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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…

Can Romania play attacking football? Daum might be optimistic, but not suicidal…

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment

The image of Daum taking notes on Liga 1 players in the unglamorous stands from Voluntari or Chiajna had a wow factor in the first rounds of the new season. It said two things:

  1. his time to evaluate eligible players before the first official game of the qualifying campaign was extremely limited.
  2. the time when we knew *without even looking* who can should play in the national team was gone.

This is one of the big advantages of bringing in a foreign coach. If he’s serious and dedicated, but also aware that a change of approach and an objective reevaluation of things is needed for a team that finally played again at a final tournament thanks mainly to a more permissive format and to a weak qualifying group, he will really look at things and people. He will surely not like what he finds, but at least he’ll be operating with fresh data and ideas, leaving the past behind.

For a few days now, Romanian media reports of an attacking philosophy, presenting offensive line-ups and quoting positive, optimistic statements about how the team will play. Come match day and the brave, attacking predicted line-up features Sapunaru and Hoban in front of the back four and a 4-2-3-1 and the always out of place striker Stancu on the left wing. Hard to call that either offensive or innovative… But it’s not the official starting eleven, so surely better to wait and see.

Daum is experienced enough though to look for a result in the opening game, rather than attempt to impress with an attacking game that he had little time to implement, both tactically and mentally. Even if he plans to change Romania’s style, he needs more than just a few days and, as you can imagine, not everyone was happy to see him take over this role and a defeat against Montenegro would surely turn on the heat and the hate. Let’s not forget that key elements like Tatarusanu, Chiriches and Pintilii are also missing, but it’s good to see that the search for a new left-back has begun, now with veteran Razvan Rat is out of the picture. You can also see young, fresh faces in the squad, like Marin and Benzar from Viitorul or Dinamo’s Dorin Rotariu. I’m puzzled by the call-up received by Enache, who has been awful at right back lately and I do hope the media got it wrong about the tactical setup and selection of his first eleven, but I’m hopeful it’s only a matter of time until Daum understands who’s reliable or at least who has a chance of fitting his ideas and playing style in the future.

Trickier than in appearance, tonight’s game will be a test not for Daum’s selection and ability to quickly implement new ideas, but also for our understanding of the game, of the time needed to change an approach that has stayed with us for decades. We have praised Iordanescu for making a great counter-attacking team when he had Hagi, Sabau, Gica Popescu, Dan Petrescu or Ilie Dumitrescu at his disposal; I find it quite funny that people read so much into Daum’s words of playing a different football and expect this still mediocre national team to attack and impress with the likes of Grigore, Hoban, Achim and Chipciu…

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”.

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?

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