Fourth in the table and fully 19 points adrift of traditional rivals FC Steaua Bucureşti, from the outside FC Dinamo Bucureşti may appear to be having another underwhelming season, but change is afoot.
Second only to Steaua in terms of prestige in Romania, Dinamo won the last of their 18 titles in 2007, though they lifted a 13th Romanian Cup in 2012. For Ionuț Negoiță, who became the club's main shareholder last year, those statistics were unacceptable. His response was to appoint a new coach and promote a raft of teenagers into the first team; it has not been easy but Negoiță has faith, saying "next season we will be able to fight for the title".
The change has certainly been dramatic. Now 37, coach and former Dinamo right-back Flavius Stoican was thrown in at the deep end following spells in charge of lower-league sides – notably Dinamo's reserves. None of his regular players are over 30, with goalkeeper Cristian Bălgrădean (26) and defenders Dragoș Grigore (27) and Laurențiu Rus (28) veterans compared with midfielders Dorin Rotariu (18), Ionuț Șerban (18), Cosmin Matei (22) and Darius Buia (19), as well as defender Steliano Filip (19) and forward George Tucudean (22).
Over the course of a long campaign that inexperience has showed at times, but there have been remarkable achievements too: Dinamo recently drew 1-1 at Steaua in the First Division and will take on their neighbours in a two-legged Romanian Cup semi-final in April. Dinamo's largely Romanian youngsters have been unable to keep pace with the likes of FC Astra Giurgiu and FC Petrolul Ploieşti, with their sensible mix of established Romanian players and foreign talent, yet the 'Câinii roşii' (Red Dogs) are certain better times lie ahead.
"We will be able to realise the dream of the whole Dinamo community next year," pledged Stoican. "Be sure that we will improve. Unfortunately, our lack of experience could be seen in some championship matches. Against Steaua (1-1), Viitorul Constanța (2-1 loss) and Pandurii (3-2 loss), we conceded after the 89th minute. If this had not have happened, we might have had a good chance of third place [and UEFA Europa League qualification]. That is still possible, but it would have been an easier situation but for the points lost in the dying seconds."
Such mistakes have not bedevilled Steaua who are unbeaten after 24 league games (W17 D7) this term. A 25th championship is seemingly in the bag, though coach Laurențiu Reghecampf has been giving his younger troops a chance too. At 20, Nicolae Stanciu is a midfield regular while Alexandru Târnovan (18) and Robert Vâlceanu (16) both scored on their first senior outings – Târnovan in the cup quarter-final against FC Oțelul Galați, Vâlceanu as a substitute in last week's league success over CS Gaz Metan Mediaș
"Robert is a good player, with big potential," Reghecampf said. "We have to make sure he has the best conditions to develop. He has to learn and be surrounded by people who love Steaua and want the best for the club. Now he is only a boy, so we have to be patient with him." That kind of softly-softly approach to youth development is not the done thing at Dinamo, perhaps, yet the cup semi-final – and next season's title race – could yet prove the Red Dogs' bold policy shift to be a tactical masterstroke.
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