There was a time when hearing that your club was about to be taken over by one of the richest people on the planet was a cue for celebration. Success would be inevitable, right? Not always. Get the basics right first. Radu Baicu looks at the Romanian Chelsea.
When one of the richest men in the world, Lakshmi Mittal, gets control of a small Romanian club, you would expect great things to happen. Look at the Liga I standings now and you will probably think that Otelul topping the league is a consequence, not a surprise. But what if we take the money out of this equation? Add some Romanian survival instincts and cultured German discipline, from two professionals like club president Marius Stan and the young coach Dorinel Munteanu, none other than the most capped Romanian player in history.
Otelul's promising start of the season has just become magnificent. If Arles-Avignon had gained promotion to Ligue I last season, motivated by an article that tipped them for a quick return in the French third division pinned to the dressing-room wall, then Dorinel Munteanu should find this Top 5 useful.
Sine 2006, when the club's new ownership, Mittal Steel, was announcing its' intent to build "a Romanian Chelsea" (a project Dan Petrescu was going to implement), you might look at the standings and say "Now that's an example of money well spent!".
Well, keep those words and use them even if the wealthy Lakshmi Mittal has invested in Otelul Galati less than a tenth of the fortune spent when his daughter got married. The club that was going to buy the cream of the crop in Romania and maybe even land several big names from abroad was left on a survival budget i the hands of the experienced Marius Stan. And the president did a wonderful job, proving his outstanding ability to spot and recruit players from the lower leagues, who went on to become regulars not just at club level, but also solutions for the youth national teams. Ok, he did worse when it came to signing players from abroad, his search for a top goalkeeper, for example, bringing in Liga I top "entertainers", but even this ended last season, when Otelul landed for peanuts the consistent Branko Grahovac.
Although it was a burden on the club's finances, Stan kept the reserve team in the second division, until two years ago, when he switched to a loan system; bringing in groups of players, offering the chance of playing in the second and third tier youngsters signed from all over the country and to those raised by the club. This basic system allowed Otelul to have a large selection pool when it came to the first team's needs and the results were outstanding: last season, a certain Ionut Neagu was called from CSM Ramnicu Sarat (bottom place in the second league and relegated to third division at the end of the campaign) and the young central midfielder had an excellent second half of season, playing on a regular basis and getting his first call-up to the U21 national team; which, by the way, relies on a very strong group from Otelul, with the likes of Cornel Rapa (right back), Silviu Ilie (left back / left midfielder), Razvan Ochirosii (left winger), Liviu Antal (right winger) getting the same attention as the already mentioned defensive midfielder.
But let's get back to the standings while they last – and Otelul were happy to see Steaua taking only a point from Monday night’s games against Astra Ploiesti - and move the spotlight on another man who deserves the standing ovation he received as a player only after he managed to beat the great Gheorghe Hagi, collecting a record 134 appearances in the national team. His name is Dorinel Munteanu, a little man with an obsession for discipline and work ethic, inspired by his experience as a player in the 1.Bundesliga, with FC Cologne and Vfl Wolfsburg. His coaching career could catch the eye with spells at CFR Cluj and Steaua Bucharest, but he rarely had the time to prove himself there, so he can take heart in his team's performances in this first part of the season. The players are inspired by his dedication and he knew that he found the right place when the team's captain, Gabriel Paraschiv, asked the board for a wage cut, as he realized that these are difficult times. And he does not have so many years ahead of him, nor chances to land a big contract, at 32...
This good mixture of hungry youngsters and honest experienced players was modeled by "Munti" in a tactical setup that was so often used in the 1. Bundesliga, a few years ago. A 4-2-1-3, with specific tasks for the wingers and a vital role for the man behind the lone striker. Whose, obviously, the team's leader, Paraschiv. Otelul's ability to hold the lines and find the right distances between players is key, as the talented youngsters lack consistency and the odd mistake comes more often than you would expect from a winning team. Still, the off the ball movement and the paths worked in training allow them to get often in good attacking positions, making up for the errors in control and delivery that do appear at decent forwards like Marius Pena or Csaba Borbely, who look good only when they hit top shape, for two or three games per season.
The team's strength - which failed to deliver so far just in the 0-4 defeat against FC Vaslui, with the away loss in Cluj a bit harsh - is the solid backbone, formed by Branko Grahovac (GK) – Sergiu Costin (C/DF) – Gabriel Giurgiu (C/MF) – Gabriel Paraschiv (C/AMF), all experienced players, who are used to do their job no matter the opponents' names. Players who fully deserve to see the entire division below, as they keep their heads down, at least a day week per season. Or more?
To get the latest updates on Romanian football, please visit radu's sublime blog, Scouting Romania.