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The incomplete preview for the next season of Romanian football

July 8, 2017 2 comments

The season starts on July 15. The transfer period closes on September 4, so we can expect still plenty of action on the market. There will be an almost 3 months long winter break, in which normally other massive changes of personnel take place. The number of points gained during the regular season will be cut in half, so the playoffs can see the Top 6 making the final sprint in a totally different shape than anyone could realistically anticipate at this point. That’s why it makes more sense to just have a look at how the best equipped and most ambitious clubs will line up at the start of Liga 1’s 100th edition…

FCSB (the club formerly known as Steaua):

Having lost the two championships played under the current format, a third defeat looks catastrophic. But feeling sympathetic towards Gigi Becali just doesn’t sound right, in spite of his willingness to spend money in the market. He’s doing it without fully relying on professional advice and his judgment is often clouded by pride, arrogance and an over-confidence in his football knowledge. He has the power to get every (half of) year almost everything he wishes, from the best Romanian prospects to the consistent performers in Liga 1, but more often will weaken one of his rivals than strengthen his club or prove the right fit for his team. His current team is very strong in midfield and attack, has a long bench, but the defensive options are mediocre. He also went for a new coach, but the general feeling is that the team’s former no 10 Nicolae Dica was chosen more for his obedience than his innovative ideas or coaching record. Still, expect FCSB to go all the way, the team is strong and can become even stronger, although some doubts about Becali’s coaching ability should persist 🙂

Champion with Unirea Urziceni, Petrescu returns to Romania after some odd and unsuccessful spells abroad.

CFR Cluj:

A new ownership, strong investment to clear debt and massively overhaul the squad and the signing of a proven coach like Dan Petrescu surely turn once again CFR into a serious title contender. This is the club FCSB should / will fear the most. Petrescu knows exactly what he’s doing and what he needs, while the board has a proven record and a broad perspective over the market. They’ve already signed a dozen of new players, yes, there will be a lack of cohesion in the first part of the season, but if things go right, in a couple of months CFR will look a lot like Unirea Urziceni: a very experienced outfit, very well balanced, whose main assets will be mental, tactical and physical. At this point, I’d tip them to become a dominant team and wouldn’t be surprised to force FCSB into another handicap start in the play-offs.

Dinamo:

Contra’s arrival just before the start of last season’s playoffs produce an incredible effect, but it was all down to the former international’s excellent motivational ability. It will take more than that to really challenge for more than a place in Europe, mostly because Dinamo’s has a rather minimalistic approach on the market. The ownership’s reluctance to spend on transfer fees and big(ger) salaries is well-known, so the feeling is that Contra, who lost two key players already in Dielna and Palic, will have to perform miracles to mount a title challenge, unless re-enforcement is on the way.

CSU Craiova:

There’s a new, intriguing name on the bench: Devis Mangia. A new stadium should be completed within a year and Craiova – who rely on a passionate fan base – could get a major boost right before the play-offs. All the important players have stayed put so far – although the likes of Ivan and Baluta have the potential to attract bids – some interesting additions like Roman and Barbut came in, but the squad still feels too light to go all the way.

Viitorul:

Last season’s champions have surprised with the addition of some very experienced players, but hopefully Hagi won’t turn his kindergarten into a retirement house. He’s surely hoping that this strategy will help him make a good start in Europe, as the important clubs seem to remain reluctant in submitting the kind of bids he was expecting for hot prospects like Coman or Nedelcu, after their displays in Liga 1. It’s going to be almost impossible to repeat last season’s feat, but an European spot remains on the cards and in Hagi’s plans for the campaign set to start on 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.

Razvan Marin joins Standard Liege. A good move for everyone involved!

January 20, 2017 2 comments

Fans of Standard might know little about him, but what’s important from them is that the club’s board made a smart, justified (it was about time, right?) move by going for his signature. Marin is the brightest and most consistent young player in Liga 1, is younger and a lot cheaper than Anderlecht’s huge transfer from the same competition six month ago (Stanciu going at 23, with less re-selling potential for an absurd transfer fee) and will find in Belgium a competition that will challenge and help him develop.

