Bringing the glory back to Bucharest – part 3


Well we have reached that time again, the winter transfer window and the Liga 1 winter break. This time around I have been prepared our side with 8 friendly matches throughout this period, to maintain match sharpness, as we don’t want a repeat of last year.

Our transfer activity has been pretty effective, both in’s & out’s. As you can see we have spent very little in terms of money on players, most of the signings we have made are prospect for the future. The two exceptions are Steven Taylor and Danny Wilson. Now I have been using a system where I am mostly looking for Romanian players as I want to make good effects of the home grown rules, especially the players trained at my club. Taylor was brought in to add EPL experience from all those years at Newcastle and Wilson in my eyes was a no brainer at £1.1m. My scouts and coaches believe he has a 4.5 star rating potential, so he could well become a leading star at Steaua, or failing that potential value in resale.

season 2 transfers

My latest 3 transfers were too add additional strength to the squad, Amr Gamal looked like a good goal scorer, Philip Heise will add an extra bit of class for my left fullback position, which is more of a supporting role. The last man in Mihalcea, is a loan deal in which I will touch on later.

There have been a fair few departures from the club and we have boosted our finances because of this. Last season we had over 12 players out on loan, the problem we have is we have no reserve squad, just the U19’s. So our squad size this year was huge and only 25 can be selected for the Liga 1. Something had to give, so I needed to be ruthless. Most of the departure were fringe players and realistically weren’t going to play much at all this time round. The best bit of business that happened over the transfer window was the sale of our 17 year old attacking midfielder Vlad Mihalcea. Now normally I would want to cling onto such a talent but after rejecting a bid of £1.5m to Man Utd he threw his toys out the pram. So our good investors from last year came back again and I negotiated a lovely deal worth £2.9m and off he went, as mentioned earlier he has returned to the club on loan, due to a long term injury to our star winger Hamouran.  Now I do believe that I should have bargained for more as his value at Chelsea is now £5m and that is only going to increase, but ultimately Steaua had £0 when I arrived, now we are rolling in the funds with a massive £10m in our bank account. We will eventually be in a position where we can develop young talents and be able to hang onto them when bigger boys come around. We will hopefully have the pulling power to convince players to stay, ultimately making us stronger and the Liga 1.

I have been giving some of the young prospects that I signed last year a chance in the team and they have all stepped up to the plate very well indeed. The 3 players I have given the opportunity to are Ionitia II, Iacob and Iancu, my 3 I’s. They have shown me that they are more than capable of playing at this level and continue to impress. Iacob is putting pressure on Nita, my current number 1. season 2 - IacobIonita II is banging on the door so I am filling him into our midfield when I can and is really starting to earn the praises of my backroom staff. season 2 - Ionita. Iacob is proving excellent back up for Maricia, who is now 31 and cannot play every game, when he has come into the side he seems to put a performance in. season 2 - IancuOverall I am extremely happy with my squad and the amount of cover I have in each position, not just cover, decent cover. So many options for my starting 11, if I was to change all 11 players the side doesn’t weaken, we are in a great position. My biggest battle will be making sure everyone stays happy, currently we are doing ok and moral is good. Let’s hope it continues.

I have tried to implement a new addition to my managerial style. For years I have been an Aresne Wenger and only ever implemented one system going into every game. I have decided that I will split my system into 2, one for games where I am expected to win and are clear favourites, the other for tougher opponents where it may be more of a test. We will still play the 433 system that worked well last year, there is 2 variations of this, a 3 man midfield trio, one is a DM and the opposite with one attacking midfielder. This is similar to the  442 that I started with last year, although it is more a 4231, or a lopsided 442, which ever way you look at it. I have tweaked the tactics and so far are proving to be a success. I also wanted some support for our central striker by giving him a shadow strike partner.

The season has gone well so far, we have 6 league fixtures to go before the championship play-off split and we currently sit top of the pack, 5 point ahead of our rivals, FC Dinamo București. There have been two sides to the coin this year in Europe. We improved on last season by reaching the Champions League group stages. Unfortunately FM decided to screw us with the group draw, again giving us a tough group. I think we drew the toughest group I have ever had in the history of FM, Bayern, Real Madrid and Ajax. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t too optimistic but mad sure we gave our all in each game. As to be expected  we did not qualify from the group stage, or even register a win. But we managed to draw at home against Ajax and Bayern. This now has given me the realisation that in order to have a chance of improving in Europe, we must improve the squad dramatically.

The next instalment will be at the end of the season and hopefully we can see some quality signings before the Liga 1 starts again in February. Even though our Champions League run was pretty poor, once again I believe we have enhanced our reputation.

