The official announcement came on the 16th of October. Piturca was signing for Al-Ittihad after all. It was not only in the air, but also in the papers for more than three weeks, yet the move managed to surprise the young chief of the Romanian Football Federation (FRF), Razvan Burleanu.
“Right now we are talking about rumors, so we should all stick together and focus on the double against Hungary and Finland. Victor Piturca told me that he is not leaving. He is not leaving for now, but didn’t say for how long is he planning to stay either”, said Burleanu on the 29th of September. In spite of this statement, the 30 years old who didn’t think that a Plan B was needed until Plan A was on a plane to Jeddah.
He might have had a list of coaches put together by his advisors right away, but he really started to cross names off it once Piturca left. A huge strategic mistake, as we all found out in the 10 days that went by, as Burleanu’s dream of getting Mircea Lucescu back in charge of the national team turned into a nightmare for the fans who need to accept that there’s one solution left. And that’s Anghel Iordanescu, who hasn’t coached a single team in almost 10 years, and was more keen on politics than football, who will be getting help from a trio of young coaches: Viorel Moldovan, Daniel Isaila and Ionut Badea.
Apart Moldovan, I don’t really know what the other two can bring to the national team. But, in the end, I feel exactly the same about Iordanescu, who’s more familiar with the names of relegious characters than those of Romanian players… The list of Romanian options was long enough, going from Olaroiu to Petrescu, Boloni or Contra, there was always the alternative of bringing in a foreign coach, and those saying that FRF lacked the money to attract such names, I’d say that the issue should have been on FRF’s agenda when Piturca was promised that he would be allowed to leave without having to pay a hefty compensation, if he got 4 points from Romania’s previous two group games.
With less than 3 weeks before a very tough game, we still await the confirmation of the new structure of Romania’s coaching staff. It should finally arrive on Monday, yet the damage is there to be done. Iordanescu represents a temporary solution. Better said: Iordanescu represents Burleanu’s inability to think ahead and get things done under pressure. And the longer it will take him to understand that he needs a man and a project, the bigger the chances to throw away the positive start of this qualifying campaign.
While Mircea Sandu, the former boss of the FRF, always liked to answer critics by asking to be “blamed” for the results of Hagi’s generation, we might soon find out that he was replaced by a guy who could really be responsible for missing out of a final tournament that is in our reach…
Că Pițurcă încă mai poată se ne surprindă, deși folosește mereu aceiași jucători. Eu n-am reușit să intuiesc cum se vor așeza cei trei mijlocași ofensivi din spatele lui Marica, de exemplu. Torje, în schimb, n-a reușit să priceapă ce naiba caută pe bancă, acum când are echipă de club care-l joacă, așa cum probabil nu înțelegea cum e titular, deși juca meci de meci pe băncile de rezerve ale unor echipe care-l împrumutau de la Udinese mai mult de nevoie, decât de voie.
Că Bogdan Stancu a început să chelească.
Că între o țață isterică din Orodel și un selecționer agitat din Orodel sunt multe asemănări comportamentale. Explicabile totuși, no?
Că-n tribună doar Iordănescu și Vochin ce mai discută ce se petrece pe teren, folosind mâinile din dotare. Iordănescu îl are în dreapta pe Burleanu, Vochin pe un băiat proaspăt lipit de FRF, căruia i-l arăta la protocol pe Karagounis, iar ăla, săracul, credea că fostul (?) ziarist îl cunoaște inclusiv pe barman.
Că, dacă tot am deschis subiectul, în anturajul naționalei sunt acum niște neni pe care repriza a doua îi prinde în ofsaid, la protocol. Niște neni care strigau “fără fault!”, la dueluri unu la unu petrecute în careu…
Că Marica a învățat la aproape 30 de ani să stea și el pe picioare când e luat pe piept de un fundaș central. Sau că Hoban poate să joace decent la națională și execrabil uneori la Petrolul. Sau că avem nevoie de mai mulți Pintilii (mai trebuie vreun i?) și Dragoși Grigori (sic!). Că pe Apără Tătărușanu ar putea să-l afecteze titularizarea la Fiorentina.
