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.
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.
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.
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.