Stay tuned for the part 4




Bringing the glory back to Bucharest – part 2


Well I have to say, this career has been a real test of my patients, skills and my desire to keep going. My first season in charge of Steaua has come to an end and overall I am very pleased with how things have gone, but there have been a number of hiccups along the way. Reflecting on the season as a whole I have realised my mistakes and how I could have easily avoided them. The biggest mistake I made was not looking at the league structure and making sure that the squad was suited to compete throughout.

I will give a brief summary of the Romanian Liga 1, for those who don’t know much about it. Liga 1 consists of 14 teams, so that requires you to play 26 matches playing each side twice, home and away. After all 26 games have been completed, the league is then split into a Championship and Relegation play-off. The top 6 go into the championship play-off, where the bottom 8 go into the relegation play-off. Each team must play each other twice again, home and away, meaning you can play 5 different teams 4 times each in the league. When the division splits into play-off mode, you current points total is halved, then whatever you gain during the play-offs will be added to that points total. Not forgetting there is a 2 month winter break from mid December to mid February.

Now, onto how we managed in my first season in charge. I will start off with how we endeavoured in Europe, especially after the emphatic 4-0 win over Napoli, that we covered in part 1. As I mentioned before we had a tough group, but after our first win I was pretty optimistic with our chances. The next game was away to Malmo and to be perfectly honest we went into the match over confident and we lost 2-1. This was one of my must win games I singled out when the group was first drawn. I knew that things had to change from now we cannot underestimate anyone on and must get a result against Standard. We managed to pick up 6 points against them with a 1-0 win in Belgium and a 3-0 win at home. Taking 9 points from a possible 12 was a great position to be in although our next game was Napoli, but this time we would be at the San Paolo. Things didn’t go as well as they did they last time we played and they beat us, convincingly 2-0. I knew now that all we needed was a point against Malmo in order for us to qualify. Knowing they beat us in the reverse fixture I knew we could not take them lightly. The lads played exactly how I asked them too and we came away 4-1 winners gaining qualification to the next round, coming 2nd place in our group. .

The next round saw us up against Roma, this was going to be a huge task for us to get through to the next round but I knew the lads were capable of an upset. We lost the first leg at home 1-0 and the second leg we were beaten 3-1. So there it was, the end of our European adventure, but overall I was pleased with the efforts the players put in. Now hopefully with a bit of squad building we can make a bigger impact next season. I defiantly believe that we have enhanced our reputation with our Europa League performances.

Steaua - first season fixtures mid

Moving onto the domestic league and it was a bit of a mixed bag. We managed to go on a 17 match unbeaten run, stretching from 9th August up until 13th February. This put us in a fantastic position at the top of the league at the restart after the winter break. This is where things came to a sudden change. We went on a shocking turn of form, losing 5 out of 6 games in all competitions. I am putting this down to my poor decision not to have any friendly matches during the 2 month break. The whole squad lost the momentum they had worked so hard to build and most importantly their match fitness. I also believe the AI had started to figure out my style of play and were much more suited to counter us. I tweaked the tactics slightly moving our attacking CM forward to an advanced playmaker, making the shape a 4-2-3-1. This managed to change our luck but still we were picking up to many draws for my liking. Despite all this we managed to win the league picking up 23 wins, 9 draws and 4 loses. I am delighted that I managed to continue the Steaua success but feel that my own naivety made things a lot harder.

Steaua - first season fixtures final.png

Steaua - first season Treble

To top the campaign off we were also winners of the League Cup and the Romanian Cup, becoming a treble winner in my first season. An incredible achievement but one that was probably expected of me .Going onto some individual success now, I genuinely believe things may not have been as bright if it wasn’t for my amazing winger, Jugurtha Hamroun. This beauty picked up 11 goals and 35 assists in 43 games. This also meant that he was crowned African Midfielder of the Year, time to move on Yaya there is a new man in town. The most important thing that I will face during the off season will be holding onto Hamroun as no doubt bigger clubs will come sniffing, Atalanta already showing an interest in him.

Steaua - first season Hamroun

So this is where we end this instalment, I will return at the winter break, where hopefully we can improve the squad so we can breakthrough into the Champions League this upcoming campaign. Once again I am delighted with our first season and am eagerly anticipating the next season.




