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Hagi’s return from Fiorentina: is it a transfer or a ransom?

January 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Not the usual “return of the prodigal son” story… Sold to Fiorentina in the summer of 2016, at a time when several options were on the table, Ianis Hagi returns to his father’s home a year and a half (and several shattered dreams) later, as FC Viitorul announces the agreement between clubs regarding the transfer fee and future percentages on its’ official website. Everything is settled, again, but there’s more relief than happiness for each side involved, in between the hidden numbers of this second deal.

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Foto credit: gsp

Hagi, the Great Hagi, suffered immensely seeing his son’s struggles in Firenze. Hagi, the still too small and fragile Hagi, had also a shock. He had the name, the talent, the promises – which his father prized more than the transfer fee itself – of first team football, but he got instead little in return. Less than an hour of football for Fiorentina’s 1st team, under Paulo Sousa, not a single minute under Pioli, it was quite clear that only a miracle would have changed quickly the fortunes of Ianis, who will turn 20 this year and has dropped from regular starter in the mediocre Liga 1 to just another talent who needs to impress at Primavera level. His father decided to put an end to it, at any cost.

Is it another failure of a talented Romanian youngster abroad? Was it all too easy for Ianis, growing at his father’s club and under his continuous protection before the move to Italy, in the first truly competitive environment? Is it the right move to drag him back to Liga 1? What’s better: staying and fighting for his place in Firenze or getting back confidence and match fitness near Constanta? Would any other father had reacted any different if he had Hagi’s means and options, seeing their son in such difficulty? Lots of angles and questions to a very delicate situation indeed… It’s obvious and admirable that Hagi is trying to help his son, let’s just hope that being over-protective won’t turn Ianis into an under-achiever, never ready face and push through difficulties that have always separated the men from the boys and the performers from those with unfulfilled talents.

Buying the Liga 1 topscorer? Not such a good idea…

We might not be 100% about the name of the league winner, considering the fact – and it’s a fact now – that Gigi Becali is such a poor loser that he contested Viitorul’s win and we’ll be expecting from Lausanne a confirmation that FCSB was simply poorly managed and coached and had a bunch of over-paid under-performers instead of a team. But it will come.

What we know for sure is the name of Liga 1’s best scorer in 2016/17: Azdren Llullaku. The Albanian re-invented forward has netted an impressive 16 goals playing for Gaz Metan Medias, a small club that finished the regular season in the play-out zone. What’s also impressive is that Llulaku did all this in half of season, which also got him a contract with Astana.

Now the less impressive stuff: no other player from Liga I managed to at least get close to him, with six more months to play against mostly mediocre opposition. Bud (CFR Cluj), Chitu (Viitorul), Cristea (Iasi), Nemec (Dinamo) and Alibec (FCSB) finished their season with 11 goals. Chitu was the champions’ best scorer, while the experienced internationals Nemec and Alibec fought until the last round for the title. Pathetic return. It speaks volumes about the lack of both real quality and consistency, about the rather chronic inability to play positive, attacking football in Liga I, even at the very top. There are facts to back this up, just think about the last quality no 9 produced by this competition. What’s the first name that springs to mind?

One can also argue that even topping the goalscoring charts in Romania isn’t such a feat. Basically, it offers no guarantees. Let’s leave aside Llullaku, although his record so far (1 goal in 16 appearances for Astana) would only offer the most recent proof of my argument, and let’s have a look at what happened with previous 5 top scorers from Liga 1:

2015/16: Ioan Hora – 19 goals for Pandurii – Hora signed for Konyaspor, who had finished 3rd in Turkey’s SuperLig and was looking to strengthen the team for their Europa League campaign. The Romanian – same profile as Llullaku, a winger who suddenly found his scoring boots when asked to lead the line in a counter-attacking team – struggled badly in his first season; never a starter in the league, scored just once, a useless 90th minute goal in a 3-0 home win, 3 rounds before the end of the season. He proved more useful in Cup games though, scoring twice, but also converting a penalty in the final’s shootout, after he came on the pitch in the 119th minute…

2014/15: Gregory Tade – 18 goals for CFR Cluj – Immediately signed by Steaua, in a classic Becali move, Tade struggled badly in a team that requires a case study, being the most feared and respected by opponents, often superior and always attacking, but so rarely able to produce a prolific 9… Anyway, the French striker only netted 4 goals in 24 games played in Liga I, a return very similar to the one produced in his first season with CFR. But patience is not a virtue you can find in Bucharest and Tade had to endure some rough treatment before he was able to move away and he only found a deal with Qatar SC, under the command of another Romanian coach..

