It was a summer to remember for Romanian clubs (although the newspapers haven’t noticed it just yet…)! With Chiriches finally moved to Tottenham, we have a new record transfer fee paid for a Liga I player. We also have 5 players signed by Serie A clubs, 3 gone to Ligue 1 and 1 in La Liga, none other than last season’s top scorer. Teams from Belgium, Croatia and Switzerland – good European stepping stones – have made their picks, with Russia and Turkey paying good money to either clubs or players (or both) to sign no less than 7 established footballers. And Steaua decided to keep some in-demand players to make it into the Champions League’s group stage, otherwise the numbers would have been bigger and the figures even more impressive. Below, you can find my top ten transfers of the summer, which is of course debatable, but I’ve tried to filter the twenty-something important moves using as filter the quality and potential of the player in question, age, level of the buying club and level of the league he’s going to.
I, for one, don’t remember a more prolific transfer window in recent years, in terms of fees paid for Liga I’s top names and number of exports, especially to top leagues from Western Europe. Is it just a coincidence or the Romanian league has gained a better reputation? If this would be the case, then we’d have another premiere on our hands, with the clubs’ performances in the internal and European competitions drawing attention, not the exposure offered by Romania’s national team(s). Take Gheorghe Grozav’s case, who was heavily promoted by Victor Piturca and only got a late move to Terek Grozny. Or Ciprian Marica’s, who is struggling to find himself a new club, just like Gabriel Tamas, released by WBA, or Gabriel Torje, who had troubles convincing another club to loan him, a full transfer being out of the question…
Do we have stronger clubs? I can only think of exceptions. Is Liga I more competitive? It surely was two-three years ago – remember the days when Steaua, Dinamo, Rapid, CFR and Vaslui were fighting to get the title from Otelul Galati -, but that race got less and less tensed, with Dinamo’s and Rapid’s financial trouble, and CFR’s and Vaslui’s loss of investment/interest. Do we sign / promote better players? I’d say mainly by accident, considering the amateur take on player recruitment and lack of funds, knowledge and dedication allocated to the youth sector (of course, I will keep Hagi’s Academy out of this!).
Having the chance to see most of the European leagues in the past couple of years, given my assignments in scouting, I think the answer to the question of attractiveness gets a positive note only when related to the level of leagues from Croatia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Poland, not to mention Slovenia, Hungary or Bulgaria. The gap is rather discrete, I must say, and a good player from Liga I is tested in an equally if not more competitive environment than in the mentioned countries, making him prepared enough for a step abroad, in the eyes of visiting scouts. Add some good runs in Europe, like CFR’s or Steaua’s and we’re only kept back by reputation. One that surely doesn’t speak in Romania’s favor, but can be changed by each and everyone who gets the chance to play abroad…
1 and a half seasons with International Curtea de Arges, 1 and a half seasons with Pandurii Targu Jiu, 1 and a half seasons with Steaua – even statistically, it looked like this summer was the right time to move for Vlad Chiriches. Without a doubt the best and most exciting defender from Liga 1 and one of the very few Romanian players gifted with enough quality to make it big in the near future, the 23 years old is “on the verge” of a transfer abroad for more than six months now. Not sure if he knows it, but this is the biggest (mental) challenge of his still young career. Linked with several important names, including AC Milan, Chiriches started another season with the Romanian champions. Not a bad situation, after all, especially if the red and blue outfit qualifies for the Champions League group stage and looks likely to defend the title, but the “what if” syndrome takes full control of Romanian young talents who dream of a (big money) move abroad as soon as the media publishes the first transfer rumors.
“What if they’ll stop following / wanting me?” “What if I get injured? *knocks on wood* “What if I will never get this chance again?” Usually fueled and speculated by the agents, these questions torment only Chiriches, at this point, with Victor and Giovani Becali obeying orders received from behind bars, where their cousin, Gigi, will spend at least 3 seasons. Sorry, years. Although the quick selling of topscorer Raul Rusescu to Seville hinted that Steaua decided to cash in this summer and get the money to keep going from selling its best players, a change of strategy appears to have taken place and now Steaua gives everything to reach the group stage of the Champions League and the millions that come with this performance. The bad thing for Chiriches (and Tatarusanu, Latovlevici, Bourceanu and others…) is that there is no rush to sell and the centre-back carries a 8 million euros price tag that managed to scare away even the interested Russian clubs.
