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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.

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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”.

Looking for some enthusiasm pre-Euro 2016?…

December 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Romania drew 2-2 in Bologna against a disappointing Italian side, but deserve some credit for ending the year unbeaten. The result can be just as deceiving though as the fact that Romania had the best defensive record in the qualifiers for Euro 2016 of all the teams involved.

There’s no real reason for optimism. Commenting the game for Rai, Trapattoni said, among others, that Iordanescu’s players “aren’t technically inferior to any other team” and that Romania’s “mastering the art of passing and dictating tempo”. With all due respect for the legendary coach: LOL!

On the pitch, we had the likes of Grigore, Hoban, Pintilii, who are more or less as skilful as Tatarusanu. It’s true that at the time of those two remarks Sanmartean had just came on and was showing off his classy touch and ability to toy with the game’s tempo when in possession, but six months from now the old wizard will be even closer to retirement…

Nevertheless, unlike Trap, I think Romania’s hopes before the final tournament starts should never get high enough to be able to cause disappointment once our three games at Euro 2016 will be over. Iordanescu, out of contract for a few days in November, is no longer regarded as a coach able to deliver miracles, in spite of all his faith in God. He did take the team to a final tournament after a looong wait, but look at the group, look at the performances, the players he promoted, a tactical edge or clear playing style created during his tenure! (Ok, it’s a trap, don’t waste your time searching for the last three…)

Involved with Steaua’s historical achievement in 1986, coach of the golden generation from 1994, leader of a mediocre group that finally gets tickets to a new final tournament, Iordanescu would have caused no surprise, anger or any other passionate reaction if he would have been left out of contract and replaced by another this autumn…

I’m no fan of the man and would blame Iordanescu for a few things, those unimportant things ignored by previous coaches, who also had promised to rebuild a team, promote new faces and create a playing style that suits this team. I blame him for the lack of vision and courage, I blame him for looking for results at all costs. For the lack of work done in areas left to the new faces of the Romanian football federation, who managed in one year to leave people thinking about Mircea Sandu’s regime… Bref, I simply cannot praise Iordanescu for the kind of results that his predecessors could have been able to deliver against such terrible opponents!

I keep on reading and hearing that our presence at a final tournament is a blessing. Come next summer, I doubt we’ll feel the same watching Romania play. We’ll be there, but it’s not an elite anymore, we’ll say our goodbye to the likes of Rat and Sanmartean and maybe to Iordanescu himself, and we’ll be looking around for options. The kind of options that Razvan Lucescu, Victor Piturca and Anghel Iordanescu failed to produce with their work in the past decade, all of them desperately trying to deliver a successful qualifying campaign. We finally did it, but when you have to thank UEFA for the new format of the tournament, Lady Luck for the draw and Hungary, Greece and Finland for being even weaker than us, you simply run out of praise for a coach and a generation of players that, given its mediocrity, would actually deserve some…

Can we stop Romania and Hungary from playing at EURO 2016?

October 10, 2015 4 comments

romania hungaryWhen Hungary decided settle for a 0-0 against Romania in the second half of the game in Budapest and let the hazard of future results decide their fate, I thought, ok, they don’t deserve to go through. When Romania went over 400 minutes without scoring it was just as clear that we’re just as terrible, both in terms of approach and quality. Hungary’s struggle against Faroe and Romania’s awful home game vs Finland only confirmed that both teams are at pathetic levels, unworthy of a final tournament that everyone thinks would do wonders for either of the two struggling countries.

I’m against that theory, really, because I see more value in reforming clubs and football federations, league associations and other organisms, in adjusting perspectives and lowering public expectations, adding realism and hard work focused at youth level instead. Yeah, the old good hard work…

With all due respect to Northern Ireland and especially Faroe Islands, I do agree that Group F offered some dramatic moments, according to emotional reports from the two countries still hoping to make it to France. You could watch the beautiful game suffer a slow and painful death…

Anyway, with the power invested in my by the 4-5 regular followers of this influential blog, I would like to ask UEFA to award the 2nd qualifying place from Group F to any nation that actually has a team able to play some football. For Romania or Hungary, a presence at EURO 2016 would only be a blessing in disguise.

Euro 2016 is too close to miss. Even for us?

