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?
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?
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!
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!
The first experience as a coach ended badly for Bogdan Stelea, one of the members of Romania’s golden generation. The bald, strong ex-goalkeeper, nicknamed Arnold back in his playing days, lost only one game during his four-games tenure at Astra Giurgiu (former Astra Ploiesti – the club will change cities this autumn) and was probably surprised to hear that he will have to pack after a second consecutive draw against a newly promoted club.
Defeated by Steaua (3-4) after a win away at Gloria Bistrita (2-1), Astra drew 0-0 vs Viitorul Constanta and, yesterday, 1-1 vs FC Severin, two disappointing, but not terrible results, which kept the team in mid-table, its’ favorite place in the standings. Stelea took part of the blame saying there’s still a lot of work to be done for this newly assembled team, a phrase misunderstood by Ioan Niculae, the club’s owner, who went on air during the same TV show and attacked his coach for branding Astra as a… newly promoted.
Niculae – who’s the wealthiest club owner in Romania, but one who must love mediocrity! – got so carried away during the interview that he went further, in a land that has nothing to do with a professional approach in football. “If Stelea thinks Astra is a newly promoted, then he should start looking for a new place to work. We’re the worst team in Liga I. That’s it, Stelea is sacked!”. If this wasn’t enough, a look at the guests of the same TV show, Fanatik, was enough for Niculae to decide on who’s the perfect man for the job! As the camera moved to Gigi Multescu – former Astra coach who helped Petrolul Ploiesti avoid relegation at the end of last season -, Astra’s owner reacted: “Look, I’ve already found the perfect man to take over! Gigi, give me a call after the show is over, you’ve already worked with me in the past and you know that I want to build a successful team!”
Unfortunately, the show ended before a live negotiation of the contract or some transfers, done to please the new coach. We’re lucky, though! The season just started in Romania and the show runs almost every weekend, from Friday to Monday evening!
The idea belongs to former Barcelona skipper Gheorghe “Gica” Popescu, who gathered most of his colleagues from the national team that impressed at the American World Cup, in 1994, and proposed over lunch to make a final appearance as a group. The event should close the “Champions’ night” campaign initiated a few years ago by Popescu, which brought in Romania, among others, Brazil’s national team, for charity purposes. Gheorghe Hagi, Adrian Ilie, Bogdan Stelea, Tibor Selymes, Daniel Prodan, Ilie Dumitrescu and Ionut Lupescu were present and agreed to take part to a farewell match that will take place in Timisoara, in May. The choice is fully justified – although it’s quite far from me😦 -, as Timisoara has the most passionate and civilized crowd in the whole country and probably the opposition will be top class, as every former national team player will try to bring quality players.