Follow Doron on Twitter
Following Saturday’s defeat at home to Spurs, United fly out to Romania today before playing Romanian Champions, CFR Cluj, tomorrow. They’re new opposition for United and it’s the second year running we travel to Romania to face opposition. Like last year, we’ve once again called on Radu Baicu, a Romanian journalist and scout for BSC Young Boys to introduce Cluj to United fans. Here’s what he had to say…
1. If you can, summarise CFR Cluj’s history – what kind of a club are they?
Born in 1907, the club was linked with the railway workers and was named KVSC. They lost their first game 0-23 and it meant that a lot of the love and support of the entire city went to arch rivals, Universitatea. They still struggle to play with a full house, even though recent history makes them the most successful Romanian club – they’ve ensured there is a definite sense of local pride as they’ve won a host of trophies from the once untouchables, Steaua and Dinamo Bucharest.
They were taken over by Arpad Paszkany in 2000 while playing in the third division and CFR gained promotion to the top flight in 2004. Their current coach, Ioan Andone, got them the first league double in 2008, but the number of trophies won rose to 8, with two more titles, three Romanian Cups and two Supercup wins.
2. Cluj seem to have come a long way very quickly, they won the Liga III title only 11 years ago. How did they progress so quickly and how did their first Liga I title come about – was it expected/unexpected?
Despite a long history, the club’s rise surprised the fans and shocked the “usual suspects” from Bucharest, who used to take turns in winning the title and made it look forbidden for teams outside the capital. So maybe, just maybe, it’s also worth praising CFR as it’s now six years gone since the league was won by either Steaua, Dinamo and Rapid.
Cluj looked to Portugal for talent and basically were the first Romanian club to get into scouting properly and they’ve been rewarded for it. The only player who’s remained with them all the way in this fantastic adventure is captain, Ricardo Cadu. He’s a centre back that has an incredible influence not only on the pitch, but also in the offices and looks set to stay there once he decides to hang up his boots.
3. How do Cluj play domestically and are they likely to change their approach for United?
CFR just managed their most convincing win of the season (5-1 vs. Gloria Bistrita) and there are signs of improvement, although the coach shouldn’t throw away the “work in progress” sign just yet. Forced by a number of injuries, the champions added a lot of players after they surprisingly managed to take out United’s “favorite” club from Switzerland, Basel, in the Champions League play-offs. Blending in the new faces as well as addressing the defensive problems are the issues that should still concern them as very difficult games come in quick succession. CFR play a 4-2-3-1 that looks like a good platform for the team’s best footballers – there is a defensive intent about it which triggers a counter-attacking style that can do a lot of damage to unaware opposition.
4. Where are their weaknesses?
The back four is still far from tight and over 90 minutes teams can get at them. Sometimes it doesn’t even take something special to get into a good position to score or have a great opportunity to test the promising Mario Felgueiras, a young goalie with fine reflexes, but a handling ability that still needs improvement. CFR will also have problems being creative against United and it might be wiser for United to give them time on the ball rather than trying to close them down all the time – that’s presuming United won’t be forced to chase the play by going behind.
5. Who are their players to keep an eye on?
The incredibly quick right winger Modou Sougou shocked Basel and Brazilian, Rafael Bastos, stepped up in the qualifying and hurt his former team, Sporting Braga. Bastos was very close to being sent away in the summer, but he’s finally found the right role on the pitch and the missing ambition and focus in training has gone.
If there’s another guy to surprise and deliver a blow, the less spectacular Greek striker, Pantelis Kapetanos. He is very good aerially and may try and hurt United should they start with Wootton – United’s best bet is to try and closely mark him inside the box, as he can certainly do some damage.
Other interesting names: the attacking right back Ivo Pinto and a new signing from Uruguay, Matias Aguirregaray. I didn’t include him just for the rhymes(!), the busy midfielder is proving that besides a great work ethic, he also has a good scoring touch.
6. Do you think they can take any points off United at home or away?
That would be a huge surprise, but so were many of the latest results registered in the Champions League. Oddly, I’d say that CFR have better chances to nick a point in the second leg at Old Trafford, once United should be through.
7. Their coach, Ioan Andone, has had a lot of jobs over the past 20 years – what can you tell us about him and how he likes his teams to play?
Andone is a former defender who had a solid playing career and generally likes his team to attack. Having trained smaller clubs as well, he has learned his trade sensibly and has been through so many situations that he can certainly adjust himself and his team if need be. This is what he’s doing now as well, trying to dominate teams in Liga 1 and to frustrate and surprise in the Champions League.
8. What is there to do or see in Cluj-Napoca and is the stadium intimidating?
The game will be hosted by the home ground of CFR, although a brand new and attractive venue has been recently built in the nice and civilized (at least by Romanian standards) city of Cluj. The board decided in the end against playing at the Cluj Arena, as that’s the venue used on a regular basis by local rivals, Universitatea (who remain the best supported club in the city). Expect a full house but not an intimidating atmosphere, as the likes of Chelsea and AS Roma discovered last time CFR reached the group stage.
If you’re into sightseeing, ask directions for Bastionul Croitorilor to see something medieval or for Cetatuie if 300 steps aren’t too much of a challenge. A great view of the city will be the reward and it should get you thirsty enough to try some local beer in a pub near the stadium!
Our thanks to Radu for taking time out of his hectic schedule to answer these questions. If you’re on Twitter, he’s worth following for his regular insight into Eastern European football and much more. Please take a few minutes to check out and read his blog too – Scouting Romania – it covers all the bases of Romanian football.