Liga I resumes today, after another long break, but earlier than it was decided, in typical Romanian fashion. Another week might have helped some coaches that changed sides and might have allowed some new faces blend in better, although nothing really prepares you for the realities of our football…
A look at the standings shows there’s little movement to expect upfront, where Steaua feels little to no threat from a chasing pack that’s missing two traditional rivals, Dinamo and Rapid, both paying now (and in the next few years) for the poor management that has now come not only to affect their results, but even to threaten their survival.
5. CFR Cluj
A new record of points for Romanian football in the Champions League’s group stage created the perfect opportunity to cash in on some shrewd investments in foreign players. It was not nice to see CFR give up the fight with Inter in the Europa League and with Steaua in Liga I, but it was realistic and in perfect agreement with the club’s long term business plan, the same that made the Cluj side such an important name in Romanian football, in the last decade.
Rafael Bastos and Modou Sougou left for important transfer fees and the board was not desperate to spend, gambling again on unknown names from abroad, with Robert Maah looking so far good enough to step in and command a place in Paulo Sergio’s first eleven. The Portuguese coach was criticized for the number of defenders used against Inter, but I liked that he worked on a plan, adjusted to the type of players available and his ability will be put to the test until the end of the season, when a place in Europe is a must. Either through the league or the Romanian Cup.
4. Pandurii Tg Jiu
Probably the most entertaining team of the autumn season suffered two big losses: the top coach that’s Petre Grigoras (signed for Otelul Galati) and a top talent like Alexandru Maxim (transferred to VfB Stuttgart).
Ok, we are talking about a club free of financial trouble, who signed a good coach like Cristi Pustai, but I think Pandurii will settle for a European spot, if they can resist the temptation to give up easy points to some clubs in need… Two good moves on the market, with the midfield pair Anton-Predescu moving for almost nothing from the cash-strapped Gloria Bistrita.
3. FC Vaslui
Once aggressive on the market and very ambitious in the league, the club that always managed to finish on a higher position than in the previous year won’t be able to respect the tradition. Vaslui made no significant move in terms of transfers and decided to part ways with top goalie Daniel Coman, probably in an attempt to cut down the wage bill, losing at the same time a leader and a consistent performer. Not the kind of move a title contender does, but it seems that Adrian Porumboiu wasn’t bluffing again, when he stated he’ll try to distance himself from the club…
2. Astra Giurgiu
A wealthy, ambitious, and obviously controversial owner like Ioan Niculae has decided to give it a go this season, taking advantage of the poor season of the usual contenders for the European spots. All the good players stayed and the team is still ran by the caretaker and long serving coach Valentin Sinescu, but he should worry now that with the matches the dangerous TV sports shows will also resume.
10 points behind Steaua, Astra will probably be more concerned looking over the shoulder, as CFR and Vaslui still look stronger, at least on paper, and would definitely enjoy finishing second.
Position last season: 5th place
Looking at the way they blew it last season, it’s difficult to find the guts to bet on the Red Dogs this term. They’ve dominated the league for half of season, then thought that changing Liviu Ciobotariu would produce a shock and deliver results, finishing in 5th place instead, as Dario Bonetti couldn’t deliver more than a Romanian Cup triumph. The Italian made a promising start though, winning the Supercup a few days ago, but he struggle to keep his position safe, once the results will be anything short of great. The fans have nothing against him, but they’re not close enough to the team in big numbers to influence things, the board members have different opinions, while the influential agents Victor and Giovani Becali are 100% against the man. Same story like last season, then?
Important transfers out: Cosmin Moti (central defender, key player); Djakaridja Kone (defensive midfielder, key player)
Two experienced, dedicated players who were part of the team’s back bone. Moti went to Ludogorets in search of a new challenge, while Kone’s playing a dangerous game. Wanted a couple of months ago in France, the move isn’t done yet and I wonder if the rumors had any truth in them or if this is just another agent playing with a client’s career. Anyway, both will be hard to replace, and Bonetti decided to move Srdjan Luchin in the middle (last season, regular starter at right back), with Cristian Scutaru, who played second division football last term, ready to step in and… that’s about it. Very delicate situation in the long run, but it’s not too late to add at least another name for this role.
- Central defender Cosmin Barcauan is close to a return home, after three and a half seasons spent in Greece, at PAOK and OFI, where he was sent on loan from Shakhtar Donetsk. Barcauan (31) started his Liga I career as a striker for Universitatea Craiova, but was moved in central defense and then transferred to Dinamo, the club that is hoping to sign him in the next few days, after the player passed today a medical exam.
- Named Best foreign player in Romania, Pablo Brandan (26) has won also a place in the ideal first eleven of the league, after half a season. The Argentinian left back is currently playing for reigning champions Unirea Urziceni and doesn’t hide his disappointment for missing out on a transfer to VFB Stuttgart. The German club apparently offered 1.100.000 1.400.000 EUR, but the Romanian club was expecting to land a deal in the region of 3.000.000 EUR.
- Dacian Varga (25), currently under contract with second division club Sportul Studentesc, has several club from the first division interested in his services. After Steaua Bucharest and FC Timisoara, Rapid Bucharest lined up in the race for his signature. Each club is trying different approaches to convince Vasile Siman, the owner of Sportul, to sell the player, after the left winger impressed in the Champions League group stage this season, playing on loan at Unirea Urziceni.