2013/14: Liviu Antal – 15 goals for FC Vaslui – Another prolific winger, another one season wonder. Sold again to Turkey, like Hora, Antal scored once in nine games for Genclerbirligi. Quickly dispatched firstly on loan to Beitar and then to Hapoel Tel Aviv, netted a total of 5 goals in Israel’s top flight for the two clubs, in two seasons. Hapoel was also left with the option to send him on loan and after two halves of season with Pandurii, Antal found again a decent club to sign for: CFR Cluj. His stats this year? 7 appearances – 0 goals.

2012/13 Raul Rusescu – 21 goals for Steaua – Steaua’s last forward to finish first in the goalscoring chart was subject of a surprising and exciting move – at first – in the summer of 2013. Sevilla paid a hefty fee for him, but Sevilla was desperate and Rusescu’s summer smile was gone after a couple of months of more quality signings from the Spanish outfit, who played him just once and sent him on loan first to Braga (5 goals in 13 games) and then to Steaua (4 goals in 21 appearances). Now with Osmanlispor, Rusescu just finished a poor season, after a rather promising start in 2015/16, when he netted 9 goals in 24 appearances in the league.

2011/12 Wesley – 27 goals for FC Vaslui – The Brazilian was a hit; probably the best foreign player to have featured in Liga I. Scored 7 in 16 in his debut season, 12 in 31 in the second, 13 in 32 in the third, before being crowned the league’s top scorer in 2012. But he was not a 9, he was a gifted 10 who, at times, under some clever coaches, played even in front of the back four. His quality though never affected his output and, after 61 league goals in 113 appearances for Vaslui, the ageing Brazilian went to Al-Hilal, scoring more goals, but also a deserved big contract.

Can Romania play attacking football? Daum might be optimistic, but not suicidal…

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment

The image of Daum taking notes on Liga 1 players in the unglamorous stands from Voluntari or Chiajna had a wow factor in the first rounds of the new season. It said two things:

  1. his time to evaluate eligible players before the first official game of the qualifying campaign was extremely limited.
  2. the time when we knew *without even looking* who can should play in the national team was gone.

This is one of the big advantages of bringing in a foreign coach. If he’s serious and dedicated, but also aware that a change of approach and an objective reevaluation of things is needed for a team that finally played again at a final tournament thanks mainly to a more permissive format and to a weak qualifying group, he will really look at things and people. He will surely not like what he finds, but at least he’ll be operating with fresh data and ideas, leaving the past behind.

For a few days now, Romanian media reports of an attacking philosophy, presenting offensive line-ups and quoting positive, optimistic statements about how the team will play. Come match day and the brave, attacking predicted line-up features Sapunaru and Hoban in front of the back four and a 4-2-3-1 and the always out of place striker Stancu on the left wing. Hard to call that either offensive or innovative… But it’s not the official starting eleven, so surely better to wait and see.

Daum is experienced enough though to look for a result in the opening game, rather than attempt to impress with an attacking game that he had little time to implement, both tactically and mentally. Even if he plans to change Romania’s style, he needs more than just a few days and, as you can imagine, not everyone was happy to see him take over this role and a defeat against Montenegro would surely turn on the heat and the hate. Let’s not forget that key elements like Tatarusanu, Chiriches and Pintilii are also missing, but it’s good to see that the search for a new left-back has begun, now with veteran Razvan Rat is out of the picture. You can also see young, fresh faces in the squad, like Marin and Benzar from Viitorul or Dinamo’s Dorin Rotariu. I’m puzzled by the call-up received by Enache, who has been awful at right back lately and I do hope the media got it wrong about the tactical setup and selection of his first eleven, but I’m hopeful it’s only a matter of time until Daum understands who’s reliable or at least who has a chance of fitting his ideas and playing style in the future.

