Everything’s going great for the Bucharest side: spending the winter break with a 12 points advantage over FC Vaslui, the closest serious title contender, dreaming of a double against Chelsea in the Europa League – stupid mind games played with Ajax, their first and most likely last opponent to meet in Europe, this spring -, and playing around with their top players’ transfer fees, in deals with little chances to go through during the current mercato.
Thanks to a quality roster that once again forms the back-bone of Romania’s national team and a young coach, Laurentiu Reghecampf, that got almost everything right in an excellent 2012, Steaua has every right to feel confident of winning their 24th title and the ultimate goal: playing once again Champions League football. Of course, preliminary rounds await, but UEFA’s prize money seem again in reach and nothing can Gigi Becali happier.
Well, UEFA has also prepared a surprise for the 2013/2014 edition and it’s not a pleasant one for Steaua. The UEFA Youth League, a competition that will offer the 32 clubs qualified for the Champions League group stage the chance to line-up their U19 teams for a European competition, will force the red and blue outfit to think again about investing some money in their youth setup. Becali himself stopped financing properly this vital area of the club some years ago, thinking that he can afford to sign basically every promising Romanian player that might come through. He was right, as Steaua bought indeed most of the hot prospects that proved themselves at smaller clubs in the first division, and the recent transfer of 18 years old Gabriel Iancu – the first important name to come out of Gheorghe Hagi’s Academy – underlines Becali’s financial strength, at least by Romanian standards.
In fact, it’s the man’s problem if he wants to spend more on players raised by others rather than investing less money and developing talent at his own club, but now Steaua could be in a difficult spot, as the club’s image will be at stake in the UEFA Youth League too, not just the Champions League. Not to mention that this competition could also be used to advertise and sale young talent…
I’ve watched Steaua’s U19 and U17 teams recently, outplayed and outscored by arguably the best Romanian club at youth level, Hagi’s Academy. Viitorul Constanta won 7-2 at U19 level and 4-0 at U17 level at the end of September and I felt it made no sense taking notes on more than two players from the visiting team. The teams are a mess and on such short term Steaua has no other option than to sign some talented youngsters in the summer, at least for the U19 squad. In fact, we could see the club change again its’ strategy, but I recall the last massive campaign of signing youngsters. It happened some years ago and Steaua signed a dozen youth internationals in a very short time, hoping to raise them properly in the reserve team and promote them in the top flight. Not a single one made it, with some promising careers destroyed by poor work and lack of interest at that time. A sign that Becali might have the cash, but surely lacks something vital at this level: patience and know-how.
After 3 years of hard work and many more millions invested in a football academy and a football club promoted to the top flight last summer, Gheorghe Hagi is ready to collect his first cheque and it could well be a player that has quite a few things in common with the man once nicknamed Maradona of the Carpathians. He’s a precocious left footed attacking midfielder who doesn’t feel the weight of the number 10 shirt nor the pressure of first division football at a young age, in the team with the youngest average age in the league, and has already netted 6 goals in 16 appearances, at the age of 18.
Tested by Ajax Amsterdam, who already has its expert eyes on the likes of Bogdan Tiru and Cristian Gavra – other two talents from Hagi’s Academy – and scouted also by Galatasaray, who could really sell the story of the King’s heir in Turkey, Iancu is now facing the biggest decision of his young career. In need of cash to continue the development of the Academy, as well as supporting the growing costs of a first division club, Hagi has decided to listen to any offers this winter and Steaua Bucharest was the quickest to table a sum close to what’s expected in exchange of a player that doesn’t pop up very often in this part of the world.
He started just like me, at a young age and in the sound of goals. He’s skilful and has the ability to make quick decisions. By doing so, Iancu looks quick in everything he does, although he’s not the fastest player around.
Gheorghe Hagi on Gabriel Iancu
“Steaua must now discuss personal terms with the player”, admits Hagi, who refuses to say that the race between interested clubs has now ended, but as far as I know, has demanded some guarantees that the youngster will be offered the chance to play for the senior team, so he can continue his impressive development. Hopefully, Steaua will keep its’ word, not only for Iancu’s sake, but also for the club’s image, more famous recently for wasting talent, rather than properly nurturing it…
- FC Brasov – CS Severin 2-1 (Buga 2, I. Popa 83 / Thomas 56)
- Ceahlaul – CFR Cluj 2-2 (Ichim 28, Tolimir 66 / Kapetanos 20, Maftei 76)
- Gaz Metan Medias – Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-2 (Nistor 15, Ibeh 70)
- Astra Ploiesti – Steaua 3-4 (Enache 12, 38, J. Morais 47 / Tanase 19, Martinovic 22, Rusescu 62, Rocha 67)
- FC Vaslui – Petrolul 3-0 (Sanmartean 22, Sburlea 70, M. Niculae 84)
- Universitatea Cluj – Gloria Bistrita 1-0 (Szilagyi 80)
- Dinamo – CSMS Iasi 5-2 (Tucudean 13, 22, 47, 49, Rus 50 / Onofras 27, Vladu 83)
- Concordia Chiajna – Viitorul Constanta 1-1 (Welington 53 / G. Iancu 29)
- Otelul Galati – Rapid 1-1 (Viglianti 27 / N. Grigore 74)
It all started three years ago, when the legendary Gheorghe Hagi started to develop his football academy, just outside Constanta. Three years and around 10 million Euros later, the results are outstanding and show that a serious approach to youth development will pay dividends. The Academy has now almost 30 players getting regular call-ups to Romania’s youth national teams (Alexandru Buzbuchi, George Serban, Adrian Putanu, Bogdan Tiru, Gabriel Iancu and Cristian Gavra – all recently involved in the Elite Round played by the U19 in Serbia, against the hosts, Germany and Hungary) and today another important event took place.
Viitorul Constanta, the platform offered to the growing talents of the Academy to prove themselves among the seniors, won 2-0 against Sageata Stejaru (goals by the young internationals Putanu and Iancu) in the last round of the Liga 2 season and earned a second consecutive promotion. The blue and white outfit will be playing first division football next season and it’s another fantastic achievement for Hagi’s club.
Of course, this is the real test for the project and Hagi must be strong enough to resist the temptation to try and fight the usual faces of the first division using their weapons. He needs to stay faithful to the excellent work done so far and keep on offering the chance to play at a higher level to the most talented 17, 18 and 19 years old from his Academy. Viitorul doesn’t need to do more than stay up in the clubs’ first season on this stage and should stay focused on the club’s main goal: promoting the excellent prospects who are already coming to age. There’s the risk of going back to the second tier after one year, but let’s not forget the not so old adventures of Sportul Studentesc, who even fought for the title a few years ago using only Romanian players – most of them very young -, a club Hagi’s quite familiar with…