Romanian Liga I Review
(Photo courtesy of the official Steaua website)
Winner/Champions League – Steaua Bucharest (1st)
Europa League – Pandurii (2nd) Petrolul (3rd) Astra Giurgiu (4th)
Relegated – Concordia (15th) Turnu Severin (16th) CSMS Iasi (17th) Gloria Bistrita (18th) Rapid Bucharest (*) Universitatea Cluj (*)
Promoted – ACS Poli Timisoara, Botosani, Corona Brasov, Sogeata Navodari
Steaua Bucharest won their first title since 2006 in a one sided season in Romania, which ended with one of the league’s most famous clubs, Rapid Bucharest, relegated after months of financial turmoil. This after a blow before the season started, as Romania had dropped from 14th to 22nd in the UEFA Association Coefficient Rankings, therefore losing their second Champions League berth.
Steaua won the league by 16 points, from Pandurii, who had finished last season in 8th, and Petrolul, who narrowly avoided relegation. Petrolul – managed by ex AC Milan and Atletico Madrid player Cosmin Contra, also won the Romaniei Cup, beating last seasons’ champions CFR Cluj 1-0 – so both were not expected to be anywhere near the top.
The main talking point of the season may not be about football unfortunately, with as many as seven clubs on the brink of collapse, according to the Romanian Courts. Rapid, and Universitatea Cluj were initially relegated on financial grounds as they could not get a licence due to accumulated debt. Turnu Severin were also denied a licence (Clubs have to be granted a licence for each season stating they are financially sound). Rapid had no choice but to cut costs, so in late December 2012 they released every single foreign player including five Brazilian’s, two Portuguese, two Serbians, a Montenegrin and a Macedonian – as well as 6 Romanians’, in total 17 players, and called up 16 from their B team, in Liga III (mainly teenagers), to help finish the season. They finished 8th, but failed to gain the all-important licence. They could start next season as many as five divisions down.
Having spoken with a trusted Romanian source, it is still unclear whether the league will start with 16 or 18 teams. CSMS Iasi and Concordia may be spared thanks for the misfortunes of Rapid and Uni Cluj, but it is still unclear what the result will be. In a big twist, Rapid and Uni Cluj could also both be re-instated, as the Romanian FA often try to help out teams with financial difficulties, especially in the case of Rapid as they have tried to address the issue by releasing 17 players.
In 2011/12 CFR Cluj won a close-fought title. nine points separated the top five, but Cluj ended this season in 9th, and Otelul Galati, who in 2010/11 won the title and played against the likes of Man Utd the following season, have fallen back since, finishing 11th after a 6th place finish in 2011/12. Vaslui will be disappointed, finishing the season 5th – three places below last seasons’ 2nd, but having only been promoted in 2005 will be happy to have cemented their place in the top flight. One reason for the drop in form may be something to do with having 6 permanent managers since January 2012.
There were many surprises this season, chief amongst which were Petrolul – in 2011/12 they fought off relegation to finish 15th, but with a little magic from Contra and forwards Jeremy Bokila (16 goals) and Hamza Younes (13 goals) they managed to snatch 3rd place from the grasp of another surprise package, Astra Giurgiu. Promoted three seasons ago, Astra, led by an excellent strike pairing of Constantin Budescu (12 Goals) and Kehinde Fatai (14 Goals), were 2nd with only a few games to go, but were abandoned by form at the crucial point of the year. Thanks to Petrolul winning the cup, they will still receive a berth in the early qualifying stages of the Europa League for the first time in their history.
Other notable mentions go to Dinamo Bucharest, who finished 6th and Brasov, who finished 7th, up from 9th last season. Amazingly there were over 20 managerial changes this season. Despite their 4th place finish, Astra chopped and changed three times, and Brasov twice.
The top three scorers from this season were as follows:
Raul Rusescu (21 Goals) – Steaua Bucharest
Jeremy Bokila (16 Goals) – Petrolul Ploiesti
Marius Alexe (15 Goals) – Dinamo Bucharest
Rusescu was mightily impressive, often unplayable. He was easily our pick for player of the season.
It was good to see Steaua win the title again, as one of Romania’s biggest teams it’s a travesty that they have not won the title having finished runners up twice in the period since that last win. With Petrolul, Pandurii and Astra coming from nowhere to finish in the top 4, it goes to show how strong the league is. Previous winners such as CFR finished as low 9th, meaning competition is high, and that you can’t sit back and take the plaudits for past glories, no matter how recent.
Rapid will be missed sorely next season, but it is their own fault for not budgeting correctly and spending beyond their means. It sends a strong message to all others that if you don’t spend within your own means, you will not be given a licence. Viitorul and Ceahlaul survived, but only just, though when the final game of the season came around both were mathematically safe.
Three of the four teams promoted last season have possibly gone back down again. With the exception of Vaslui in 2005 and Astra in 2008, none have ever made an impact. Teams coming up need to stay in the division first and foremost, and build from there. It can be difficult, since Romania are in a serious financial crisis, but it is possible. The key element can be excellent value for money in the transfer market and a good youth setup.
Despite the 8 place drop in the Coefficient rankings, we still think that as a league it is highly competitive and of good quality. With the drop, teams qualifying for UEFA Competitions no longer go straight to the group stage, so it may be unlikely that we will see any in the group stages due to the seeding’s – all 4 entrants may get very difficult ties. With the news that two Turkish teams have been banned from Europe next season, news also broke that Steaua Bucharest have also been handed a one year suspended ban for breaching Champions League participation regulations, which is over a 5 year probation period.
All in all, this season wasn’t as close as some predicted, but was action packed all the same. Plenty of surprises, twists and turns. Next season promises to be a cracker!