Trickier than in appearance, tonight’s game will be a test not for Daum’s selection and ability to quickly implement new ideas, but also for our understanding of the game, of the time needed to change an approach that has stayed with us for decades. We have praised Iordanescu for making a great counter-attacking team when he had Hagi, Sabau, Gica Popescu, Dan Petrescu or Ilie Dumitrescu at his disposal; I find it quite funny that people read so much into Daum’s words of playing a different football and expect this still mediocre national team to attack and impress with the likes of Grigore, Hoban, Achim and Chipciu…

Romania’s number 10, Nicusor Stanciu, cannot handle the pressure. Really?

June 18, 2016 2 comments

“Stanciu played a good game against France. But he is young and there is an important amount of pressure he has to deal with; we tried to take that pressure off his shoulders”, said Viorel Moldovan, sent by Iordanescu to explain one of the strange decisions made after Romania’s first game at Euro 2016.

And they took it off, leaving Romania’s number 10 and one of the very few creative midfielders on the bench for the 90 minutes played against Switzerland.

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Now, just a few episodes that Romania’s coaching staff surely know, but maybe forgot, when they realised that there’s some explaining to do regarding its controversial decision:

  • Stanciu makes his debut in second division for the senior team of Unirea Alba Iulia before turning 16.
  • Plays his first Liga 1 game when he was only 17. Against Steaua. In a match surprisingly won 2-1 by Unirea.
  • Signed by FC Vaslui, captained his club and scored from the penalty spot against Inter, on Giuseppe Meazza, aged 19.
  • Signs for Steaua and earns quickly his place in the team.
  • Makes his debut in the senior national team and goes on a scoring streak – 4 goals in his first 5 games – that puts to shame every striker that played in recent years for Romania.
  • Took the no 10 shirt and played a solid game against Spain, in a recent friendly, daring to lob Casillas from over 40 meters.

Finishing off, one question for Iordanescu, who lacks courage both as a coach and as a man, sending others to defend his choices: does the must-win game against Albania, in which I expect Stanciu to play from the start, have less pressure than the match against Switzerland?

Looking for some enthusiasm pre-Euro 2016?…

December 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Romania drew 2-2 in Bologna against a disappointing Italian side, but deserve some credit for ending the year unbeaten. The result can be just as deceiving though as the fact that Romania had the best defensive record in the qualifiers for Euro 2016 of all the teams involved.

There’s no real reason for optimism. Commenting the game for Rai, Trapattoni said, among others, that Iordanescu’s players “aren’t technically inferior to any other team” and that Romania’s “mastering the art of passing and dictating tempo”. With all due respect for the legendary coach: LOL!

On the pitch, we had the likes of Grigore, Hoban, Pintilii, who are more or less as skilful as Tatarusanu. It’s true that at the time of those two remarks Sanmartean had just came on and was showing off his classy touch and ability to toy with the game’s tempo when in possession, but six months from now the old wizard will be even closer to retirement…

Nevertheless, unlike Trap, I think Romania’s hopes before the final tournament starts should never get high enough to be able to cause disappointment once our three games at Euro 2016 will be over. Iordanescu, out of contract for a few days in November, is no longer regarded as a coach able to deliver miracles, in spite of all his faith in God. He did take the team to a final tournament after a looong wait, but look at the group, look at the performances, the players he promoted, a tactical edge or clear playing style created during his tenure! (Ok, it’s a trap, don’t waste your time searching for the last three…)

Involved with Steaua’s historical achievement in 1986, coach of the golden generation from 1994, leader of a mediocre group that finally gets tickets to a new final tournament, Iordanescu would have caused no surprise, anger or any other passionate reaction if he would have been left out of contract and replaced by another this autumn…

I’m no fan of the man and would blame Iordanescu for a few things, those unimportant things ignored by previous coaches, who also had promised to rebuild a team, promote new faces and create a playing style that suits this team. I blame him for the lack of vision and courage, I blame him for looking for results at all costs. For the lack of work done in areas left to the new faces of the Romanian football federation, who managed in one year to leave people thinking about Mircea Sandu’s regime… Bref, I simply cannot praise Iordanescu for the kind of results that his predecessors could have been able to deliver against such terrible opponents!