Că jucăm 4-2-3-1 doar în teorie, practic, ne strângem pe final 11, 10, 9, câți am mai rămas, în careu, și ne rugăm s-o dea adversarii în bară. La propriu și la figurat.
Că la fel de bine am pornit și data trecută, cu 1-0 în deplasare, pe terenul cele mai tari echipe din grupă.
Că Pițurcă a fost, este și va rămâne ultimul selecționer care a calificat România la un turneu final. D-aia, nea Piți trebuie să rămână. Sau, la fel de bine, poate să plece. No?
Look at the top scorers from Liga 1, with half of season gone, and you won’t see a striker up there. Liviu Antal, a winger, and Eric de Oliveira, a number 10, are leading the charts with 11 goals. That’s a personal record for the FC Vaslui player and a sign of revival from the Brazilian who just got named for the second time the best foreign player in the league. The top three is completed by Astra’s Constantin Budescu, an attacking midfielder who’s enjoying his best season – so, obviously, has to take a lot of stick from Astra’s owner. Strikers do follow, don’t worry, but the first one on the list, in its high section, of course, is… Tunisian: Petrolul’s Hamza Younes. We finally find a prolific Romanian striker in the top flight: he’s Szabolcs Szekely, a 29 years old who’s hardly national team material, even though he netted 9 times for the newly promoted club from Timisoara.
Ok, so Romania lacks a good number 9 in the league, but let’s not forget we had a striker with over 20 goals last season, so let’s have a look abroad… Gone to Sevilla for a decent amount of money, Raul Rusescu played just over 300 minutes and scored 3 goals, ending up on loan to Sporting Braga. But Rusescu was never a real option for Victor Piturca, who relied on two names: Ciprian Marica and Bogdan Stancu. The former Schalke striker signed late with Getafe, but with no real competition within the team collected already 10 appearances in La Liga, scoring just once in the process. Stancu’s doing better, enjoying a decent season in the Turkish league, with 7 goals for Genclerbirligi, but he’ll always be the first to blame after a bad result, Marica’s charisma and clever online presence proving quite useful…
So, with the “established strikers” misfiring both at home and abroad, the obvious solution would be to gamble, something Piturca used to be good at (until caught cheating in casinos…). But can you ask the national team coach to do that with a player like Sergiu Bus, a 21 years old who scored 7 times this season for a newly promoted club, when his own team refused to give him a proper chance to prove himself? Yes, CFR Cluj has a young striker on its books, but would rather loan him no matter where, although there would be a market for a player of this profile. In the past, it used to make sense, with strikers like Kone or Lacina Traore on the books and the team fighting for the title. But now, when CFR’s top scorer is Ogbu, a 24 years old Nigerian, with 4 goals in half of season, and a 7th place in the standings, you might think that something’s not right. I’d say it’s the strategy and it applies to almost the entire first division, but the owners and the fans would rather stick to the usual suspects… CFR just changed their coach and Piturca is not too comfortable either, so we might just need a few more years (or decades?) to realize we could also do with some proper football players…
We are two goals away from the Brazilian World Cup. And we’re playing at home, pushed by 55.000 souls. It doesn’t look that bad, really, yet there’s an overwhelming feeling that everything was lost in Athens and we’re only waiting for a painfully long confirmation, in Bucharest, on a cold Tuesday night that has so little to do with what awaits the winner in Rio, in the summer of 2014. I’ve not jumped ships, I have been pessimistic about Romania’s chances all along, but in Romanian. Now it’s time to be in English as well, so here are a few thoughts on why this now or never game has so little chances to finish with a dream result.
selection and match strategy, unaware that the key absences (Tatarusanu, Chiriches, Pintilii) weaken precisely the defense he decided to put so much emphasis on once again, unable to react to the opposition’s tactics of outnumbering our central midfielders with the use of both wide forwards and opening up highways on both flanks for the advancing fullbacks, the coach was left to blame poor marking at set plays and a first goals scored from an offside position.