Intelligent and realistic enough, he knows he’s not worth that kind of cash. And it’s not only because of him, things might have been different if he would have been a national team player of Croatia or Serbia, not Romania… The problem is he’s now trying to live up to his asking price, at least this is what I saw in his first official games of the season. Which weren’t bad, far from it, but looking close enough you could see him desperate to stand out. A ball playing centre-back, Chiriches has also been used in the past as a full back or in central midfield (hints that he does lack the physical structure for his natural role?), but the problem is that he now looks determined to try a 3in1 role, pushing forward with the enthusiasm of an offensive fullback when he’s not stepping up from the back to dictate play from a deep position – bonuses to his defensive work in central defense.
Yes, the opponents barely posed any questions to Steaua’s defense so far, but this type of approach will soon backfire. You can see him misplacing passes in dangerous positions, you can see him gone missing from the area he was supposed to defend, you can see him (this is something new) easily unsettled by an aggressive striker who dares to hassle him. He is the elegant, ball playing centre back who can run from the back, go past five players and find the top corner of the net, the kind of rare defender maybe worth the 8 million. The problem is that Chiriches is that player once every 10-15 games and, in order to make the step abroad (my bet is Steaua will never get that money), he needs to be ” just” an excellent defender, very good on the ball, who doesn’t put the team at risk, for 10-15 matches.
In fewer words, he has to focus and focus on the right things. To improve where he needs to, not to become better at what he’s already good enough. To keep working and pushing himself now, when all seems too easy, and to enjoy himself when he moves on. And to find some patience and self confidence. That moment is just a couple of million Euros away…
Appreciated for his football knowledge, eye for players, ability to ease Gigi Becali’s harsh words into Steaua’s dressing room and especially protect the club from outside attacks, Mihai Stoica received a deserved warm welcome at his return from Unirea Urziceni. The chaos within the club packed with Becali’s relatives and obedient professionals was going to end and Steaua was going to at least leave the impression of the most professional and well organized club in the country. Not to mention look like it has a strategy for more than the current season and all the mercato activity will turn into profit and sporting success, something everyone witnessed at Unirea.
The winter break arrived and there are some strange things going on at the Bucharest side, who gave up easily on the experienced Bulgarian midfielder Angelov and the prolific Greek centre-forward Kapetanos (who, for the record, spent part of last summer in South Africa, enjoying some World Cup football), considering their wages too high and that the squad provides enough quality replacements. Two debatable arguments, as 250.000 Euros/season isn’t a big salary for a title contender/Champions League team wannabe, while the use of the mentioned alternative solutions will make the bench look short and unreliable.
Even more strange is Steaua’s approach when it comes to buying players, with the first important signing a highly rated right back, you’ve probably never heard of, if you’re leaving outside Romania. No, it’s not Otelul’s Cornel Rapa, available for under one million Euros, who recently made his debut for the senior national team and is topping the standings at club level, showing impressive consistency at the tender age of 21, having played for 90 minutes in all the 18 games of the season. We’re talking about Gabriel Matei, also 21, who will only be taking Rapa’s place in the U21 and is hoping to avoid relegation for his second consecutive season in Liga I. A player with a total of 33 matches at this level, which determined Steaua to pay an incredible 600.000 Euros and promise Pandurii either 20% of his next transfer fee or another half of million Euros. Of course, the kid, who will continue to fight to avoid relegation until the summer, is tipped for greatness, but I invite you to put your imagination on hold for a second and look at it like a piece of business:
1. How often Romanian clubs manage to sell a player for over 1 million Euros?
2. Why did Steaua rush to finalize the deal now, if the agreement states that the player will stay Pandurii for the rest of the season?
3. What could have raised Matei’s value until the summer so highly, that a deal would have become impossible under the current terms?
4. Wouldn’t have been as many chances to see a possible increase from a few more U21 caps compensated or even outdone by a possible relegation from Pandurii, at the end of the season?