I keep on reading and hearing that our presence at a final tournament is a blessing. Come next summer, I doubt we’ll feel the same watching Romania play. We’ll be there, but it’s not an elite anymore, we’ll say our goodbye to the likes of Rat and Sanmartean and maybe to Iordanescu himself, and we’ll be looking around for options. The kind of options that Razvan Lucescu, Victor Piturca and Anghel Iordanescu failed to produce with their work in the past decade, all of them desperately trying to deliver a successful qualifying campaign. We finally did it, but when you have to thank UEFA for the new format of the tournament, Lady Luck for the draw and Hungary, Greece and Finland for being even weaker than us, you simply run out of praise for a coach and a generation of players that, given its mediocrity, would actually deserve some…

Can we stop Romania and Hungary from playing at EURO 2016?

October 10, 2015 4 comments

romania hungaryWhen Hungary decided settle for a 0-0 against Romania in the second half of the game in Budapest and let the hazard of future results decide their fate, I thought, ok, they don’t deserve to go through. When Romania went over 400 minutes without scoring it was just as clear that we’re just as terrible, both in terms of approach and quality. Hungary’s struggle against Faroe and Romania’s awful home game vs Finland only confirmed that both teams are at pathetic levels, unworthy of a final tournament that everyone thinks would do wonders for either of the two struggling countries.

I’m against that theory, really, because I see more value in reforming clubs and football federations, league associations and other organisms, in adjusting perspectives and lowering public expectations, adding realism and hard work focused at youth level instead. Yeah, the old good hard work…

With all due respect to Northern Ireland and especially Faroe Islands, I do agree that Group F offered some dramatic moments, according to emotional reports from the two countries still hoping to make it to France. You could watch the beautiful game suffer a slow and painful death…

Anyway, with the power invested in my by the 4-5 regular followers of this influential blog, I would like to ask UEFA to award the 2nd qualifying place from Group F to any nation that actually has a team able to play some football. For Romania or Hungary, a presence at EURO 2016 would only be a blessing in disguise.

Tucudean – failure abroad, top dog in Romania?

January 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Opening up today’s Gazeta, you might think that Steaua just made the greatest signing ever. The approach masks two important issues:

30_508195-alx88871. Steaua’s moves on the transfer market are seriously limited by Becali’s decision to decide everything from behind bars, so the club will only try to sign players known by their owner;

2. Tucudean has been a disappointment in Belgium and the Championship and the highlight of his “career” with Charlton is an overhead kick caught on camera during a training session.

Still only 23, the former Dinamo striker can still turn things around. He’ll definitely have the time, as the loan deal expires in June 2016 and a 5 years long permanent deal is already agreed, in principle, with the Red Dog’s fierce rivals. The question is questions are: did he find answers for his failure abroad? did he even bother looking for them?

Let’s not forget what we’ve heard since he made his debut in UTA’s senior team: money isn’t a problem for the teenager that came to Bucharest to impress not only with his physique, but also with his expensive cars. The problem lies elsewhere and I will put together two quotes from two former Dinamo coaches which the paper printed, but “forgot” to discuss:

He’s in the select category of players that motivate themselves before games. Doesn’t need his coach to get in the right state of mind before a big competition.

Gheorghe Multescu

What I’ve noticed is that he needs the support of his coach. The coach needs to talk to him often and show him that he counts on him and has faith in him as a player

Flavius Stoican

And, to conclude, one more question: would Standard Liege have ever paid to sign Tucudean in 2013 if the coach wasn’t a Romanian called Mircea Rednic?

Piturca left Romania with 7 points, but with no idea what do to next

October 26, 2014 Leave a comment

The official announcement came on the 16th of October. Piturca was signing for Al-Ittihad after all. It was not only in the air, but also in the papers for more than three weeks, yet the move managed to surprise the young chief of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), Razvan Burleanu.

