Romania's Liga 1 may not be your chosen destination for regular viewing, but its rarely anything less than, well, lets just say interesting. Our Romanian correspondent Radu Baicu delivers a haft time pep talk.
We've reached the halfway mark in Liga I, but, with a schedule that makes absolutely no sense to me - two more rounds will be played before the winter break. Time to take a quick look back at the 17 rounds that have gone.
The title race
With Otelul Galati ahead of everyone else, things haven't really gone as planned for the usual title contenders. The Bucharest clubs failed to do better than in the past couple of years and they're quite a long way back, with Steaua the only Romanian club still involved in an European competition, sitting in 7th place. Reigning champions CFR Cluj are in an even worse position and, with so many clubs eager to do better in the second half, it's hard to see them fighting for more than a place in Europe.
Although both made the same call as CFR and changed coaches that had prepared and started the season, FC Timisoara and FC Vaslui have definitely been more inspired and successful. Timisoara remained the only undefeated club in the league, while Vaslui suffered only one defeat in the last 11 rounds (against Timisoara!), winning eight times thanks to their offensive quality and a bigger dose of luck than the rest of the pack.
Basically, Otelul's excellent run and Gaz Metan's fifth place is repaying the clubs that have a long term project and are satisfied with a slow but steady growth, retaining faith in their coaches, even when things weren't looking bright. This has shown that it's not all about the money spent on an over-priced Romanian market.
The relegation battle
The reunited "mad bunch" from Sportul Studentesc failed to deliver more than a few entertaining matches and the bottom placed club wil probably go down mainly because the owner is satisfied to see good individual performances from the players he is hoping to sell. Unlike the rest of the struggling teams, Sportul's players will never be desperate to get a result, an attitude easy to find in clubs like Victoria Branesti or FCM Targu Mures.
Victoria’s young coach, Ilie Stan looks out of his depth in Liga I, but Targu Mures and Pandurii are in good hands, after a poor start. In fact, Targu Mures could struggle to start 2011 with Ioan Ovidiu Sabau still in charge, as he's considered one of the best choices by CFR's board, with the champions looking for the right guy to take over the team, during the winter break.
As expected, FC Brasov and Unirea Urziceni, who have suffered massive losses in terms of quality players, are down there, but they'll put up a fight until the very end, even if top players like Chipciu (Brasov) or Maftei (Unirea) are likely to leave in the winter as well.
What to expect
As you can see, we have no mid-table clubs, with CFR secretly dreaming of a spectacular come-back in the title race and Universitatea Craiova, who, right after Piturca's appointment, dared to speak of the title, only three points away from the danger zone. With everyone still very much in it, it's impossible to predict what is going to happen in 2011, but here's what I think is pretty vital to change and what's important to stay the same at the clubs fighting to win the league.
- Do: sell the players in demand! Rapa's market price has rocketed and will only go down from there. The title isn't a realistic goal for Otelul and a place in Europe could be achieved without one or two of the current regular starters. Plus, Marius Stan can buy a completely new team with a million Euros!
- Don't: dare to think of the title. The other clubs have the money and means to make sure this won't happen!
- Do: make a call regarding the coach, as Contra should either hang up his boots and focus on the new job or leave it to someone else. It's been going well until now, but enthusiasm and good fortune don't last forever.
- Don't: keep on buying from Dinamo! It has become a strange habit in recent years...
- Do: get back the injured defenders or buy new ones - it's vital to find some balance within the team
- Don't: keep on playing Wesley as a central midfielder and insist on using Burdujan
- Do: decide if you want the title or not; offer Lazar and Bozovic new deals; buy a new striker
- Don't: act like amateurs; allow Rui Duarte or anyone else to skip training and leave the country without severe punishment.
Gaz Metan Medias
- Do: offer the excellent coach Cristi Pustai a new deal; buy another striker; go for the chance to play in Europe next season
- Don't: further unsettle Eric de Oliveira, you're going to lose him anyway!
- Do: sell Torje, Adrian Cristea, Alexe - they'll bring a lot of cash; get rid of Niculae, N'Doye, Scarlatache, Bordeanu, Moti - they'll save you a lot of money and spare further embarrassment; respect Danciulescu.
- Don't: keep on using the old methods! You're doing serious damage to this league and will continue to play in front of just a few hundred fans!
- Do: try and keep as many of the current players
- Don't: act upon Becali's mood and "knowledge"; lose the fans once again
- Do: sell all those that have spent too much time in Cluj and consider themselves more than just players; decide the club's strategy before choosing the coach
- Don't: think about the chance to win the league