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Three names to watch in Craiova: Mangia, Ivan and Baluta

July 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Craiova won comfortably against Iasi, 2-0, in the opening game of Liga 1’s 100th edition. It was Mangia’s first official game in charge and it was exciting to watch. Changes were expected, although the squad is pretty much the same as last year, and the Italian’s work on the tactical side should get the deserved praise, as I don’t expect many teams in the league to actually have a game plan into place even three months from now…

Often used on the wing, Craiova’s highest rated player, Ivan, was sent upfront, supported by two quick and skilful attacking midfielders, Baluta and Gustavo, one breaching the lines through the middle, the other starting his actions from a wide role, but always aimed inside. The right side belongs to an attacking full-back who overlaps with consistency, the other flank to Bancu, both being able to get crosses in at a good rate. Baluta, the new number 10, stole the show. The fresh international scored the opening goal with a header, provided the assist for 2-0 and later on hit the crossbar with another header. Not bad at all from the 1,70 m player, who was struggling to add an end product to his runs last season, mostly used as a winger. The 23 years old looks set for a promising season, but not all eyes are on him.

Ivan is 20, wears the armband and surely has a more appealing profile, and this season – assuming he’s still in Craiova by the end of the transfer period – will have a big influence on his future career.

Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 16.28.18Expected to move abroad for more than a year now, he’s yet to convince a foreign club to table at least 3 million Euros. His stats are just one of the issues. Yet to score 10 goals in a season in a mediocre league, Ivan only confirmed in the first appearance of the new season that he needs to improve various aspects of his game, missing again a clear cut chance only because he tried to score a beautiful goal, instead of a, well, goal. By taking him off without second thoughts after 67 minutes, Mangia showed that he can do this talented player more good than a transfer abroad at this age, in a more competitive and demanding environment. Ivan is not ready for that, mentally and tactically. Let’s talk straight: he is not a winger, as previous coaches tried to convince everyone, including the player himself. Ivan always said he enjoyed to attack spaces and what every other coach did? They offered him the easy way out: ok, you’ll play wide, score the 2nd or 3rd goal on the break in the 90th minute, and with your great set of physical attributes, age and potential, the transfer will come. So far (not) so good. Ivan is still here, he cannot become a good winger in a top league and basically he has learned next to nothing in the past two years about playing upfront, centrally, where his future lies.

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Mangia just told him the following things: he’ll have to play as a 9; he’ll have to play better as a 9 than yesterday; he’ll have to take his chances and stop being so wasteful in front of the goal; he can’t take for granted his place in the 1st eleven, even though he’s the captain, the most valuable asset of the club and one of the few quality players in the side. Basically, the Italian just told a 20 years old who thinks everything will fall into place in his career what he would have learned, the hard way, in his first experience abroad. Ivan should swallow his pride, get his head down and learn / work. This season under Mangia could do him a lot of good. If he gets to play it, of course. It’s only July 15…

The incomplete preview for the next season of Romanian football

July 8, 2017 2 comments

The season starts on July 15. The transfer period closes on September 4, so we can expect still plenty of action on the market. There will be an almost 3 months long winter break, in which normally other massive changes of personnel take place. The number of points gained during the regular season will be cut in half, so the playoffs can see the Top 6 making the final sprint in a totally different shape than anyone could realistically anticipate at this point. That’s why it makes more sense to just have a look at how the best equipped and most ambitious clubs will line up at the start of Liga 1’s 100th edition…

FCSB (the club formerly known as Steaua):

Having lost the two championships played under the current format, a third defeat looks catastrophic. But feeling sympathetic towards Gigi Becali just doesn’t sound right, in spite of his willingness to spend money in the market. He’s doing it without fully relying on professional advice and his judgment is often clouded by pride, arrogance and an over-confidence in his football knowledge. He has the power to get every (half of) year almost everything he wishes, from the best Romanian prospects to the consistent performers in Liga 1, but more often will weaken one of his rivals than strengthen his club or prove the right fit for his team. His current team is very strong in midfield and attack, has a long bench, but the defensive options are mediocre. He also went for a new coach, but the general feeling is that the team’s former no 10 Nicolae Dica was chosen more for his obedience than his innovative ideas or coaching record. Still, expect FCSB to go all the way, the team is strong and can become even stronger, although some doubts about Becali’s coaching ability should persist 🙂

Champion with Unirea Urziceni, Petrescu returns to Romania after some odd and unsuccessful spells abroad.

CFR Cluj:

A new ownership, strong investment to clear debt and massively overhaul the squad and the signing of a proven coach like Dan Petrescu surely turn once again CFR into a serious title contender. This is the club FCSB should / will fear the most. Petrescu knows exactly what he’s doing and what he needs, while the board has a proven record and a broad perspective over the market. They’ve already signed a dozen of new players, yes, there will be a lack of cohesion in the first part of the season, but if things go right, in a couple of months CFR will look a lot like Unirea Urziceni: a very experienced outfit, very well balanced, whose main assets will be mental, tactical and physical. At this point, I’d tip them to become a dominant team and wouldn’t be surprised to force FCSB into another handicap start in the play-offs.

Dinamo:

Contra’s arrival just before the start of last season’s playoffs produce an incredible effect, but it was all down to the former international’s excellent motivational ability. It will take more than that to really challenge for more than a place in Europe, mostly because Dinamo’s has a rather minimalistic approach on the market. The ownership’s reluctance to spend on transfer fees and big(ger) salaries is well-known, so the feeling is that Contra, who lost two key players already in Dielna and Palic, will have to perform miracles to mount a title challenge, unless re-enforcement is on the way.

CSU Craiova:

There’s a new, intriguing name on the bench: Devis Mangia. A new stadium should be completed within a year and Craiova – who rely on a passionate fan base – could get a major boost right before the play-offs. All the important players have stayed put so far – although the likes of Ivan and Baluta have the potential to attract bids – some interesting additions like Roman and Barbut came in, but the squad still feels too light to go all the way.

Viitorul:

Last season’s champions have surprised with the addition of some very experienced players, but hopefully Hagi won’t turn his kindergarten into a retirement house. He’s surely hoping that this strategy will help him make a good start in Europe, as the important clubs seem to remain reluctant in submitting the kind of bids he was expecting for hot prospects like Coman or Nedelcu, after their displays in Liga 1. It’s going to be almost impossible to repeat last season’s feat, but an European spot remains on the cards and in Hagi’s plans for the campaign set to start on July 15.

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