“Right now we are talking about rumors, so we should all stick together and focus on the double against Hungary and Finland. Victor Piturca told me that he is not leaving. He is not leaving for now, but didn’t say for how long is he planning to stay either”, said Burleanu on the 29th of September. In spite of this statement, the 30 years old who didn’t think that a Plan B was needed until Plan A was on a plane to Jeddah.

He might have had a list of coaches put together by his advisors right away, but he really started to cross names off it once Piturca left. A huge strategic mistake, as we all found out in the 10 days that went by, as Burleanu’s dream of getting Mircea Lucescu back in charge of the national team turned into a nightmare for the fans who need to accept that there’s one solution left. And that’s Anghel Iordanescu, who hasn’t coached a single team in almost 10 years, and was more keen on politics than football, who will be getting help from a trio of young coaches: Viorel Moldovan, Daniel Isaila and Ionut Badea.

Apart Moldovan, I don’t really know what the other two can bring to the national team. But, in the end, I feel exactly the same about Iordanescu, who’s more familiar with the names of relegious characters than those of Romanian players… The list of Romanian options was long enough, going from Olaroiu to Petrescu, Boloni or Contra, there was always the alternative of bringing in a foreign coach, and those saying that FRF lacked the money to attract such names, I’d say that the issue should have been on FRF’s agenda when Piturca was promised that he would be allowed to leave without having to pay a hefty compensation, if he got 4 points from Romania’s previous two group games.

Burleanu (left) and Iordanescu (right) play a game with high stakes. (photo by Mediafax)

Burleanu (left) and Iordanescu (right) play a game with high stakes. (photo by Mediafax)

With less than 3 weeks before a very tough game, we still await the confirmation of the new structure of Romania’s coaching staff. It should finally arrive on Monday, yet the damage is there to be done. Iordanescu represents a temporary solution. Better said: Iordanescu represents Burleanu’s inability to think ahead and get things done under pressure. And the longer it will take him to understand that he needs a man and a project, the bigger the chances to throw away the positive start of this qualifying campaign.

While Mircea Sandu, the former boss of the FRF, always liked to answer critics by asking to be “blamed” for the results of Hagi’s generation, we might soon find out that he was replaced by a guy who could really be responsible for missing out of a final tournament that is in our reach…

Ogararu will lose games as a coach, but should never lose our respect

September 18, 2014 1 comment

u clujMihai Nesu‘s everyday life is a physical struggle after the horrific accident suffered years ago, but his intelligence and passion for football are still in one place. So, it’s not pity what got him the job as a video analyst for Universitatea Cluj from the new coach in charge, George Ogararu. It’s just something you can’t find these days (actually, for decades) at his former club, Steaua Bucharest: true friendship and respect from an open-minded person in charge.
To both of them I sincerely wish the best of luck. And let’s just secretly keep our fingers crossed for Universitatea Cluj, no matter the team we support. There’s a spirit within that club strong enough not to be perverted by the promise of quick success brought to town in recent years by CFR, a spirit that sets this club apart and gestures like Ogararu’s just fit right in…

A look at Hagi’s struggles with the best Romanian football academy

September 15, 2014 3 comments

Viitorul started its third consecutive season in the top flight, which is quite a feature considering the impressive number of youngsters promoted, but also the difficulties to survive in a league full of clubs ready to throw everything into a fight that usually has one true victim: the future of Romanian football.
Hagi entered this fight with his best kids and intentions, but soon realized all his work and huge investment – done mostly by himself – can go to waste, so Viitorul has now linked to its name some shocking, yet very useful results obtained at the very end of the previous two Liga 1 campaigns.
It was not pretty to watch and it surely didn’t send the right signals not only within the club, but also outside of it. But what father wouldn’t try everything to protect his children?

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The real problem, in my opinion, is not that Hagi felt the need to intervene, as he does now, by taking an active role in the technical staff of his own club, is that he failed to address some important issues, which regard both the Academy’s activity and the senior team’s results.

