Emanuel Rosu

Romania’s Liga I has an interesting new recipe this year – lots of new names, interesting transfers and a title battle which promises to last until the end of the campaign all thrown into the pot and brought nicely to the boil.

Steaua Bucharest, the most popular team in the country, has been literally transformed from top to bottom. Eccentric owner Gigi Becali hired former national team manager Victor Piturca and things instantly got a little crazy at the Ghencea Arena. 11 new players came in, 15 were dropped, and the red-blues have an entirely new-look squad. The main arrivals are Mihai Radut (20-year-old Romanian international), Stanistov Angelov (32, Bulgarian international), Gerardo Alves (29, Portuguese via AEK Athens) and Dorel Stoica. Piturca thinks these key men will add quality to his group and increase the creativity and skill level.

The capital city’s other two big teams, Dinamo and Rapid, also grabbed their share of the summer headlines. Dinamo have Ioan Andone on the bench and hope that last year’s performance, just sixth in the league, will be looked back upon as some sort of accident this time next year. The Red Dogs shipped out players who weren’t at their best last season – Ianis Zicu to Poli Timisoara, Florin Bratu to Litex Lovech, Claudiu Niculescu and Gabriel Bostina to Universitatea Cluj – and gave Andone free reign in the transfer market. He didn’t however spend his money on high profile replacements.

By contrast, Rapid were active enough to be considered amongst the favourites to pick up silverware, with Brazilian striker Cassio Vargas a particularly impressive signing from Uniao Leiria. Former FC Brasov president, Dinu Gheorghe, was installed as chairman, legendary player Marius Sumudica took the managerial hotseat and radical changes soon appeared in the club’s starting eleven structure. A new style of play, a new attitude, and an impressive new-look squad are all important reasons for Granatta fans to begin dreaming about a trophy.


Over at CFR Cluj, the reigning champions, all seems well, with confidence and bombastic statements overlowing from the side. "It’s our hegemony, you’ll see. We won the league, the cup, the supercup, we want to celebrate over and over again", president Iuliu Muresan blasted. Why such optimism? The stability offered by Italian coach Andrea Mandorlini is surely one reason, perhaps combined with a transfer policy which allows him to innovate and splash out €900,000 on Croatian forward Sasa Bjetonovici from Italians Vicenza.

Maybe the biggest new name in Romanian football though is Juan Ramon Lopez Caro. While that might cause many to raise an eyebrow and speculate just who he might be, the Spaniard is an ex-Real Madrid manager – at the Bernebau in 2005/06 -, albeit that is a club whose membership appears to swell by the season. Fate has brought Caro to FC Vasui, one of the biggest spenders in the Romanian game. As a result Caro has plenty of money to spend, but glory cannot be guaranteed. Indeed, hard work seems the only way for the Spaniard to succeed in Liga I. Even though striker Rodolfo Bodipo was convinced to swap Deportivo La Coruna for Vasuli, defender David Rivas arrived from Betis and midfielder Alejandro Campano came from Gimnastic, the club’s pre-season performances haven’t been as expected. The Spanish coach has a tough job ahead of him, also when club owner Adrian Porumboiu, who has "instability" as his middle name, is considered.

Amongst the other big names Unirea Urziceni, a constant challenger for trophies for the past three years, are hoping to improve on last season’s second place finish. General manager Mihai Stoica has said the team don’t have any concrete objectives: "I don’t know what we want. It’s important to play as a team and remain focused until the end, then we’ll see if we can be satisfied or not." It’s a refreshingly philosophical view.

Poli Timisoara would like to consider themselves as amongst the biggest clubs in the country, but the Viola haven’t been particularly active in the transfer market. Low on cash, but with the club’s heirarchy almost talking themselves up the table, Poli make the most of their fans, some of the best in the country. It’s not enough to be considered a front runner, even if their owners think it is.