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The incomplete preview for the next season of Romanian football

July 8, 2017 2 comments

The season starts on July 15. The transfer period closes on September 4, so we can expect still plenty of action on the market. There will be an almost 3 months long winter break, in which normally other massive changes of personnel take place. The number of points gained during the regular season will be cut in half, so the playoffs can see the Top 6 making the final sprint in a totally different shape than anyone could realistically anticipate at this point. That’s why it makes more sense to just have a look at how the best equipped and most ambitious clubs will line up at the start of Liga 1’s 100th edition…

FCSB (the club formerly known as Steaua):

Having lost the two championships played under the current format, a third defeat looks catastrophic. But feeling sympathetic towards Gigi Becali just doesn’t sound right, in spite of his willingness to spend money in the market. He’s doing it without fully relying on professional advice and his judgment is often clouded by pride, arrogance and an over-confidence in his football knowledge. He has the power to get every (half of) year almost everything he wishes, from the best Romanian prospects to the consistent performers in Liga 1, but more often will weaken one of his rivals than strengthen his club or prove the right fit for his team. His current team is very strong in midfield and attack, has a long bench, but the defensive options are mediocre. He also went for a new coach, but the general feeling is that the team’s former no 10 Nicolae Dica was chosen more for his obedience than his innovative ideas or coaching record. Still, expect FCSB to go all the way, the team is strong and can become even stronger, although some doubts about Becali’s coaching ability should persist 🙂

Champion with Unirea Urziceni, Petrescu returns to Romania after some odd and unsuccessful spells abroad.

CFR Cluj:

A new ownership, strong investment to clear debt and massively overhaul the squad and the signing of a proven coach like Dan Petrescu surely turn once again CFR into a serious title contender. This is the club FCSB should / will fear the most. Petrescu knows exactly what he’s doing and what he needs, while the board has a proven record and a broad perspective over the market. They’ve already signed a dozen of new players, yes, there will be a lack of cohesion in the first part of the season, but if things go right, in a couple of months CFR will look a lot like Unirea Urziceni: a very experienced outfit, very well balanced, whose main assets will be mental, tactical and physical. At this point, I’d tip them to become a dominant team and wouldn’t be surprised to force FCSB into another handicap start in the play-offs.

Dinamo:

Contra’s arrival just before the start of last season’s playoffs produce an incredible effect, but it was all down to the former international’s excellent motivational ability. It will take more than that to really challenge for more than a place in Europe, mostly because Dinamo’s has a rather minimalistic approach on the market. The ownership’s reluctance to spend on transfer fees and big(ger) salaries is well-known, so the feeling is that Contra, who lost two key players already in Dielna and Palic, will have to perform miracles to mount a title challenge, unless re-enforcement is on the way.

CSU Craiova:

There’s a new, intriguing name on the bench: Devis Mangia. A new stadium should be completed within a year and Craiova – who rely on a passionate fan base – could get a major boost right before the play-offs. All the important players have stayed put so far – although the likes of Ivan and Baluta have the potential to attract bids – some interesting additions like Roman and Barbut came in, but the squad still feels too light to go all the way.

Viitorul:

Last season’s champions have surprised with the addition of some very experienced players, but hopefully Hagi won’t turn his kindergarten into a retirement house. He’s surely hoping that this strategy will help him make a good start in Europe, as the important clubs seem to remain reluctant in submitting the kind of bids he was expecting for hot prospects like Coman or Nedelcu, after their displays in Liga 1. It’s going to be almost impossible to repeat last season’s feat, but an European spot remains on the cards and in Hagi’s plans for the campaign set to start on July 15.

A look at Hagi’s struggles with the best Romanian football academy

September 15, 2014 3 comments

Viitorul started its third consecutive season in the top flight, which is quite a feature considering the impressive number of youngsters promoted, but also the difficulties to survive in a league full of clubs ready to throw everything into a fight that usually has one true victim: the future of Romanian football.
Hagi entered this fight with his best kids and intentions, but soon realized all his work and huge investment – done mostly by himself – can go to waste, so Viitorul has now linked to its name some shocking, yet very useful results obtained at the very end of the previous two Liga 1 campaigns.
It was not pretty to watch and it surely didn’t send the right signals not only within the club, but also outside of it. But what father wouldn’t try everything to protect his children?

