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.
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.
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.
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.