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Buying the Liga 1 topscorer? Not such a good idea…

We might not be 100% about the name of the league winner, considering the fact – and it’s a fact now – that Gigi Becali is such a poor loser that he contested Viitorul’s win and we’ll be expecting from Lausanne a confirmation that FCSB was simply poorly managed and coached and had a bunch of over-paid under-performers instead of a team. But it will come.

What we know for sure is the name of Liga 1’s best scorer in 2016/17: Azdren Llullaku. The Albanian re-invented forward has netted an impressive 16 goals playing for Gaz Metan Medias, a small club that finished the regular season in the play-out zone. What’s also impressive is that Llulaku did all this in half of season, which also got him a contract with Astana.

Now the less impressive stuff: no other player from Liga I managed to at least get close to him, with six more months to play against mostly mediocre opposition. Bud (CFR Cluj), Chitu (Viitorul), Cristea (Iasi), Nemec (Dinamo) and Alibec (FCSB) finished their season with 11 goals. Chitu was the champions’ best scorer, while the experienced internationals Nemec and Alibec fought until the last round for the title. Pathetic return. It speaks volumes about the lack of both real quality and consistency, about the rather chronic inability to play positive, attacking football in Liga I, even at the very top. There are facts to back this up, just think about the last quality no 9 produced by this competition. What’s the first name that springs to mind?

One can also argue that even topping the goalscoring charts in Romania isn’t such a feat. Basically, it offers no guarantees. Let’s leave aside Llullaku, although his record so far (1 goal in 16 appearances for Astana) would only offer the most recent proof of my argument, and let’s have a look at what happened with previous 5 top scorers from Liga 1:

2015/16: Ioan Hora – 19 goals for Pandurii – Hora signed for Konyaspor, who had finished 3rd in Turkey’s SuperLig and was looking to strengthen the team for their Europa League campaign. The Romanian – same profile as Llullaku, a winger who suddenly found his scoring boots when asked to lead the line in a counter-attacking team – struggled badly in his first season; never a starter in the league, scored just once, a useless 90th minute goal in a 3-0 home win, 3 rounds before the end of the season. He proved more useful in Cup games though, scoring twice, but also converting a penalty in the final’s shootout, after he came on the pitch in the 119th minute…

2014/15: Gregory Tade – 18 goals for CFR Cluj – Immediately signed by Steaua, in a classic Becali move, Tade struggled badly in a team that requires a case study, being the most feared and respected by opponents, often superior and always attacking, but so rarely able to produce a prolific 9… Anyway, the French striker only netted 4 goals in 24 games played in Liga I, a return very similar to the one produced in his first season with CFR. But patience is not a virtue you can find in Bucharest and Tade had to endure some rough treatment before he was able to move away and he only found a deal with Qatar SC, under the command of another Romanian coach..

2013/14: Liviu Antal – 15 goals for FC Vaslui – Another prolific winger, another one season wonder. Sold again to Turkey, like Hora, Antal scored once in nine games for Genclerbirligi. Quickly dispatched firstly on loan to Beitar and then to Hapoel Tel Aviv, netted a total of 5 goals in Israel’s top flight for the two clubs, in two seasons. Hapoel was also left with the option to send him on loan and after two halves of season with Pandurii, Antal found again a decent club to sign for: CFR Cluj. His stats this year? 7 appearances – 0 goals.

2012/13 Raul Rusescu – 21 goals for Steaua – Steaua’s last forward to finish first in the goalscoring chart was subject of a surprising and exciting move – at first – in the summer of 2013. Sevilla paid a hefty fee for him, but Sevilla was desperate and Rusescu’s summer smile was gone after a couple of months of more quality signings from the Spanish outfit, who played him just once and sent him on loan first to Braga (5 goals in 13 games) and then to Steaua (4 goals in 21 appearances). Now with Osmanlispor, Rusescu just finished a poor season, after a rather promising start in 2015/16, when he netted 9 goals in 24 appearances in the league.

2011/12 Wesley – 27 goals for FC Vaslui – The Brazilian was a hit; probably the best foreign player to have featured in Liga I. Scored 7 in 16 in his debut season, 12 in 31 in the second, 13 in 32 in the third, before being crowned the league’s top scorer in 2012. But he was not a 9, he was a gifted 10 who, at times, under some clever coaches, played even in front of the back four. His quality though never affected his output and, after 61 league goals in 113 appearances for Vaslui, the ageing Brazilian went to Al-Hilal, scoring more goals, but also a deserved big contract.