Linked previously with clubs like Zenith, Roma or Fiorentina, Marin will find with Standard the much needed playing time at this age and in his first adventure abroad and I have a feeling that everyone involved in this deal can look back smiling to this very moment in a couple of years.

razvan-marin

Having just lost Trebel (25), Standard nailed a central midfielder with a rather similar profile, who can add more going forward, but who needs to progress physically and mentally to reach similar levels in the defensive phase of the game, especially if Standard will continue to use a 4-4-2.

Ideally suited for a 4-3-3, Marin can adjust to a midfielder pairing in a 4-4-2 or in a 4-2-3-1 with a physically strong number 6 able to allow him the freedom to move forward and also protect the back four. Just to be clear, the Romanian international shows good work ethic and will play his part defensively, being quite a tireless runner and showing discipline in tracking back, pressing and cutting off passing and running channels in his own half, but he’s not the most aggressive tackler you’ll meet and in terms of vigour and ability to make successful challenges defensively 1v1, well, there’s some homework for Standard’s coaching staff right there…

If allowed to express himself, Marin will prove quite influential in developing attacks with his passing and movement range and you’re in for a surprise when you’ll see this guy take his chance on goal from long range… I won’t spoil it for you. Erm, ok, maybe just a little bit 🙂

To conclude, Standard gets a 20 years old with a lot of first team experience,who has made an impact in Romania’s senior national team and has every reason to add caps to his name with consistency, who is already on the radar of some big clubs and who was signed at a realistic price, which ensures quite a big margin for profit if Marin does impress.

Marin, on the other hand, has no reason to be down for missing out on the speculated transfers; he takes a step forward, will play in a league that posed problems to fellow internationals Chipciu and Stanciu at Anderlecht, both more experienced than him, and won’t need to fight the same level of doubt when scouts will be sent to (re)asses his level and potential.

He’ll get to learn, to play and to taste football abroad with all the challenges that have seen similar Romanian talents waste important years in bigger leagues and clubs. He has the mentality and ability to see this through and be more prepared for what everyone thinks is his future.

We should see some more happy faces in Constanta, where Hagi just nailed the biggest transfer fee received for a single Academy product. Leaving aside the much needed cash, which is in the region speculated even if Marin would have really gone to the above mentioned clubs from Italy or Russia, he desperately needs a player to go from Viitorul and succeed abroad. Having done some business with Italian clubs, trying to place youngsters in their Primavera sides, he saw Chitu return from Valenciennes, Iancu come back from Turkey (after an initial bad spell with Steaua), Manea on the sidelines in Mouscron. In Romania, he can only get some cash from Steaua, so he could do with some sort of proof that his players are ready for the next step and can do it away from the best setup and facilities that youngsters can find around here. I surely wish that for he’ll find the means and motivation to keep on working just as before at his Academy, just as I wish we finally see more Romanian players make it abroad, away from a league that’s slowly dying…

Budescu’s move to China is actually a good sign?

February 3, 2016 Leave a comment
Warning: try looking at the piece ignoring Budescu’s struggles to adapt there, integrate a hard working environment, the history of Romanian players transferred abroad and sent home after 6 months of disappointment, etc 🙂
Let’s put aside his playing style, his weaknesses on and off the pitch and focus on these facts:
  • he’s been scoring more than 10 goals per season in the last 4 championships;
  • he’s been the most decisive player in Liga 1 in the past 2 years;
  • he forced his way into the national team against the will of Anghel Iordanescu (who had to give in to a lot of pressure from the public and media) and has chipped in important goals already.
Constantin Budescu, Astra’s number 10 who helped a club with important debt towards its players finish last year topping the standings in Liga 1, was hot property and was destined to move away this winter. With Astra needing desperately cash to pay salaries, Budescu’s options were either Steaua or Umm Salal from Qatar. Too few, but apparently the player refused for years to work with an agent thinking that he could manage his career by himself. Not the brightest of ideas, but the guy was always better with his feet than his head…
As it often happens, of the two option he ended up picking a third, which raised more eyebrows and questions, but what really intrigues me is that it also prompted quite a few jokes over here.
budescu-astra
Yes, it’s China and it’s actually a second division club that got the player’s signature for the following three years. Yes, he moved there for the money and put in jeopardy his first and probably last chance of playing at a final tournament with the national team. But maybe, before laughing (without his millions in the bank), maybe it would be best to get off our high horses and stop thinking about China like Liga 1 is actually La Liga or 1.Bundesliga and he’s going actually to an inferior competition. And ask ourselves if it really is the end of the (footballing) world. Looking only at the moves of Jackson Martinez, Ramires and Gervinho, to name a few, should be enough to reconsider all this and also acknowledge the fact that it’s all reasonable and makes perfect sense. Would anyone had considered Budescu ready to compete in the same league with such names? Oh, and did any of those making fun and criticising his decision have watched lately any games from the Chinese leagues?!
Isn’t it quite possible that one or two years from now, when Dalian Aerbin could allow Budescu play against the above mentioned star players and when other top footballers would have moved there, to look at all this from a different perspective?