Now, he gets a hand with his team selection, as Tatarusanu and a masked Chiriches are back, but the loss of two central midfielders (Bourceanu and Lazar) will pose new questions to his ability to select a winning 11. On the other hand, he faces again the type of game he hates and never propery prepared his team for: the one that he’s supposed to win by opening up the opposition’s defense.
There’s an obvious lack of quality as far as players are concerned, I’ve said it before, we don’t really deserve to go to Brazil with this lot, but there’s the feeling that blame rests on the Piturca’s shoulders once again, both with the lot he assembles every time and with the choices he makes when it comes to picking the starting eleven.
Let’s start with Athens.
He picked Lobont in goal ahead of Pantilimon (according to his selection, the Manchester City shot stopper is Romania’s fourth option, although he recently got the nod – albeit temporarily – ahead of England’s number 1). The veteran from AS Roma, with no official games under his belt, no hunger and little authority, failed to make up for the team’s defensive errors and can only get praise for stopping Greece from netting the fourth goal.
In central midfield, he paired Bourceanu with Cocis, not Lazar, losing chemistry and technical ability, mocking an entire country with his choice and shocking Cocis himself, who stated afterwards that he never expected to start this game.
Upfront, behind Marica, he used Torje on the right, who was a regular starter in this campaign, but lost touch with regular football at club level, picked Stancu ahead of Maxim and, as usual, started with Tanase on the left. Picking Stancu ahead of Maxim, who’s one of the most in-form players at club level and has been a hit in the Bundesliga since he joined Stuttgart, is the main criticism Piturca faced during and after the match. I think that’s not the best approach to the matter, and not just because Stancu scored the away goal that still has a (slim) chance to make the difference. He does fit the game strategy Piturca picked for this game, he has a good fitness and form level, has not played that bad recently for the national team. Actually, Stancu deserved to start, so I would say that the best line of criticism is this: leaving Maxim out was a mistake, as he can just as well play on either flanks, where both Torje and Tanase have disappointed, both before and during the Athens encounter.
Let’s move to the second leg, where Romania is expected to start with Tatarusanu in goal, a back four of Matel, Goian, Chiriches and Rat, Cocis and Gardos in central midfield, Nicolita, Maxim and Stancu behind Marica.
We get back two players that are vital for our chances to keep a clean sheet, but we are weaker than ever where often a football match is won, as the absence of Bourceanu and Lazar (both suspended) forces Piturca to do a rare thing for him: think outside of the box. The pair Cocis – Gardos is odd to say the least. Gardos has played there years ago, but he’s a central defender. Cocis has played there days ago, but in truth he’s the type of all round midfielder that can play everywhere, but is yet to find his best role on the pitch. And he’s 30 years old… They never played together either and this pairing puts Piturca on the spot for yet another reason: why did he call up Ovidiu Hoban – who is average and out of form, let’s be honest – if he doesn’t find him up for this game? He is a defensive midfielder, the only available defensive midfielder, yet he’s not Piturca’s third choice, he’s his fifth!
We move further up the pitch and finally find Maxim among the expected starters, deployed behind Marica, which pushes Stancu wide to the left and pushes Tanase further left, on the bench. The pressure will be huge for Maxim, whose trickery and cheeky backheel touches have produced nothing but disappointment so far for the national team, on the rare occasions he was give the nod. Yes, let’s be honest and say that Maxim plays better for Stuttgart than for Romania, and let’s stay honest: it happens because Stuttgart tries to play football, while Romania only tries to stop the opposition from playing football. Now, all eyes are on him and Piturca himself showed once again his terrible man management skills, by saying “Maxim will have the chance to prove me wrong in the second led”, a pathetic and useless attempt to divert the blame for not offering his most talented attacking player more than 5 minutes in Athens.