Linked with clubs like Newcastle, Eintracht Frankfurt or Brescia, all summer long, Dinamo’s top scorer from last season is very close to a move to 2. Bundesliga. According to the Romanian media – with the reports confirmed with discretion by the player himself -, Karlsruhe offered around 400.000 Euros for a one year loan, having the option to make the deal permanent for one million Euros next summer, and the Red Dogs have every reason to accept such a bid:
- The veteran Ionel Danciulescu returned from Spain, Marius Niculae is the team’s captain, while the young talented Alexe, Torje and Liviu Ganea need to have maximum of exposure this season, hoping that the high-scoring games will get them on the score-sheet often enough to get the much craved attention from abroad.
- Cristea comes after his best season in Liga I in terms of efficiency, having scored 16 goals in 27 appearances, and it’s unlikely to repeat such a feat.
- He’s not the most popular player in the squad, since he realized close to the end of last season that he needs to think about himself rather than the team, working hard to end the previous campaign as the league’s top scorer. His attitude didn’t change during the summer break and he was involved in an incident two rounds ago, when he insisted to take a penalty, even though the team’s specialist, N’Doye was on the pitch. Read more…
Very close to a deal with Hercules Alicante a few weeks ago, Dinamo’s first choice at left back for years ended up on Getafe’s shortlist as well, which determined the newly promoted club in Primera Division to renew its interest and close the deal. One that sees Cristian Pulhac move on loan for one season to Hercules, in exchange of 400.000 Euros, with the Spaniards able to complete the transfer next summer and exted the player’s contract for three more seasons. The attacking full back was on Esteban Vigo’s wishlist, the same coach that had asked the club to get him another Dinamo player, Danciulescu, and had no problem releasing the striker without explanation or warning, after one good season. So, Pulhac shouldn’t get too comfortable in Spain, but the taste of real football could give him an idea of what he’s been missing while feeling so well underachieving in Romania, wasting his own time and talent.
As my friends from Twitter (rbaicu) already heard, Ionel Danciulescu signed a two years long deal with Dinamo, after a surprising release from Hercules. “Danciu-goal” refused a very tempting offer from the newly promoted club FCM Targu Mures, who offered a fabulous 250.000 Euros per year plus 70.000 Euros upfront, hoping to catch one more European adventure with the Red Dogs, before ending an oustanding career in Liga I.
With him in the squad, Dinamo has to options: either loan once again one of their young forwards, Liviu Ganea or Georgian Paun (this one has the biggest chances), or sell one of the big names: Andrei Cristea or Marius Niculae. With Cristea too expensive at 1,5 million Euros for interested clubs, like Newcastle or Brescia, Dinamo could be tempted to accept Karabukspor’s 500.000 Euros for Niculae, who is also one of the highest earners at the Bucharest side and has been looking for his best form for the past year, without any luck.
Fourth place last season wasn’t that bad, considering the poor quality of the team and the huge conflict between the fans and the club’s owner, but Gigi Becali realized that he needs to change not for Steaua’s sake, but thinking about the lost money in recent years, where he dictated everything at the club, making a mockery of what still is the team with the biggest fan base in Romania. That’s why he accepted Victor Piturca’s conditions, including the toughest of all: keeping his big huge mouth shut. The former national team coach took up the manager’s role – Premier League style – supervising the training sessions conducted by Eugen Neagoe, former Pandurii coach, bringing back former Steaua players and offering them jobs in the youth academy, installing Emerich Ienei (the man that brought Steaua the biggest European trophy in 1986) as club president, getting the fans back in the stands and behind the team. He did so many important things for the club that missing out on the title this season shouldn’t matter that much. But I’m sure this is unacceptable for the ambitious Piturca…
Players in: Stanislav Angelov (central midfielder, 32, Energie Cottbus), Iasmin Latovlevic (left back, 24, FC Timisoara), Cosmin Matei (central attacking midfielder, 19, Farul Constanta), Geraldo Alves (central defender, 30, AEK Athens), Yordan Todorov (right back, 29, Lokomotiv Plovdiv), Novak Martinovic (central defender, 25, Pandurii), Alexandru Pacurar (central midfielder, 29, Pandurii), Razvan Stanca (goalkeeper, 31, Pandurii), Florin Gardos (central defender, 22, Concordia Chiajna), Dorel Stoica (central defensive midfielder, 32, El Ettifaq), Mihai Radut (central attacking midfielder, 20, International Curtea de Arges), Octavian Abrudan (central midfielder, 26, FC Brasov).
