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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…

Steaua’s goal in the Youth League: avoid embarrassing results

September 12, 2013 2 comments

Just to prove that “I told you so”, here’s a link on a piece I wrote back in January. Steaua’s U19 and U17 teams were coming after heavy defeats suffered at the hands of Hagi’s Academy and nobody at the club seemed preoccupied about the fact that, in 8 months time, the club’s work at youth level will be exposed in the UEFA Youth League. A competition that’s supposed to act as a platform for young talents, offering them a chance to gain invaluable experience and impress on the European stage, but not for the Romanian champions, who decided years ago that there’s no point in running a decent academy when the owner is rich enough to sign basically any young prospect that makes his way in the top flight and looks promising enough.

Hagi's Academy fuels not just Romania's youth national teams, but also Romania's champion club.

Hagi’s Academy fuels not just Romania’s youth national teams, but also Romania’s champion club.

Well, the 8 months went by quickly and when the club realized that its’ image is at stake in the little brother of the Champions League, worked on an emergency plan. The management struck a deal with Gheorghe Hagi, who cannot hide his affection for the Bucharest club, and a one year long loan deal involving 6 of his players was agreed. The solution will certainly help the team trained by Ion Toma, but the young coach (who made a name for himself and got this contract after impressing in a highschool competition) is realistic enough to keep the expectation level extremely low: “We cannot kid ourselves, our goal is not to get thrashed, to avoid embarrassment.”

Toma isn’t that confident that the injection of quality from Hagi’s Academy can boost Steaua’s chances to do well against the likes of Chelsea, Schalke or FC Basel, but, in truth, he does get some promising faces under his command. Alexandru Tarnovan and Ionut Mitrita have already some first league appearances with Viitorul and, for me, take a big risk by giving up the chance to feature in more senior games this term, in Liga I, in exchange for six appearances in the UEFA Youth League. For their sake, the loan deal will allow them to return to Viitorul in the winter, as playing senior football at this age is vital for their development. Also, Robert Hodorogea and Bogdan Vasile are U19 Romanian internationals, and look consistent and reliable, qualities you don’t see that often in (Romanian) players of their age. Steaua also loaned from Targu Mures another good prospect, Razvan Stoica, while in goal they can count on Valentin Cojocaru, who has been training for a while with the senior team and looked close to a deal with Liverpool, not so long ago.

hagi academy

Still, Steaua’s U19 coach speaks from experience, as he has struggled to make his U19 team click in the previous season and now has little time to make this lot play as a unit. Maybe the help promised by Laurentiu Reghecampf, who will try to pass on his methods and also worke twice a week with the youngsters, can make the difference. Or, better said, can save face. I doubt that a club who has paid so little attention to its youth setup for so many years can trick teams who treated seriously the work in this sector, with just a little help from Hagi, who just found another purpose to his young Academy. Viitorul can even relegate from Liga I – it will qualify every year for the UEFA Youth League 🙂

Denis Alibec – getting stronger, older, but not any wiser

Everybody was excited about the skinny forward from Constanta a few years ago and Inter moved quickly to get the signature of Denis Alibec, in spite of the failure to get anything out of Ianis Zicu, who was definitely more talented. I remember watching him playing for Romania’s U19, soon after his move to Milano, and his arrogance and selfishness were difficult to digest. Had a gut feeling he’s not going to make it and something similar I felt not long ago, when I’ve seen Chievo’s Adrian Stoian – praised in Italy for his quality and potential – pull on the yellow shirt nobody really seems to care about these days…

alibecYears went by and Alibec failed to make it in Italy, although his performances with the nerazzurri’s Primavera certainly hadn’t gone un-noticed, Jose Mourinho wanting to have a look at the Romanian forward and offering him the chance to train with the seniors and even play. But, when everything seemed to go right, something changed the path of his career. He was sent on loan to Mechelen, in Belgium’s top flight, to get more experience among the seniors, but his difficult character was too much to deal with in what was supposed to be the quiet, calm environment that should have helped him blossom. Left the club after a fight with the coach and without a backup plan and a return to Romania, further away from the professional world, remained Inter only rehab solution. But Alibec isn’t surrounded by enemies and people who don’t see and appreciate his talents, as he probably thinks, and Gheorghe Hagi sacrificed a place in his newly promoted team, Viitorul Constanta, at the expense of one of his Academy’s better products (93 born Gavra barely got the chance to play last season). Alibec, “who seems to gain weight when he breaths”, played 23 matches in Liga 1 and, although his numbers might not be great, with 5 goals and 5 assists, he definitely impressed with a combination of physical strength and technical ability difficult to find in any other Romanian striker. This and Hagi’s word were enough for Steaua to really consider a move for him this summer, on condition Inter can be tricked to get nothing in exchange of what was considered now a player able to help the Bucharest side get into the Champions League’s groups stage. Talks were fueled by the press, but several Italian scouts were adamant the move would not go through, as “there’s interest for the player from the Serie A”.

