Explaining and exploring the Romanian phenomenon that is Vlad Chiriches.
Summer signing Vlad Chiriches has been making his way in the Spurs starting eleven in the last couple of weeks. Something that didn’t go unnoticed in his native Romania. Whenever the young defender is playing for Spurs social media explodes with messages of support by his (mostly) Romanian fans.
So why is Chiriches such a hit in his home country of Romania? What kind of a player is he? We talked to Calin Mates, UK correspondent for Sport Total FM Romania, about Tottenham’s new Romanian defender.
Hi Calin. We’re trying to find out why Vlad Chiriches is such a hit among Romanian football fans. Is he regarded the poster boy of Romanian football at the moment?
No, not really. Vlad is the quite the opposite. He is a shy kid, a down-to-earth guy. He’s not the kind of guy who worries about his popularity.
So how would you explain Vlad’s popularity among Romanian football fans at the moment?
His popularity comes from the fact Romanians are not used to having quality players anymore. Romania had a great national team in the ’90s, with players like the likes of Hagi and former Spurs players Popescu and Dumitrescu. We had internationals like Petrescu playing at Chelsea, Raducioiu at Milan and so on.
Then there was the generation lead by Mutu and Chivu. This generation failed miserably in pushing on Romania to greatness at the big international tournaments. Therefore, the period of 2002 until now has been described as the dark ages of Romanian football. We kept seeing young and promising prospects coming through, hoping they would shine for Romania, but in the end they disappointed an entire nation of football enthusiasts.
We were getting used to the failure of not producing quality players for the big European leagues, but now we have Chiriches. People think he will be different and are supporting him to do great things with Tottenham in the Premier League.
Would you say Chiriches is the most popular Romanian international at the moment?
Absolutely. With Cristian Chivu fading at Inter Milan and Adrian Mutu playing his final days at Ajaccio, Romania’s eyes are directed towards England. OK, glancing at the German Bundesliga as well, where you can find the other exciting Romanian prospect of the moment: 23-year-old Stuttgart playmaker Alexandru Maxim. At the moment these two are without a shadow of a doubt on the top of all Romanian fans hopes for the future.
Chiriches is currently the captain of the Romania national team. Is he regarded as a natural leader?
Not just yet. He was a surprise selection to wear the captain armband and it only happened after his move to Spurs. Before that, fresh West Ham signing, left-back Razvan Rat was the obvious and usual captain. This after Adrian Mutu fell out of grace. Vlad only captained Romania three times so far, all following his move to the Premier League: against Hungary (3-0 win), Turkey (0-2 loss) and Andorra (4-0 win). He was suspended for Romania’s final qualifier versus Estonia (2-0 win) because he got booked in the game against Andorra.
Vlad isn’t a leader at this moment for the national team, he is seen as the most talented player our country has right now and that’s how he became captain.
Could you see him become captain at Spurs some day?
Now how unfair would it be for me so say “no”? Not just towards Vlad, but to any Spurs player. Could you say to any Spurs player that is under the age of 25 that he could never be a team captain? In my opinion, it would be a mistake. All these guys need to go out on the pitch believing they can write history, believing they can become exponential for their club. There’s only one captain, but there always should be a bunch of young guys hungry to become icons. And I’d say Vlad is right there with them.
It seems the hope of the nation is largely resting on the shoulders of Chiriches. How does he cope with this pressure?
Or do you think he doesn’t experience this as pressure at all?
It’s not the hope of an entire nation strictly on him, that would be an exaggeration. What he does is give hope to Romanian football, to all Romanian fans that have become used to our young players not being able to secure a move to a high-profile club. Even more so, straight from the Romanian league.
His only pressure is at Spurs, I’m 100% on this. That’s the place he needs to prove himself, Romanians already know he’s got quality, people in England don’t. Spurs fans are just discovering he can move up the pitch with the ball, Romanian fans have seen him do that time and time again. Wait until he’ll even shoot as he used to do for Steaua after moving forward with the ball. And then bask in the cheers from the crowd as he can score those shots too.
Romania national team manager Victor Piturca expressed encouraging words but also warned Chiriches of the challenges ahead when his move to Spurs was announced. Piturca’s opinion seems to have changed pretty dramatically. He once vetoed Vlad’s transfer to Steaua when he was still in charge there. Has Chiriches improved that significantly since then?
