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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.

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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?

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