- Marius Constantin (25) finally agreed to extend his contract with Rapid, which was expiring at the end of the season and one of the most interesting targets for free transfers in the summer has become unavailable. The defender was a target for several Russian and German clubs, but apparently Dynamo Kyiv was at one point keen to sign the strong centre-back. Constantin’s new deal will expire in June 2013 and he got a raise from 120.000 EUR to 200.000 EUR per season.
- Colombian attacking midfielder Dayro Moreno (24) has publicly demanded to be allowed to return to Once Caldas, although the club cannot afford the 500.000 EUR transfer fee.
- CFR’s owner Arpad Paszkany denied all the rumors related to Arsenal’s interest in Lacina Traore (19). He admitted instead that Udinese is keeping tabs on the striker, who scored 4 goals in the league so far this season.
- The American that Steaua is trying to sign is Josh Tudela (25), a central midfielder who played his last official match last summer, for LA Galaxy. He could become the second player bought by the Bucharest side from Major League Soccer, after the Colombian left footed midfielder Juan Carlos Toja (24), bought in 2008 from FC Dallas. Tudela comes as a free agent and will have to convince the staff in the next couple of months that he deserves a contract.
- Mamadou Diakite (24), a central defensive midfielder from Belgian outfit Excelsior Mouscron, is coming to Romania to see Rapid’s facilities and discuss the terms of a possible deal.
- Steaua keeps pressing FC Brasov, hoping to find a deal that would help the Bucharest club get rid of an unwanted player and strengthen the squad with a new aquisition. It seems that Steaua has offered the out-of-favor Dayro Moreno (24) on loan, after the initial 500.000 EUR offer for Portuguese full-back Rui Duarte (29) had been turned down, hoping to get FC Brasov’s board in a better mood. Dayro Moreno came to Bucharest from Once Caladas with the “wonderkid” label, but rarely lived up to the expectations and neither severe punishment nor the credit received from the new coach and management managed to change his attitude and approach.
- Universitatea Craiova released the experienced utility man Florin Soava (31), although the player has been a regular (at left back, in central defense or in the midfield line) since his return to Romania, at the beginning of 2009. Soava had played in Russia since 2004, with spells at Spartak Moscow, Krylia Sovetov and Khimki.
- According to FIFA agent Cristea Opria, a Top 5 club from 1.Bundesliga apparently offered around 2,5 mil. EUR for Gabriel Torje (Right winger, Dinamo Bucharest, born 1989). Dinamo refused and would say “yes” for 4 mil. EUR.
- Steaua and FC Vaslui are trying to exchange two key players: central defender and team captain Sorin Ghionea with the prolific midfielder Marko Ljubinkovic. It seems that Ghionea refuses the move and waits for an offer from abroad, having an attractive asking price given his quality, experience and age (only 30): 200.000 EUR.
- Steaua is trying to sign Bulgarian centre-back Zhivko Zhelev. The 30 years old is out of favor at Otelul Galati and in the last six months of his current contract, but also suspended after he protested for not getting paid according to his contract. The deal will probably finalize, although Otelul refuses to let him go for free at Steaua, but on the other hand will never get 200.000 EUR for a player in a similar situation.
- Romanian press quotes http://www.tuttomercatoweb.com, who announces Arsenal’s interest for Lacina Traore from CFR Cluj and an offer of 4 mil. EUR. CFR’s president, Iuliu Muresan, denied the rumor, but confirmed the interest from abroad and also a “concrete offer from an important club”. The press talks about Napoli and a failed attempt to sign the promising striker for 1,2 mil. EUR.
- The Dutch coach Mark Wotte is expected to sign with Universitatea Craiova, after the club’s owner failed to convince former NT coach Victor Piturca. Wotte should get around 150.000 EUR per season. In case the deal won’t be finalized, Craiova also looks at another Dutch trainer – Luc Nijholt.
The once promising left back returned to Romania to sign a five years long contract with FC Timisoara. The “Viola” outfit paid around 1,5 mil EUR for this transfer, which isn’t surprising given their recent tradition to pay inflated fees, especially in the Romanian market. Obviously, the club thinks it’s a good deal, comparing with the 2,5 mil EUR paid by Benfica in January 2008 (but that was a poor deal!, given the stature of Gloria Bistrita and the player’s ability at that time – proven in the two years spent in Portugal and in Spain – during the loan spell at Racing Santander).
Although young and still promising (plus, he plays on a position that generally lacks good players), Sepsi will turn out a good deal if: 1. Timisoara will manage to win something this year (ideally, the title and a spot in the Champions League, which won’t be that easy) and 2. Sepsi will get to play in the National Team (will get call-ups, for sure, but I doubt he can play ahead of Razvan Rat in the coming 2-3 years).
With this move, though, Timisoara can count on two promising players on the left flank, Sepsi and Latovlevici (promising, but yet to prove himself as a reliable left back) and also be prepared to let go Arman and Artavazd Karamyan, the Armenian twins who entered the last six months of their current contracts.
Never in recent years the race for the title has been so tight after half of season and, with little or no money available, it’s very interesting to watch the (lack of) strategy at the several clubs that have a realistic shot at the championship.
Most of them will only try to preserve the current roster, although all the weaknesses have been exposed by now: Steaua is poor at the back and still without its main strength – the public’s affection -, Unirea will be without its creator, Dan Petrescu, while CFR still has key players unhappy and playing below their ability.
In fact, from the Top 8, only one team has the money, the comfort and good atmosphere ensured by solid finances, plus a competitive roster, which just got a new and valuable addition (Lucian Sanmartean – central attacking midfielder). But, really, does anyone believe that FC Vaslui can win the title? Apart from those who dared to believe in Unirea Urziceni last year?