It’s an all or nothing game, with an ideal scenario of scoring twice and keeping a clean sheet. Not an impossible feat, but a highly unlikely one given all the above arguments. Greece has not impressed me – they also got punished from a set play, in spite of a huge aerial advantage -, but I can’t see Romania able to turn things around. Everything looks lined up against us, from tradition to deal with such games, to the quality of the roster, the obvious limits of the coach and the lack of solutions to line up a competitive starting eleven even in perfect conditions, not only now, when so many problems will influence Piturca’s choices. To be honest, in spite of my belief that we don’t deserve to go to Rio, I would be obviously disappointed if we’d miss out on yet another final tournament, but I’m gutted that nothing will change for us while the current coach remains in charge. And, according to his contract, that’s at least until 2016…
WBA defender Gabriel Tamas makes a fool of himself, just like Victor Piturca, the national team coach
After Romania’s defeat against Holland, in the qualifiers for the World Cup, Tamas hinted towards an end of his international career, after some 50 caps and 3 goals. Angry that the media was harsh on him, although lately he was used on the right side of the defense, in an uncomfortable position, he wasn’t convinced about this step and let others, like Adrian Mutu, throw this bone to a press that rarely gave him breathing (and drinking) space on his returns from England.
Called-up for a friendly game vs Trinidad-Tobago, he was happy to come back for another cup. Sorry, for another cap. His first night in Romania ended up at 7.30 in the morning, with him wasted, making a huge scandal both when leaving the club and when trying to enter a block of flats. Denied access, he didn’t give up and took his time to break the door, climb to the first floor and take the much-needed rest for any professional footballer, sleeping face down on the floor. That’s how the police found him, but when he woke up, apparently he was lively enough to make the officers use handcuffs to take him in. A juicy enough story for the Romanian media, but things just got worse for Tamas, as the building had cameras installed and offered this pathetic image of a player who had a history, but never before a movie like this one…
Victor Piturca, the national team coach, reacted, by dropping Tamas for the game vs Trinidad-Tobago. Unfortunately, he did it in a press conference, when he said the following: “I have replaced Tamas, but no further punishment will be taken against him. He’s an admirable, loyal lad. I am sure all this will go unnoticed in England, but will be a lot of talk over it in Romania.” A normal statement, wouldn’t you agree? In the end, we’re talking about the coach of the national drinking team…
Romania’s national team coach and players said they want 4 points from the double against Hungary and Holland. They got just one, snatched in the overtime of a poor game in Budapest, losing 0-4 in Amsterdam a few days later, after a similar display.
Victor Piturca’s starting eleven for the second game was shocking, with lots of changes and several high risk bets, and the team had no reaction during the second heavy defeat against the Dutch during a campaign that can still have a happy end. In 3rd place, just one point behind the play-off spot, Romania plays at home against both Hungary and Turkey, will travel to Andorra and host in the last game Estonia. Nevertheless, lots of issues must be addressed in order to make it and, apart from the players’ form, the manager’s ability to identify, admit and correct his mistakes is vital for our chances to be just two games away from a place at the Brazilian World Cup. That’s why I think we’re doomed
Unfortunately for us, Piturca lives in a world of his own, refusing critics, entertaining suburban attacks and explaining us that his dictatorship will continue until 2016, when his current deal expires. A deal that stipulates as sporting goals qualifying Romania for the next final tournament of the European championship, a deal that excuses him from any mistakes during the current qualifying campaign, saying that he’s supposed to find the winning formula for the next one. Angry at the heavy, deserved criticism following recent display, Piturca organized a press conference to defend himself, but a lot of his statements can be
twisted turned against him…
- “During the winter, some bookies offered odds on my imminent sacking. It’s very difficult to achieve something under these circumstances.”
- “I don’t see the point of a question regarding my departure from the national team. You can talk about it, but I am not pressured by the results. The president of the Federation was laughing when we talked about it.“
So, the pressure gets to him, but, of course, it doesn’t get to him. The fans and the media harm the national team by talking about it / betting on it, but do not harm him, who is untouchable until 2016. And laughs about it with the guy nicknamed The Godfather.
