rapid, Teams that in theory should prevent an early break-away from such a serious title contender.

It will be an interesting encounter between a team that likes to attack in numbers and put a lot of pressure in the opposition’s half and one that has struggles to win midfield battles in Liga 1 so far and dictate play, but is a master of counter-attacking football. A tactics that has suffered a blow as the very quick Moudou Sougou has just been added to a long list of casualties, while Steaua can not only be proud with the excellent fitness levels, but also with a total lack of injured players and a strong competition for a starting place all over the pitch.

The Bucharest side seems to have the edge in what looks like a final for CFR, being fitter, hungrier and more determined than the Cluj side, so we should be in for a rare piece of entertainment, also considering the tens of thousand fans that will be once again behind Reghecampf’s men in the National Arena.

Round 9 – results, scorers, standings & highlights

September 27, 2012 Leave a comment

CFR Cluj and Steaua, ready to start their group stage adventures in Europe

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Both teams come after wins to nil away from home, but a way bigger challenge awaits in Europe, one that promises hefty rewards, but also threatens CFR’s and Steaua’s consistency in Liga 1, where both clubs are considered the main contenders for the title. If the Bucharest outfit started really well, the reigning champions have dropped points and also lost a number of good players and they’ll be heading into the most demanding part of the season with a tired, damaged team, hoping that the new signings will have enough quality to skip quickly over the period needed to adjust to a whole new environment. But, for now, both sets of fans will be thinking of Braga and Stuttgart and I’m sure that there’s also interest from Portugal and Germany, so here’s a quick look at the state of the two Romanian teams.

Ioan Andone will be coaching for the first time in the CL group stage.

CFR Cluj

One word to describe it: inconsistent. The champions won on Friday away at Dinamo (1-0), but in spite of a solid start, struggled to keep the same pace and focus throughout and went close to conceding in the final minutes. Nothing new, really, look at the two halves from Basel and other league games when the defence fell asleep, with the entire team losing shape and balance. All this using pretty much the same starting eleven, due to the large number of injured players…

Basically, there’s unpredictability as far as the game is concerned, although coach Ioan Andone might try to surprise both Braga – the team’s first opponent from the Champions League’s group stage – and his team’s fans. Most likely, he will be gambling on either Sasa Bjelanovic (Kapetanos had some medical problems during the game vs Dinamo) or Luis Alberto, as only these two of the last additions are in good shape and have also been included on the list registered with UEFA. If Bjelanovic can only take the place of the Greek goalscorer, Luis Alberto will challenge Gabriel Muresan and Nicolas Godmeche for a place in front of the back four, with the Frenchman most likely to drop to the bench, in case Andone wants some fresh blood in midfield, where another substitution could see the talented but inconsistent Rui Pedro take the place of Diogo Valente, who’s yet to impress in CFR’s shirt.

Steaua

The talented Chiriches and Tanase will give it all to impress in Europe.

A comfortable away win against newly promoted CSMS Iasi came at the right time, offering a boost of morale without asking for too much effort in exchange. Unfortunately for Laurentiu Reghecampf, who was in Germany to watch Stuttgart’s weekend game, left midfielder Cristian Tanase couldn’t finish the game due to some muscular problems. If the highly rated Romanian international can’t get to full fitness in time, there are two options to replace him: Paul Parvulescu, who also played at left back, can do the winger’s job, allowing Reghecampf to secure the flank, or Alex Chipciu can move on the left and do the exact same job as Tanase, given that he’s also a right footed wide midfielder who likes to cut inside – something he excelled at while playing for Brasov and also earned him the transfer to Steaua. In this case, Adrian Popa would take his place on the right side, adding a lot of pace and some decent skill, but no experience at all in such games. Either way, the Bucharest side, who managed this weekend to claim the first place in Liga 1 after two years, promises to test Stuttgart’s defense with a high paced attacking maneuver that this club had in its DNA, but no other coach had managed to activate it in recent years.

FC Vaslui gave a scare to migthy Inter Milano, in a game the Romanians never expected or deserved to win!

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Sumudica, celebrating the win versus Steaua, in Liga I. A coach with a vision as limited as his education.

Having to go through the preliminary rounds of both European competitions, most Romanian clubs face between two and four games before making a shameful exit. An entire campaign, they fight like crazy, bending rules and doing everything possible to finish as high as possible in the standings, but when they start playing in Europe, the following season they start complaining about the games that come every three days…

FC Vaslui is yet to win a league title, but is a club that managed to finish every season in a higher position than in the previous one. The lack of European exposure obviously affected their chances to avoid big names this autumn and, after Fenerbahce in the Champions League, things got worse in the Europa League. Inter came to Piatra Neamt and won 2-0 the first leg, a match that Marius Sumudica, Vaslui’s coach wanted to approach using the reserves. An idea that came back to life before last night’s second encounter and Sumudica rested even the excellent goalkeeper, Dani Coman, alongside a number of regular starters, handing debuts to several players against a team lead by the incredible Javier Zanetti, packed with stars, in spite of a 2 goal advantage from the first leg.

Vaslui lead 1-0 and 2-1, playing almost an hour with a one man advantage, but failed to deliver the biggest surprise of the play-off. The game ended with a draw that punished what I consider lack of respect towards the competition and the opposition, but, above all, an amateurish approach that I’ve initially linked with Sumudica. Listening to the team’s manager Daniel Stanciu and the club owner Adrian Porumboiu afterwards, I realized that the coach had their backing to field a weak team against Inter and give up the fight before it began. And all that because three days from now, the title contender FC Vaslui will play away versus newly promoted club, Viitorul Constanta… Pathetic!

 

Four Liga I teams could change their coaches in the same week!

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

After Claudiu Niculescu (Universitatea Cluj) and Bogdan Stelea (Astra Ploiesti), round six of the Romanian first division could bring massive changes. Marian Bondrea is the first victim, getting the sack from CS Severin, the team he managed to promote for the first time in Liga I. The team had collected only two points so far and will be coached by Liviu Ciobotariu, who will meet next weekend Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt, defeated yesterday by Viitorul Constanta, at home, a result that determined Costel Enache to ask the board to look for a replacement. “I want them to understand that I cannot control the situation anymore!”, said Enache, a similar statement to the one released by Ionut Popa. The experienced coach of newly-promoted CSMS Iasi had already made an attempt to leave his post before the start of the season and now had another talk with the board, asking to be released!

UPDATE: In spite of an official announcement on CS Turnu Severin’s website, Liviu Ciobotariu refused to take over the team and signed for CSMS Iasi, who released yesterday afternoon Ionut Popa!

Dorinel Munteanu refuses to continue his adventure with Otelul Galati.

And this is not all, as Dorinel Munteanu looks just as determined to leave former champions Otelul Galati. “It’s 99% sure I won’t be coaching this team anymore!”, said the man who holds the record of international caps for Romania, very upset at the financial struggle of a team that two years ago was playing in the Champions League group stage, but also at the struggle for power within the club. “I don’t even know who I’m supposed to talk to about this!”, said Munteanu, who won just one game this season…

So, one coach sacked, three others waving the white flag and waiting for a decision this week, which could have set a new record, considering that Ioan Ovidiu Sabau and Marius Sumudica weren’t feeling so comfortable either, before this round. But Rapid produced a miracle, coming back from 0-2 down to win 3-2 versus CFR Cluj, scoring 3 goals in 20 minutes while playing 10 vs. 11, and FC Vaslui also came back after a terrible 1st half and one goal down to win 3-1 versus Steaua, last night!

Round 5 – results, scorers, standings & highlights

August 23, 2012 Leave a comment

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