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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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-15 at 15.48.58

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…

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Everyone is weaker as Liga I restarts today, but Becali’s club could be this season’s biggest loser

February 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Razvan Marin left the surprising league leaders Viitorul, second placed Steaua lost two key players in Popa and Tosca, while Craiova parted ways with team captain and regular left-back Vatajelu, managing to resist attempts from abroad for their highest asset, Ivan. Heavily weakened from the chasing pack comes out Dinamo, who sold Rotariu and Lazar and finally parted ways with Gnohere, all three attacking men that will be difficult to replace in a team that is yet to be sure of its place in the playoffs, with former champions Astra knocking at their door, in spite of all the torments that probably would have killed any other club by now.

liga-1-standings

From a sporting point of view, everyone comes out weaker from this long winter break, considering that only Steaua had – as always – both the money and desire to re-invest, bringing in a lot of firepower in Alibec and Gnohere, two physical strikers who promise to brush aside weak and deep defensive lines, but who could need time to adjust. Leaving aside their proven quality in the league, shall we try to go back until we find a regular scorer for Steaua in the no 9 role?

The competition will be weaker, no doubt, but the teams that will make it into the playoffs should attack the final stretch of this league that suddenly became interesting again for European clubs from fairly even positions. There’s a lot of ambition in Craiova, but their coach has rarely managed to keep his team (and often his own job) for an entire season, in spite of often very promising spells. Gaz Metan was the surprise package of the first part of the season, but they’ve lost their main scoring threat and the insolvency that will keep them from playing in Europe is anything but good motivation to keep going.

But what about Viitorul, who sit in first place and don’t have an owner capable of messing with the coach’s head, Hagi covering both roles and maybe regretting he’s not able anymore to offer himself some minutes, at least at the end of games that might need a magic left footed touch. Well, they’ve done the right thing by letting Marin go and fingers crossed for the midfielder’s success with Standard Liege, as the Academy’s products really need some good advertising abroad. Hopefully, another youngster will take Marin’s place, although signing Nelut Rosu (who had shown some promise, but that was more than a year ago and playing for a side fighting against relegation) looks a lot like the acquisition of Purece whom Hagi promised to get to national team level. Apparently, it’s trickier than expected to integrate Romanian players with rather questionable tactical knowledge and technical ability, effects of poor work through done at youth level, but also in their first years among the seniors, than to integrate a young player raised properly at his own Academy. Why is he sometimes going round this otherwise natural and key step for his own success I do not know, but recently it happened more and more often, with both Romanian and foreign players whom he’s been trying without luck to transform into influential figures…

No prediction from me, but hopefully Viitorul and Craiova can take into the new year their ability to win points often by taking initiative and playing attacking football, with Steaua’s aura losing its strength even more in recent months. The pressure is on and, come summer, Becali’s club could lose both a title that nobody was looking able to challenge at the beginning of the season and its famous name.

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