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The real problem, in my opinion, is not that Hagi felt the need to intervene, as he does now, by taking an active role in the technical staff of his own club, is that he failed to address some important issues, which regard both the Academy’s activity and the senior team’s results.

1. No real solution for players who turn 19.
The youth competitions – which Hagi’s Academy dominate for years – involve only players up to 19 years old. Once the youngsters reach this critical age in their development, there’s no Under 21 or Reserve League games waiting for them. Hagi probably hoped to address that when he supported Gheorghe Popescu’s candidacy, but the former Barcelona captain ended the race in jail, not in the Romanian Football Federation’s best office.
There was no plan B. There are no partner-clubs in the second division, there are no friendly relations with other Liga 1 clubs, where most of his 19 years old, champions at youth level, could have a chance to take the normal step towards senior football. Viitorul is the only senior club to aspire to and it simply cannot look after and promote every generation of new players that comes out of the academy each year.

2. Too much confidence in the Academy’s potential to promote itself.
Initially, Hagi didn’t want a club in the tip flight, but was forced to push for promotion, as he felt that the second division is not a glamorous shopping avenue for interesting clubs, not even Romanian 1st division teams. He had to stop the investment in the training facilities near Constanta to be able to finance the club, but I am not sure that things are that much better. A look at some of the top sales done so far? Chitu to Valenciennes (failed to adjust, now returned to Romania), Balasa to Roma (loaned in Serie B), Iancu to Steaua (failed to impress)… Not very good advertising, is it?

3. Poor marketing and reluctance to work with agents.
Probably Hagi relies on his name, on the impressive number of youth internationals (the U21 just lost 0-8 to Germany…) and surely lacks in his club structure the people who can attract and keep alive the little interest of foreign clubs. On the other hand, he also ignores the good (which often comes with some bad, but not always!) that can be done by agents who know how to sell players.
I’ll offer one example I’ve been watching from a distance: Adrian Stefanescu, a Romanian agent who has very good links with top UK based clubs, including Manchester City, but who does some really good work in getting very young Romanian players in cont(r)act and with Premier League and Championship clubs. Atletico Arad, who does some good work at youth level, are lucky and also clever to have him as partner…

4. Poor selection of first team coaches
Viitorul promoted under the guidance of Catalin Anghel, an unknown, young coach, who has left the club after the first year in the top flight. His choice looked strange in the first place and it set a pattern Hagi hasn’t abandoned. Same goes for Bogdan Vintila, former keeper and colleague of the owner, who was followed and now follows after Bogdan Stelea, whose brief spell in charge means that Hagi didn’t really had to appoint himself in a technical role a couple of weeks ago. My feeling is that he was already making use of those prerogatives…
Anyway, having young, unexperienced and not so strict coaches in charge of a young and unexperienced team might not be the best idea, but until proven wrong, it seems like the only and the best idea.

5. Belief in wasted talents
Viitorul works every day with something than can be seen, felt in a player, but that cannot always be transformed into quality. It’s a process that involved hundreds of players since the academy opened its doors, thousands of hours spent on the pitch, millions of Euros invested and a bunch of subjective factors that can influence the outcome and make the work at youth level such a massive task which most of Romanian clubs simply refuse to undertake anymore.
Why Viitorul, who produces talent in quantities way over the senior team’s needs, decides every once in a while to sign players who proved at every level that they couldn’t turn themselves into quality professional players is simply beyond me. But, normally, it’s strictly linked with Hagi who – proved it also as a coach – really believes in his instincts (I cannot call stubborn a man I can’t stop admiring). Signing players like Alibec and Daminuta, whose real talent is to throw away the fantastic opportunities to make a huge career in football, made no sense to me. If Daminuta came on a free and, in theory, might allow Viitorul to make some money, Alibec was signed on loan from Inter, offered the place deserved by one of Viitorul’s kids, and made a mess of it once again. Now he’s warming the bench of Astra Giurgiu, after his probably last loan spell in Serie A, with Bologna.
Trying to find a logic in these signings? Maybe Hagi wanted to show his Academy graduates how they must not look like in 2-3 years time. Full of tattoos and full of themselves, with some money in the bank, a flashy car & tarty girl at their disposal. But is that such a bad profile for a 17-18 years olds whose family education stopped at 13-14, when they left home to join the Academy and spent his teenage years among boys, going from training to school and back?
They might have all dreamt at one point to become the new Hagi, but haven’t we all? 🙂

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