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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…

Comeback

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Toyed with the idea of letting this go, as the blog’s domain was about to expire, but the passion for writing is still there. So is the will to share info and thoughts on Romanian footie, which lots of you appreciated over time, so here I am. Back on the road, scouting, back on the blog, writing.
Let’s talk some football here, on Twitter (@rbaicu) and Facebook.

Best of 2011

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Best day: January 20, 1.802 visitors.

Bogdan Stancu signs from Galatasaray and a comparison between Lacina Traore and Bogdan Stancu, written in November 2010, before their moves to Russia and Turkey, respectively, gets a lot of attention especially from Gala’s fans. The surprise came when Traore moved to Kuban Krasnodar for less money than what CFR Cluj was hoping to get, while Stancu’s deal demanded a fee that can be explained only by the Becali’s involvement and their understanding with both Steaua’s and Gala’s boards.

And, while Traore is a hit under Petrescu’s strict command, Stancu failed to cope with the pressure and the controlled chaos that Galatasaray seems to enjoy living in every single year, and is now playing with some success on loan to Orduspor.

Search terms: “scouting Romania” and my name occupy the first two places, with Marius Niculae in third spot. The top five is closed by “Wesley Vaslui” and a certain Cristiano Ronaldo. Don’t worry, the only thing to blame is a photo of the guy taken while Niculae was playing alongside him for Sporting Lisbon. The all time leader remains Gabriel Torje!

Most clicks: The Scouting Network, one of the companies I used to work for, followed by my Twitter feed, where I’m very, very close to 3.000 followers.

Best referrers: The Almost 3.000 are the ones that get credit, with Twitter sitting comfortably in 1st place. The Guardian helped to finish the year in style, the blog’s presence in “Our favorite things this week” column brining in a lot of (quality) traffic.

I would like thank each visitor though and wish you all a great 2012!, I hope to see you back here next year as well, because I’m not going anywhere :-). I leave you with the top three articles in 2011:

1. Unirea Urziceni no longer exists as a professional football club

2. The story of Juan Culio, the Argentinian midfielder bought by Galatasaray from CFR Cluj

3. Otelul Galati, before their Champions League debut disaster.

Round 32 – live

May 10, 2010 1 comment
  • International Curtea de Arges – Ceahlaul 2-0 (Apostu 15, 81)
  • Astra Ploiesti – Otelul Galati 0-3 (Giurgiu 45, Costin 60, Antal 87)
  • Unirea Alba Iulia – Dinamo 1-2 (Fl. Dan 28 / Andrei Cristea 45 pen, 69)
  • Universitatea Craiova – CFR Cluj 2-3 (Piturca 12, M. Costea 21 / Traore 63, Bud 85, Cadu 90 pen)
  • FC Timisoara – Gaz Metan Medias 0-2 (Eric 33, 83)
  • FC Vaslui – Steaua 2-1 (Burdujan 68, Papp 82 / B. Stancu 45)
  • Rapid – Pandurii Targu Jiu 1-0 (Sapunaru 86)
  • Politehnica Iasi – FC Brasov 0-0
  • Gloria Bistrita – Unirea Urziceni 0-0

Liga I - Standings

Next round (15-17 of May): Gaz Metan Medias – Unirea Alba Iulia, CFR Cluj – International Curtea de Arges, Gloria Bistrita – Politehnica Iasi, Otelul Galati – FC Vaslui, Unirea Urziceni – Ceahlaul, Steaua – Universitatea Craiova, FC Brasov – Rapid, Pandurii – FC Timisoara, Dinamo – Astra Ploiesti.

Kick off

January 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Became a “Romanian football observer” in 2003, when I got the chance to work for Bayer 04 Leverkusen (forever grateful to Ilja Kaenzig, Tor Kristian Karlsen and Fernando Troiani for the opportunity and guidance). Even though I’ve changed clubs and also worked for different companies involved in the beautiful game, travelling and scouting live on almost every continent, I never took my eyes away from the always intriguing and surprising Romanian football.

Through this blog, I’ll try to provide the daily important information and some insight as well, for all those fans or professionals interested in a player, a club or anything related to Romanian football. So do not hesitate to forward me your questions, requests or thoughts!

Oh, and please accept my appologies for any mistakes in English! Thanks! 🙂

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