1. No real solution for players who turn 19.
The youth competitions – which Hagi’s Academy dominate for years – involve only players up to 19 years old. Once the youngsters reach this critical age in their development, there’s no Under 21 or Reserve League games waiting for them. Hagi probably hoped to address that when he supported Gheorghe Popescu’s candidacy, but the former Barcelona captain ended the race in jail, not in the Romanian Football Federation’s best office.
There was no plan B. There are no partner-clubs in the second division, there are no friendly relations with other Liga 1 clubs, where most of his 19 years old, champions at youth level, could have a chance to take the normal step towards senior football. Viitorul is the only senior club to aspire to and it simply cannot look after and promote every generation of new players that comes out of the academy each year.

2. Too much confidence in the Academy’s potential to promote itself.
Initially, Hagi didn’t want a club in the tip flight, but was forced to push for promotion, as he felt that the second division is not a glamorous shopping avenue for interesting clubs, not even Romanian 1st division teams. He had to stop the investment in the training facilities near Constanta to be able to finance the club, but I am not sure that things are that much better. A look at some of the top sales done so far? Chitu to Valenciennes (failed to adjust, now returned to Romania), Balasa to Roma (loaned in Serie B), Iancu to Steaua (failed to impress)… Not very good advertising, is it?

3. Poor marketing and reluctance to work with agents.
Probably Hagi relies on his name, on the impressive number of youth internationals (the U21 just lost 0-8 to Germany…) and surely lacks in his club structure the people who can attract and keep alive the little interest of foreign clubs. On the other hand, he also ignores the good (which often comes with some bad, but not always!) that can be done by agents who know how to sell players.
I’ll offer one example I’ve been watching from a distance: Adrian Stefanescu, a Romanian agent who has very good links with top UK based clubs, including Manchester City, but who does some really good work in getting very young Romanian players in cont(r)act and with Premier League and Championship clubs. Atletico Arad, who does some good work at youth level, are lucky and also clever to have him as partner…

4. Poor selection of first team coaches
Viitorul promoted under the guidance of Catalin Anghel, an unknown, young coach, who has left the club after the first year in the top flight. His choice looked strange in the first place and it set a pattern Hagi hasn’t abandoned. Same goes for Bogdan Vintila, former keeper and colleague of the owner, who was followed and now follows after Bogdan Stelea, whose brief spell in charge means that Hagi didn’t really had to appoint himself in a technical role a couple of weeks ago. My feeling is that he was already making use of those prerogatives…
Anyway, having young, unexperienced and not so strict coaches in charge of a young and unexperienced team might not be the best idea, but until proven wrong, it seems like the only and the best idea.

5. Belief in wasted talents
Viitorul works every day with something than can be seen, felt in a player, but that cannot always be transformed into quality. It’s a process that involved hundreds of players since the academy opened its doors, thousands of hours spent on the pitch, millions of Euros invested and a bunch of subjective factors that can influence the outcome and make the work at youth level such a massive task which most of Romanian clubs simply refuse to undertake anymore.
Why Viitorul, who produces talent in quantities way over the senior team’s needs, decides every once in a while to sign players who proved at every level that they couldn’t turn themselves into quality professional players is simply beyond me. But, normally, it’s strictly linked with Hagi who – proved it also as a coach – really believes in his instincts (I cannot call stubborn a man I can’t stop admiring). Signing players like Alibec and Daminuta, whose real talent is to throw away the fantastic opportunities to make a huge career in football, made no sense to me. If Daminuta came on a free and, in theory, might allow Viitorul to make some money, Alibec was signed on loan from Inter, offered the place deserved by one of Viitorul’s kids, and made a mess of it once again. Now he’s warming the bench of Astra Giurgiu, after his probably last loan spell in Serie A, with Bologna.
Trying to find a logic in these signings? Maybe Hagi wanted to show his Academy graduates how they must not look like in 2-3 years time. Full of tattoos and full of themselves, with some money in the bank, a flashy car & tarty girl at their disposal. But is that such a bad profile for a 17-18 years olds whose family education stopped at 13-14, when they left home to join the Academy and spent his teenage years among boys, going from training to school and back?
They might have all dreamt at one point to become the new Hagi, but haven’t we all? 🙂

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