As promised, after last week’s Liga 1 checkup, today we take a look at the crazy lower divisions, and (believe it or not) some good practice in Romanian football…
The second tier of Romanian football is this season played as one big league, rather than in regional sections as has been the case since its inception in 1934. The principal effect of this decision has been to cast clubs with already meagre budgets into deeper financial difficulty as they have to cover the costs of travelling across a large country with an under-developed road system. Before the season even began, the make-up of this division was unclear. Petrolul Ploiesti should have been relegated to Liga 2, but were wound up instead; ACS Poli Timisoara should also have been demoted into the division, but kept their place at the top table because of Rapid Bucuresti‘s failure to obtain a Liga 1 licence. Farul Constanta withdrew from the competition and entered Liga 3 instead, due to a lack of funds (they were declared bankrupt shortly afterwards); SC Bacau did the same, but without the bankruptcy; and FCM Baia Mare dropped out the day before the Liga 2 season was due to kick off.
In order to have enough teams in the league, therefore, three clubs that were relegated at the end of last season were invited back; two of these had to move towns in order to continue for another season. (The other eight teams that were relegated from Liga 2 in 2015-16 have all ceased to exist (!), including 2011 league champions Oțelul Galați.) So hodge podge really doesn’t cover it…
Anyway, here are the standings after 19 games that currently count. The top two go up automatically, and the third will play off against 12th place in Liga 1. 16th place downwards will be relegated, however many teams manage to complete the season.
As you can see, another two teams have been excluded from the competition since August: Soimii Pancota managed only a few matches with a team of 14- to 18-year olds before being forced to withdraw, and Berceni also dropped out. Matches against these two have been scratched, so in fact some teams have played 21 fixtures. Word is that Tarlungeni and Ramnicu Valcea are in imminent danger of going under*, while the historic and well-supported FC Brasov are just about struggling on, having looked doomed for over a year now. The latter are being propped up thanks to Alexandru Chipciu’s summer transfer from Steaua to Anderlecht: when he moved to Steaua in 2012, after six years at Brasov, the deal included a clause guaranteeing Brasov 25% of any future transfer fee. The money is being paid in instalments of 100,000 euros, and Brasov’s manager Cornel Țălnar had to call his old mate, Steaua owner Gigi Becali, in December to ask for the next instalment to be paid early so that the insolvent club could pay the players’ salaries in time for Christmas.
Brasov are nevertheless challenging for the second automatic promotion spot, behind a dominant Juventus Bucuresti, in a competitive chase with phoenix club UTA Batrana Doamna (who almost won promotion last year) from Arad in the far west, Sepsi OSK of the Szekler Hungarian heartland not far from Brasov, and Olimpia Satu Mare from the even more distant northwest. If more clubs go under, the scratched results of their games may well have a discombobulating effect on the top of the table: for example, Tarlungeni drew with both Sepsi and Brasov but lost 6-0 at Juventus. But quality will out, and Juventus (not the same club as the inter-war giants who morphed into Petrolul Ploiesti) look good for a second consecutive promotion.
Ray of sunshine
Down the wrong end, defunct clubs could eventually take up most or all of the available relegation places, leaving half the league with nothing to play for. At least, this is the outcome I might be hoping for if I were a fan of ASU Politehnica Timisoara, the more ethical of the two clubs claiming to be the real continuation of Politehnica, a popular, historic and successful team that was disbanded in 2012. Clone club ACS Poli, in the top tier, look doomed to disappear at the end of the season, if not before, but ASU Poli are (like UTA Batrana Doamna) fan-owned and an example to other clubs threatened with extinction (i.e. most of them). Having been set up four years ago in the county leagues by a group of Poli fans, they have had three quick promotions and are run on a budget approximately one-fifth of that of other clubs in Liga 2. While ACS Poli play in the 32,000-capacity Dan Paltinisanu stadium in front of a thousand fans, ASU Poli choose instead to fill the 1,000-capacity Stiinta stadium for a better atmosphere.
Ooff. Now you’ve seen what a joke Liga 2 is, that’s enough for now. My return to Liga 5 will have to wait…
*UPDATE: With their club about to go belly-up, three young Ramnicu Valcea fringe players have announced that they are moving to Germany to look for work (one as a hairdresser). Apparently playing for a 6th-division side there pays much better than a Liga 2 club here. (And in any case, even if the official wage is something like 2,500 lei (=550 euro) a month in Liga 2, many Romanian clubs are not currently paying their players on time, if at all.)