Relegation isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a Romanian first division club this season. Terrible management, caused mainly by a lack of planning, unsupported ambitions and unrealistic wages, has eventually returned with what could be a deadly bite in the ass.
The first club to raise the white flag was Rapid, at the end of last year. The first effect: a massive clear-out, with basically all the important players allowed to leave on a free transfer, including the Montenegro international Vladimir Bozovic, one of the foreign players with the most appearances in Liga 1 (The all-time leader is CFR’s skipper, Ricardo Cadu – 169 games). From a title contender, Rapid, who lies now in 9th place, 8 points above relegation zone, will rather look behind than ahead, as club owner George Copos decided to put the club into administration. Copos has been saying for years that he is willing to sell the club, but in the meantime did nothing to really work on clearing or at least reducing the level of debt that scared away any possible investor.
Gloria Bistrita followed shortly, but this call was met with less sympathy in Romania. The club that raised the likes of Viorel Moldovan and Lucian Sanmartean has a rather dark history under the reign of Jean Padureanu. Nicknamed The Lord, the 76 years old president of this small club was a key figure in a very developed scheme of fixed matches that for years played the leading role in deciding who wins the title, who goes into Europe and who relegates to the second division. Obviously, Gloria had no worries of going down, being allowed to run with very low costs and also make a profit from a plan that crippled Romanian football. That’s why the club’s level of debt is now at around 3 million Euros – a rather small sum, but still one to demand such a drastic measure.
The name of the third first division club to enter administration is already known: Universitatea Cluj. The club’s accounts are blocked since last summer, the 1,04 million Euros from TV rights that are expected in February will go directly to the state budget and there’s no owner ready to push money, as Florian Walter has moved to Petrolul (alongside a dozen of players) and is hoping to sell Universitatea – a move that will also solve a moral issue (controlling two clubs in the same league) that doesn’t seem to bother anyone else around here.
More could/should follow. Dinamo is still affected a continuous turmoil at ownership level, and among the so called top clubs is in the worst shape, while in relegation zone CSMS Iasi and CS Severin could do the same as Gloria Bistrita and Universitatea Cluj. The club from Severin is the most optimistic of all to escape financial trouble, but with the saviors coming from Greece, maybe we should take all the enthusiastic media stories with a pinch of salt…
…and we’re off! We’re strating with a game decided even before it took place, but we’re off! It has been an interesting winter in Romania, with some important moves on the market. Steaua and CFR Cluj cashed-in big time on their most promising players, Bogdan Stancu and Lacina Traore, with another very good forward by Liga I standards, Ribeiro Moraes, leaving Gloria Bistrita and the country. Even though we haven’t seen any outstanding signings, this should be a very interesting second half of season, with the first division perfectly divided in two categories: title contenders (yes, CFR Cluj, currently in 8th place, still hope to win the league!) and relegation candidates. We have no mid-table teams, a category that should be defined during next month, when we’ll see who had either their hopes or fears killed in the first couple of matches.
Otelul kept all the players, which might look good and show ambition, but this was the perfect moment to profit from the rise of Cornel Rapa, the 21 years old right back who’s now an option for the senior national team. They might not get the best price in the summer, unless the excellent physical preparation and tactical discipline from the first half of season will deliver until the end. The league leaders have been discrete as always on the market, signing a second division player and a rather unknown Serbian centre-forward, Bratislav Paunosevac, who could make an impact considering that Otelul lacked options upfront last year. And also generate some profit from a future sale – a trademark buy for the experienced president, Marius Stan. Although they managed to get three points already, Dorinel Munteanu’s men are expected to struggle, with all the stronger clubs taking measures, which translates into extremely motivated opposition in every single game and some dodgy refereeing when it matters. Would be a real surprise to see them holding on until the end…
Undefeated in 18 matches, The Viola will start losing games, as Dusan Uhrin Jr., who returns as a coach, for the fans’ delight, has been asked to take a different approach – try to go for wins and push for a league title that’s in reach. As usual, Timisoara signed a lot of players, releasing the always over-rated Hristu Chiacu and loaning to Urziceni Ioan Mera, a centre-back that would have had little chances to feature, considering the competition. The experienced Sorin Ghionea was signed on a free transfer, with Nikola Ignijatevic coming from Red Star Belgrade to cover for Sepsi’s imminent departure. Tosaint Ricketts is expected to add pace upfront, something badly missed after Timisoara sold Gigel Bucur to Kuban Krasnodar more than a year ago. This is a solid team all over the pitch and a real title contender, although they miss the players and the coach who can cope with a level of pressure that will increase with every round.