Players out: Arman Karamyan (forward, 31, released), Artiom Karamyan (left midfielder, 31, released), Petre Marin (left back, 37 , Unirea Urziceni), Zhivko Zhelev (central defender, 31, Inter Baku), Gora Tall (central defender, 25, APOP Kinyras – loan expired), Pepe Moreno (striker, 29, Independiente – loan expired), Pawel Golanski (right back, 28, released), Stelios Parpas (central defender, 25, AEL Limassol), Ovidiu Petre (central defensive midfielder, 28, Al Nasr), Alexandru Tudose (central defender, 23, Gloria Bistrita), Juan Toja (left midfielder, 25, Aris Salonic).
Massive changes in Ghencea, where Piturca wanted and had every reason to create a new team. Among the rare important losses is Ovidiu Petre, but the manager had on the anchorman role his favorite player already lined-up, Dorel Stoica. For the rest, he went on to bring on a mixture of young & promising players like Radut and experienced guys like Angelov, which proves that his goal is building a new squad, without sacrificing this season’s trophies at stake. Interesting fact, Steaua relies on the same forwards from last year, even though Pantelis Kapetanos doesn’t seem to fit the lone striker’s profile preferred by Piturca, which means that Bogdan Stancu should enjoy the best season of his career and start fulfilling his potential. But what if he doesn’t or gets injured? Back to the Greek one more time? What does this guy has to do – this year, against all odds, got to play in the World Cup! – in order to start a season as the number one choice for the centre-forward role?
- Coach: Victor Piturca (new)
- Preferred system: 4-1-4-1
- Ideal first eleven: Tatarusanu – Emeghara, Abrudan, Geraldo Alves, Latovlevici – Stoica – Nicolita, Radut, Angelov, Tanase – B. Stancu
- Reliable subs: Stanca (goalkeeper), Pacurar (central midfielder), Szekely (right winger), Kapetanos (centre forward).
- Key player: Dorel Stoica. Able to play in central defense, the 32 years old was convinced by Piturca to sign for Steaua, even when the manager wasn’t sure that he’ll return to Ghencea. Deployed in front of the back four, Stoica has the ability and the experience to protect not just the back four, but also the “front four”, as the line of midfielders will have to think how to open up the opposition’s defense, not be afraid that a missed pass or a miscontrolled ball could expose their own defense. In his own half, Stoica will win balls in the air, shut down channels, anticipate the midfielders looking to drop into space, but once Steaua regains possession, he will organize the build up, draw the back four as high as possible and eventually pose a threat with his long shots, especially from free kicks.
- Underrated player: Pantelis Kapetanos. The Greek isn’t a pleasure to watch, I agree, but he’s been a very prolific scorer even when Steaua was playing miserably – I wonder what he could do in a team that has superior possession and creative midfielders able to increase the number of scoring opportunities. His presence at the World Cup will keep him out of the team in the first month, but once “Kape” is fit, Stancu’s age and (unfulfilled) potential won’t be enough to keep him in the first eleven, ahead of this modest, hard-working and effective front man.
- Liability: Ciprian Tatarusanu. Promising, definitely gifted, looks to me like the kind of keeper that will need to turn 30 to be really something. But I might judge the guy a bit too hard and based mainly on last season’s performances, when Steaua’s defense was a joke.
What to expect:
A serious title challenge from a club offered by its clown of an owner to a very ambitious manager, Victor Piturca, who changed absolutely everything at Steaua and now it’s only a matter of time until the results will show that this is the way to run a successfull team. It will be hard to win the title right away, mainly because the league changed a lot in recent years and this isn’t just an affair between the Bucharest sides, but the fact that all the other title contenders point towards Steaua when asked who’s the favorite proves that the name still weights enough to crush the clubs that only recently enjoyed the sweet taste of success.