- “Initially, I didn’t want to call Mutu, as I didn’t and still don’t think he’s physically able to play for both club and national team. I did create a special schedule for him, asking him to come earlier to the training camp. He came late and I told him he’s free to do whatever he wants, that he’s out of the team. The second day he arrived and was a mess for hours, begging to be forgiven. He wasn’t acting, he even cried.”
So, Mutu is not physically ready and he misses out on the special fitness schedule, staying “at a level not good enough for the national team”. Still, Mutu will be among the starters in the first game and will play 90 minutes against Hungary, on a heavy pitch, in Budapest.
- Steaua’s Cristian Tanase was the player with the worst physical shape, according to tests made in the national team’s training camp.
Tanase was in the starting lineup against Holland, playing for 60 minutes, ahead of team-mate Alexandru Chipciu, who had scored the late equalizer in Budapest and was looking in top shape, ahead of Alexandru Maxim, who had also played in the 2nd half of the game vs Hungary and, a few days later, would have started and scored for Stuttgart, against Borussia Dortmund.
- “In this campaign I have given up playing with three defensive midfielders, I only field two. You asked for a spectacular, offensive game, you got it. Our game has changed a bit. Against Holland, we could have defended the entire game and, with a bit of luck, get a point. But we played to win the game!”
In other words, the fans and the journalists are to blame for the defeat against Holland. Didn’t understand the “you got it!” part…
- “This is the country we are living in: we’re quick to judge people, to offer advice, but we don’t look at ourselves first.”
Well, he’s got a point. As the national team coach, I am ashamed of the way the team is playing, but I would like to remind everyone that I am under contract for the rest of my days, so back off!
In recent times, only George Florescu was better ranked in the list of unpopular figures in the mediocre national team that failed to qualify for a final tournament since 1998. What few people know is that these two had a similar start of their professional career, Florescu and Cocis leaving Universitatea Cluj, when they were 17, in a controversial double transfer to Sheriff Tiraspol, and playing afterwards in Ukraine and Russia.
If Florescu, who was a regular starter under Razvan Lucescu, failed to convince the current coach, Victor Piturca, during the friendly against Austria, played last June, Cocis returns to the team even if he was left out for the double against Estonia and Andorra, for the relief of the entire country. He featured last time in August, against Slovenia, but now he will not only get back in the fold, but seems to have strong credentials for earning a spot in the starting eleven. Once again, negative comments surfaced, but they’re unlikely to make Piturca change his mind. Quite on the contrary, considering the man’s stubbornness.
The public’s opinion, fueled by several coaches who analyzed the 29 years old’s game, is that Cocis is the sort of midfielder who can play everywhere, but won’t impress anywhere. ‘Tactical discipline and a good engine have made him invaluable in recent times though, when whoever coached Romania thought first to block the opposition’s game rather than try to create play. He has collected 43 caps and the fact that he scored only 2 goals only proves that he usually adds a defensive intent to the attacking positions he covers.
He’s expected to do the same in Istanbul, on Friday, when Piturca thinks to deploy him behind the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, but mainly to frustrate the Turkish build-up rather than support either Marica or Stancu, with the latter favored to start ahead of the Schalke backup striker, considering the excellent start of season he’s enjoying at Orduspor.
Romania will be playing hoping for a draw and the general feeling is that players like Cocis will never allow us to hope for more. The paradox is that we’ve always had gifted players and lacked the disciplined, hard-working ones, and my impression is that we might be wrong pointing the finger at Cocis, who is – in the end – admirable in his determination to please the coaches who trust him. Our real problem isn’t his presence in the team, but the absence of a quality number 10 and the coaches’ inability to adjust their tactical setup to the type of players they could and can count on. If things go bad in Istanbul, Cocis will be the perfect scapegoat once again and his former mate, Florescu, can start warming-up…