Looking at the club’s activity on the market, you might get the wrong idea. The club released Burdujan (forward), Pancu (attacking midfielder), Hugo Luz (left back), Haisan (goalkeeper) and punished severely the Brazilian Gerlem (left midfielder), all of them useful players, who could have helped at least as reliable backup solutions, and couldn’t sign a single name, given the transfer ban that will expire only in June 2011. Still, the old dog Viorel Hizo should be satisfied both in terms of quantity and quality, while these departures could make those who stayed and are a bit more confident about their places in the team to act more responsible and focus on delivering what would be an outstanding and, given the recent investment, a deserved achievement for Porumboiu’s club.
In some games, they have played excellent football, looking very strong especially at home, where they simply lay siege on the visiting teams and eventually break them, with the support of one of the hottest crowds in the league. Unfortunately for them, the away form remains a problem at Rapid, no matter the quality of the team or the name of the coach, it has to be down to mentality. I was surprised to see that the club didn’t adress the squad’s biggest problem: adding another quality striker, as the Brazilian Cassio delivers only at home and the talented Sburlea’s too inconsistent and yet to turn into a poacher. They’ve released a few players – Cesinha could have turned some games around! – and signed three players that should add even more strength and quality in defense (the Bugarian international Vidanov) and midfield (the Brazilian Olberdam and the fans’ favorite player, Daniel Pancu). They’re very strong, but the 10 points gap demands from Rapid exactly what they’ve missed in the first half of season: consistency.
He now wears the team’s armband, but is the first to think of a move away from Urziceni. He’s Vasile Maftei, the versatile defender that still plays an important role in Razvan Lucescu’s plans with the national team, who is desperately trying to save his career, as the last season’s runners-up are sinking without trace.
When the team manager left Unirea he promised Maftei that he’d be the first player transferred and Mihai Stoica proved to be a man of his word. Signed by Steaua Bucuresti, he did everything he could to make this happen: asked the owner to prepare the cash, convinced the coach that he needs such a player and even tried to discuss with the hard-core fans that the former captain of their arch-rivals Rapid will be giving 100% in training and on the pitch, maybe not for the red and blue colors, but at least for the money. Stoica stumbled at the last and most challenging hurdle, in spite of his popularity with the fans, who cannot forget that this was a player that got so carried away when playing against Steaua that he loved the show it through large gestures and not very nice words. The final call came today, from the club’s owner – always desperate to regain the public’s support – who stated that a player cannot be transferred, if the fans give the “go-away” instead of the “go-ahead” signal.
I honestly believe that Maftei feels the same thing like his friend, Mihai Stoica: relief. The problem is that the player has now lost the advantage in the mind-games played with his former and beloved club, Rapid, who would have had some problems if they had allowed the move to Steaua to happen without at least a formal bid, for the return of their prodigal son. Now, he only has to wait and hope that Rapid will sell some players this winter, to get the needed 400.000 Euros for his transfer and also afford at least another 15.000 Euros/month. I, for one, cannot wonder what in the world are his agents doing in the meantime. Judging by his credentials, it should rarely get any easier than this…
Name: Vasile Maftei
Position(s): centre-back, right back, defensive midfielder
Curent value (transfermarkt.de): 1.700.000 Euros
Current asking price: 400.000 Euros
Liga I career: 254 matches / 11 goals
This season: 13 matches / 1 goal
National team: 12 matches / 1 goal