Steaua’s old faces, for a brand new league title

December 28, 2015 Leave a comment

If I’d be the owner of a Romanian club I’d choose Reghecampf as a coach. Why? Because he is the best!

Those were Laurentiu Reghecampf’s words in May 2014, when he was leaving Steaua after 2 league titles and 1 SuperCup and heading for Al-Hilal’s big money contract. A statement that surely made Becali smile happily that he had no more competition within the club in terms of bragging and speaking about himself in third person. Now, one and a half season later, fearing that he might lose the title, Becali made the call and the dozen promises and got back the 40 years old. Steaua will make it to the playoffs in Liga 1’s first season in the new format, but is now 4th in the standings, behind Astra, Viitorul and Dinamo, so the vocal owner can’t take anything for granted. He’ll have to accept Reghecampf and all his (and his wife’s) wishes.

poza

It’s not a bad move, let’s be clear. Actually, it makes perfect sense that a club owner in charge of transfers who only knows current or ex-Liga 1 players to appoint a coach whose wife is an agent and who is ready to accept such a terrible transfers policy without issues. It came as no surprise to see headlines in December announcing Steaua’s first “new” signings. Old faces on the bench, old faces on the pitch too: Pintilii, a 31 years old, who had followed Reghecampf to Al-Hilal, will leave Hapoel Tel-Aviv after 14 matches; Bourceanu, a flop at Trabzonspor, will return for a second time to Steaua.

The two formed a very successful pair in central midfield when Steaua was indeed an impressive force in Liga 1, but the spine of the team also featured Tatarusanu in goal, Chiriches and Gardos at the back, Rusescu upfront. Chipciu was in great shape, Popa was impressing as well, and not with the Christmas pictures taken in Reghecampf’s house, in Las Vegas…

Although the team is in a worse shape than two years ago, Steaua has every chance to successfully defend the title. Dinamo and Viitorul look to be lacking the strength and belief to go all the way when the big games will come in succession, while current league leaders look like a team that can be dismantled in January, with offers flowing in since word came out that Ioan Niculae, currently behind bars, wants to cash out. Maybe that’s why Reghecampf doesn’t see as a challenge getting Tade (top scorer in 2015), Alcenat or Guilherme (best right back and left back, respectively, when playing for Petrolul) back to their best and accepts Becali’s decision to get rid of them at all costs. In the end, it will only create more room for his wishes and his wife’s deals.

Unfortunately, such a chaotic approach has little chance to be punished on the pitch, as the level of the league is still too low to produce a genuine title contender for Steaua, a club that in recent times has lost his aura, abandoned by fans, forced to play not only away from their stadium, but also away from Bucharest, and none of its bad habits. Reghecampf has every chance to secure another title for the red and blue outfit and we can’t say we hadn’t been warned by the man himself: “Reghecampf is the best”.

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…

Astra and Petrolul went all-in. Can Steaua defend the title?

February 13, 2014 2 comments

Steaua lost their captain, Petrolul signed Mutu, Astra gets Romanian backup from Serie A – all eyes have been on the front three this winter and there’s enough excitement as the restart of the league nears. With two games in hand to be played in February, Steaua will probably rearrange order at the top before the former rivals from Ploiesti get to play their first official matches, but it should only make things more exciting. So here’s a look at the good and bad moves from this season’s title contenders:

Steaua
Important players in: Claudiu Keseru (Bastia), Lucian Sanmartean (FC Vaslui)
Important players out: Alexandru Bourceanu (Trabzonspor)

Bourceanu leaves a hole in Steaua's midfield.