September 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Romanian football has been in a bad shape for years, but, hey!, you can always look at the FIFA rankings and deny reality. You can also do that by looking at the standings In Group F. In truth, now it looks is easier than ever to reach the final tournament, while the opposition in this qualifying campaign also did its best (or worst?) to let us top the group and manage an extremely favourable situation.

So, it’s Hungary – Romania and a win against the neighbours will further lift some moods over here, a draw will be just fine, while a loss wouldn’t be the end of the world. I’ll leave the result to others and try to focus on what can and can’t be expected of Iordanescu’s team in Budapest.

What to expect:

  • A defensive approach

Yes, the pressure is on the home team, yes, we could do with a draw, and yes, we don’t have enough quality (and the mentality) to play an attacking game. But let’s give some credit to Iordanescu, ok? We’re talking about the guy who was keeping 7-8 men behind the ball when his players were called Popescu, Petrescu, Sabau, Dumitrescu or Hagi…

  • A poor game

With Papp and Goian at the back, Hoban (and maybe Prepelita or another “destroyer”) in front of the defence, keeping and passing the ball will be a problem. As always…

  • A lot of prayers

Iordanescu did very well and got attention and help from above: Chiriches and Torje are healthy and ready to go for the first minute. Hopefully, God won’t be busy doing other stuff or watching another game on Friday evening.

What not to expect:

  • Budescu from the start

Public pressure paid off: Liga 1’s hottest player, Budescu, finally got called up. Astra’s number 10 can also expect to feature at some point, if things go bad on the pitch, but nothing more than that. And he’d better be bloody good too, if called upon!

  • High pressing and defending

We lack the right players and approach for the job, even though Hungary’s defensive players would make every effort worthwhile.

  • Young players

There’s not a single player younger than 21 in Romania’s entire squad, so why would we expect such a thing? Especially now, when there’s so much as stake! Sorry for this last point, clearly I was running out of ideas… The U21s are playing against Bulgaria in Targu Mures and when they’ll be old enough, they’ll be good enough for the senior team too, right? Or was it the other way around?

Romania’s biggest football club? Of course, it’s St…op!

December 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Strange headline for a strange situation, which was a perfect fit though for Liga 1, the championship with the biggest percentage of club owners in trouble with the law. The league where public money is used in competition with private money, but both types enter the circuit of the sport “where you cannot make a profit” with this very purpose. But that is another, longer story.🙂

Back to the one behind the headline: on Sunday evening, Romanian multiple (running and most likley future) champions had to take drastic measures, following a lost lawsuit. The name, the biggest name in Romanian club football, the European Cup winners from 1986, Hagi’s former and beloved team, cannot be used anymore for now without the approval of the former owner of Steaua Bucharest. The name was erased from the scoreboard of the stadium that hosted the 1-0 victory against CSMS Iasi. A square represented the current league leaders who are on another solitary run towards the title, while the name and the logo were erased from the players’ shirts, the dugout and any other visible place it stood before a Romanian court reached a shocking, but fair decision.

On the scoreboard "Hosts" was written instead of Steaua. For a photo gallery go to www.prosport.ro.

On the scoreboard “Hosts” was written instead of Steaua. For a photo gallery go to http://www.prosport.ro.

Gigi Becali might have took over the famous club and its huge fan pool through some dodgy maneuvers, but after more than a decade of use the Ministery of Defence finally managed to throw back a punch. It might not be a knock-out, but it surely is a knock-down. It might have angered some fans, but there’s a sense of justice behind it. Steaua’s past, glorious, but often built through unsporting measures under the communist regime, came back to haunt the club now ran from behind bars by its owner, Becali, and sporting director, Stoica, both unable to fuel the type of massive scandal that was expected by such a bold call. They and those within the club are now in an extremely delicate situation. If they’ve took this measure in Liga 1 to avoid further punishment, they are now in a race against the clock to find a solution. No later than Thursday evening, Dynamo Kyiv is coming to Bucharest in the Europa League and I’m sure they (and UEFA) would surely like to know the name of the team they’re playing against…

UPDATE: After a meeting that took place on Monday afternoon, Becali’s club has been granted the right to use the name and the logo for the last two official matches of 2014. Negotiations are expected to take place at the start of next year, with the Ministry of Defense hoping to make Gigi Becali pay an important sum to continue to use the brand.

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…

A look at Hagi’s struggles with the best Romanian football academy

September 15, 2014 2 comments

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?

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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?🙂

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