They were right, Bologna moved for the 22 years old, who should have been more than happy at getting a second chance in Serie A. He’s not… “I’m sorry I have to leave behind my friends and my family. I hoped to be able to move to Steaua, but my faith is decided by Inter”, he stated to the press immediately after the deal was announced, without a second thought about the impact of his words on his near future. If a colder reception both from the staff, his colleagues and the fans should await in Emilia-Romagna, he should look back and think about his words. Or think about thinking before speaking. But the nightmare of having a second chance to impress in Serie A should not be long. He can wake up from it whenever he feels like it. It wouldn’t be the first time, he’s getting quite experienced at throwing away his chances to really make it…

 

Gavra impresses at Ajax!

July 23, 2012 3 comments

Raised in Gheorghe Hagi’s Academy, the U19 international Cristian Gavra was called to Amsterdam to train for a week with Ajax. Another hot prospect from Viitorul Constanta, Bogdan Taru, went with him, but if the central defender returned to Romania, the promising striker was informed that he will stay for another week.

Born in 1993, Gavra was a key player in the U19 alongside Taru, in a generation praised for reaching the Elite Round in the qualifying campaign for the European Championship, but later accused for failing to get the tickets for the final tournament. He’s one of the 19 players from Hagi’s Academy who got called up to Romania’s different youth national teams since the beginning of 2012, but could become the first to “graduate” and make the step towards a very big club. Best of luck to him!

Hagi’s club, Viitorul Constanta, promoted to Liga I!

June 2, 2012 1 comment

Hagi’s “talent factory” just got a new quality certificate.

It all started three years ago, when the legendary Gheorghe Hagi started to develop his football academy, just outside Constanta. Three years and around 10 million Euros later, the results are outstanding and show that a serious approach to youth development will pay dividends. The Academy has now almost 30 players getting regular call-ups to Romania’s youth national teams (Alexandru Buzbuchi, George Serban, Adrian Putanu, Bogdan Tiru, Gabriel Iancu and Cristian Gavra – all recently involved in the Elite Round played by the U19 in Serbia, against the hosts, Germany and Hungary) and today another important event took place.

Viitorul Constanta, the platform offered to the growing talents of the Academy to prove themselves among the seniors, won 2-0 against Sageata Stejaru (goals by the young internationals Putanu and Iancu) in the last round of the Liga 2 season and earned a second consecutive promotion. The blue and white outfit will be playing first division football next season and it’s another fantastic achievement for Hagi’s club.

Of course, this is the real test for the project and Hagi must be strong enough to resist the temptation to try and fight the usual faces of the first division using their weapons. He needs to stay faithful to the excellent work done so far and keep on offering the chance to play at a higher level to the most talented 17, 18 and 19 years old from his Academy. Viitorul doesn’t need to do more than stay up in the clubs’ first season on this stage and should stay focused on the club’s main goal: promoting the excellent prospects who are already coming to age. There’s the risk of going back to the second tier after one year, but let’s not forget the not so old adventures of Sportul Studentesc, who even fought for the title a few years ago using only Romanian players – most of them very young -, a club Hagi’s quite familiar with…

Hagi returns to his beloved Galatasaray, for a second adventure as head coach

October 21, 2010 2 comments

Hagi, happy to return home

Linked with all the big guns from Romania that were looking for a top coach at one point, Hagi stated recently that he will refuse any offer that comes to him after the beginning of a season, as he’d like to avoid the mistakes done in his coaching career. Today, he made an exception for Galatasaray Istanbul, one of the three teams that he likes to consider “home”, alongside Steaua Bucharest and the national team, where he’d surely love to get a second chance to prove himself.

In spite of Galata’s poor start of the season and the pressure he’ll have to whitstand in the first year, I think it’s a good decision, as he had to return to coaching rather sooner than later, and waiting for the right project to come along has kept him on the sidelines a bit too much. He never walked away from football, though, as in the past two years he managed to build an excellent football academy, which is now represented in the Romanian second division, hosts tournaments involving top clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, and gathers most of the talented kids who are hoping to follow in his footsteps. Read more…

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