FC Steaua București –


Bringing the glory back to Bucharest

I wanted to have a challenge, but not the usual challenge of taking a league 2 side to Premier league glory. I wanted to test myself in another part of the world in a league that I have very limited knowledge of. I scoured through different nations and their history and decided to take a punt in Romania. Back in 1986 FC Steaua București managed the impossible dream and won the Champions League, ok it was won on penalties but it was against the mighty Barcelona, managed by the legendary Terry Venables. To prove that this was no fluke, Steaua reached the final again in 1989, but the class of the iconic AC Milan team of Van Basten and friends thrashed them convincingly 4-0. I decided that I wanted to try and turn Steaua into a force again in Europe and try to develop a  regen to become a club and national legend like Gheorghe Hagi.

Domestically Steaua have been completely dominant winning an incredible 26 Liga 1 titles, and the Cupa Romaniei 22 times. My aim would be to continue with this success but to also push onto to becoming a force in Europe once more.

In my first day the board gave me 2 philosophies that I must continue with, Attacking and Possession football, this is clearly the Steaua way and they trusted me to continue with this ethos. I used my staff to give me a breakdown of the squad and so I could analyse them all and how I could put this attacking possession play in place. Overall I am extremely happy with the current squad and due to financial constraints I am unable to invest unless I sell. I decided to stick with the squad and not to make any drastic changes until I have really pinned down a system that works.

There have only been a few transfers in and out of the club that have taken place so far. The 2 signings I have brought in so far are a result of selling a few players, they are young stars who both have 4-5 star potential so they have both been sent out on loan to gain so vital experience and will look to start to blend them into the 1st team next season. The 3 players that left the squad were decent sales and now the club has a decent amount of cash to sit on comfortably. Earning £700k on 2 fringe players in my eyes was a good bit of business, although Adrian Popa has now increased his value to over £1mil now he is at a bigger club. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and at the time I thought the income was more than enough for a player who wouldn’t actually play that often for me, plus his valuation at the time was only£275k. The sale of our young GK Valentin Cojocaru to Chelsea was the best sale in my eyes, earning a massive £2.5mil, it was simply too good to turn down. I have kept an eye on his progress as he will simply be back up to Courtois for most of his career, so I’ll try to poach him back on a loan deal or permanently when he gets unhappy and he is not getting game time, hopefully for a fraction of the I sold him for.

Steaua - first season transfers

After looking at the squad I could see that I had a decent core of central defenders and midfielders, 4 fullbacks who can be rotated nicely to keep things fresh, and 2 top class wingers who can be influential in my success. Not forgetting the talented Ciprian Marica as my leading line striker. I wanted to keep the mentality and shape the side used throughout the late 80’s, a 4-4-2 with 2 attacking wingers. This started well, winning 6 out of 7 pre-season friendlies, only losing to PSG but beating Lokomotiv Moscow. I lost the opening fixture which was the Romanian Super Cup (the equivalent of the Community Shield), 2-1 after extra time. I saw my side being overrun in the midfield and caught on the break to often as we were too attacking, so I decided to iron out these issues early. I opted for a 4-3-3 with a flat back 4 to hold the defensive shape and a flat midfield trio to help dominate the middle of the park. I also changed the mentality from attacking to control, thus making us more cautious to opponents counter attacking skills but also an attacking threat. My philosophy is to press high up the pitch winning the ball back early, putting the opposition defenders under pressure, hoping to cause mistakes.

Steaua - first season - first period fixtures

The domestic league has started very well picking up 8 wins from my first 12 games, with only 1 defeat and 3 draws, leaving us 2 points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand on the chasing pack. Our European campaign has been a little more indifferent in comparison, we won convincingly in the 2nd round qualifiers of the Champions league but we beaten 3-1 over the 2 legs against Molde in the 3rd round.  Leaving us to settle with the Europa League, which I didn’t mind too much as this can now be the foundation of European football for us to develop on. We go through the Europa League first round with a convincing win to put us into the group stages. We have drawn a tough group though, Napoli, Standard and Malmo. Progression is going to really test us, but it’s a chance to really see the how the squad will line up again more superior sides in important matches and test our character.

We finish this first chapter after our first Europa League match, at home to Napoli, the strongest side in our group and clear favourites to progress to the next stage of the competition. I decide that as we are at home we must give it a go but we are missing a few key players, perhaps, if we are lucky, we could come away with a point. Coming off of a victory in the domestic league, I simply ask the lads to go out there and pick up where you have left off. All 11 players turned up and put in an outstanding performance. We completely played Napoli off the park, dominating them in every position and came away 4-0 winners. We hardly gave them a sniff, what a start to our tough group. Even though it is the opening match, I am pleased with how the side performed and am optimistic that we can progress to the next round.

Steaua - first season Napoli

What a way to end this first chapter of this career, it has filled me with confidence that great things can be achieved with Steaua. I will return with the next instalment shortly and hopefully we can start to see more progression with this developing side.