Well, you have to understand Steaua is a special club in Romania. And I’m saying that both in a good and in a bad way… The good way: they always challenge for the title, no other objective. The bad way: they don’t grow their own players, they buy the best ones available in Romania from smaller clubs. Steaua’s controversial owner Gigi Becali plays a large role in this style of management and that’s why Steaua pass up on young talents and maybe later on go after them if they are showing impressive form for smaller clubs, which is exactly what happened in Vlad’s situation.
He had to impress at a smaller club, Pandurii Târgu Jiu and then catch Becali’s eye. Victor Piturca only acknowledged Chiriches’ progress and used him for the national team once his quality was obvious. That’s what changed: Vlad’s quality was there to be seen.
Chiriches used to play as a midfielder and even a striker earlier in his career. When did he change to become a defender, and why?
It was his youth coach in Cluj, Mihai Georgescu, that decided to use him as a defender when he was 14-15 years old. He said Vlad’s height made him take big steps while running and attacking players need to take smaller steps in order to change direction quickly. Coach Georgescu recently said Vlad called him after he the match against France when he was marking Benzema to thank him for making him a central defender. Vlad said he otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to play for the national team or against opponents like Benzema.
Chiriches moved to Benfica when he was 17 but returned to Romania shortly after. What went wrong for him at Benfica?
An injury. He was sidelined by a broken femur. He decided to come back to Romania and take a chance at a club in the second division, International Curtea de Arges.
After returning to Romania Vlad moved up quickly to eventually arrive at Steaua. What would you say was the main reason for his quick rise in Romanian football? Or how would you describe his rise from International via Pandurii to Steaua?
He achieved promotion to the first division with International Curtea de Arges but then the club dissolved and Vlad moved to Pandurii in 2010. Vlad didn’t mean that much then, as Pandurii snapped him up without any ‘big guns’ interested in him. It was his time at Pandurii that got people to notice him. Soon he became something of a different class and once he got a chance with the national team, his future looked as bright as it could get for a 21-year-old central defender.
How would you describe Vlad’s style as a player?
Vertonghen-esque. All he needs to do is adapt to the Premier League’s pace in order to be able to judge moments more carefully. Remember when Modric moved from Croatia he said that in his first 6 months in England he felt suffocated by the pace at which the game was being played? Romania is right there with Croatia when it comes to pace.
I’ve noticed some Spurs fans saying Vlad is careless or a “David Luiz copy”. People don’t realize how Vlad was used to be attacked by opponents in Romania: he always had more time available to make a decision. It’s a different story in England and he’s just getting to learn that. It’s shockingly quick compared to what a defender is used to face in the Romanian first league. It’s Vlad’s international experience that helps him to cope and adjust while playing, because I’m sure you’ve noticed he has better second halves. It’s not a coincidence, it’s him adjusting. And the club’s fans need to give him time to see him grow.
What did you make of Vlad’s performances for Spurs so far?
Growing game after game. But his opponents are growing in quality as well. He faced a weak Aston Villa side in the League Cup, then a decimated Anzhi in the Europa League, then came a stronger Villa for his Premier League debut. Moving to Sheriff and then holding his own against a strong opponent in Sagbo v Hull. And these last 3 games are all in 8 days for him, where he played the full 90 minutes. I have to admire how he handles himself.
Most significant thing: Vlad has played 5 games for the club – his team hasn’t conceded a single goal in those 5 games.
In what areas of his game do you think he needs to improve the most?
Aerial play and force. He has to be able to out-muscle his opponents. And he knows these things too. He was the first one to point out where he needs to improve after his move to the Premier League.
With Vlad being one of the few Romanians in the big European leagues, do you expect more Romanian prospects making a move to a big European club in the near future?
It all depends on them. We had a lot of high hopes for many of them, the talent is there, but their head isn’t in the game. Education is the main issue for Romanian footballers and you can see why I think Vlad’s time in Portugal while he was 17 played a significant role in his future development as a player. I think he saw how things need to be done to become a proper footballer while he was there.
Lastly, a bit of an off topic question. Is Steaua’s Gigi Becali really as crazy as what we’ve read and heard about him regarding Chiriches’ transfer to Spurs?
Even more crazy. But you guys don’t know him. And I’d prefer it like that. I’d rather you know us Romanians for something else than Gigi Becali.
Special thanks to Calin Mates for this interview. You can follow Calin on Twitter via @CMatesUK