Bourceanu leaves a hole in Steaua’s midfield.

With two games in hand, which will be played before the restart of the league, Steaua not only has the chance to get back on top of the standings, but also to be the first to get used to official matches. It will surely come handy, as the Bucharest side had a terrible pre-season, as far as results are concerned.

With just one important loss, the captain Bourceanu, sold for a handsome 1.4 million euro fee, difficult to obtain for a player running out of contract, Steaua only hopes to regain the fitness level and enthusiasm that impressed the most in Reghecampf’s regime, as the winning team is still there: a reliable keeper, a solid back four, the intelligent Pintilii, the number of offensive choices to rotate in search of the best output…

Signed from Bastia, Keseru should add competition and quality upfront, in spite of the media’s haste of labelling him as a flop based on his pre-season performances, ignorring the fact that very few players actually impressed for Steaua during their two training camps on Spanish soil. The late signing of veteran winger Lucian Sanmartean is though a sign of fear, but, at the same time, Steaua’s fear should be a concern for their title rivals, who could have done with a more relaxed reigning champion…

Can go well if… Steaua was just a machinery running out of gas.
Can go bad if… The motivation isn’t just the same. Too many regular starters will be thinking about the summer mercato. The defense will be left only with the protection of Pintilii, as Reghecampf has enough reasons to replace the departed pitbull with a more offensive midfielder.

Astra Giurgiu
Important players in: Paul Papp (Chievo), Denis Alibec (Inter/Bologna), Laurentiu Iorga (Otelul Galati), Stefan Popescu (Ajaccio)
Important players out: –

Not rated among the contenders at the beginning of the season, Astra managed to gain a lot of points and respect during the first half of season. The wealthy owner and an old fox in charge of the club have made up for the coach’s lack of experience with a winning team, which can still come to work against the club as the finish line will get closer and the pressure will reach levels never touched before by Daniel Isaila and most of his players.

Still, Astra’s winter mercato has been solid, with two Romanian players with a point to prove brought back from Serie A clubs and all the key players kept on the roster without problems. The squad looks stronger, is hungry for success and looks surprisingly relaxed. With no pressure from the fans or the media, the club recently moved from Ploiesti to Giurgiu, already played Steaua twice, failing to defeat the champions, but their strength has always been to crush smaller opponents

Can go well if… The chance to go all the way will keep on inspiring the team & won’t instill fear. The inexperienced Daniel Isaila has that special something to take up such a challenge and see it through. Budescu will create play and score goals at the same rate as in the 1st half of season.
Can go bad if… The owner won’t be able to control his level of interference.

Petrolul Ploiesti
Important players in: Adrian Mutu (Ajaccio), Ianis Zicu (Gangwon), Gerson Ferreira (Ferencvaros), Toto Tamuz (Ural)
Important players out: Hamza Younes, Alexandru Benga, Ferebory Dore (all to Botev Plovdiv), Damien Boudjemaa (Slavia Prague)

Leadership and goals, that's what Petrolul expects from Mutu.

Leadership and goals, that’s what Petrolul expects from Mutu.

Mutu’s arrival was the winter mercato’s big and unexpected hit. Image, mood, perspective – all changed for Petrolul, but things are not as bright after one month, with the financial support of the Local Council currently on hold, some interest from abroad in Cosmin Contra’s work and an intense transfer activity that can work both ways… Petrolul might have signed one/two (falling) stars, but was forced to sell a proven goalscorer like Younes and no less than 3 other players who, for bad or worse, did play an important part in the team’s excellent 2013.

With fantastic support and a winning aura at home, Petrolul will have to do better on the road and start turning more draws into wins. The extra class in their attacking midfield might help out, but will the defense be able to hold on?

Can go well if… Mutu and Zicu will be in the mood to show their class. The away form will improve. The attack will compensate for the defensive fragility and lack of backup.
Can go bad if… Financial problems will surface right away and the ownership won’t be able to hide them well enough until the summer. The lack of a balanced squad (poor backup un the flanks, average quality in central defense, no proven goalscorer available for the lone striker position) will be exposed.

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