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Battle of the month: Gheorghe Hagi vs everyone

Something’s a-rumbling in Romania. Just eight teams have won the championship in the last 45 years, which has been largely dominated by Steaua Bucharest and Dinamo Bucharest.

Now, though, three clubs who have never won the title have recruited three managers who have never won the title, and they currently lead the Romanian Liga I table.

By far the most notable among them is Gheorghe Hagi, who is leading his charges at Viitorul Constanta. His passion for this club is on a different level to every other manager across the continent; he founded the Gheorghe Hagi Football Academy in 2009, a youth development project that takes in almost 300 players, 66 of whom are accommodated there full-time at a complex with outstanding facilities and a comprehensive education and football programme.

Hagi simultaneously founded his club Viitorul Constanta. After successive promotions from the third to the top tier of Romanian football, Hagi took over the managerial reins last year and the club are currently third in the table with a squad comprised of approximately 70% academy players. His motivations for glory are substantial and more diverse than the norm.

One point ahead of Viitorul are Pandurii Targu, managed by Edward Iordanescu, and two points further ahead of them at the summit are Astra Giurgiu, managed by Marius Sumudica.

Both managers are seeking their first major trophy, while Hagi’s own success as manager has been scarce, with just a Turkish Cup triumph to his name with Galatasaray in 2005. Twenty-six-times Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest are hovering ominously behind them.

The big stories

1. Silva lining in Portugal

Olympiakos’s Marco Silva is legitimately being touted as Portugal's new kid on the block. He spent most of his playing career at Portuguese club Estoril, where he retired in June 2011 at the age of 34.

The directors were quick to promote Silva, whose remit was to lift the club into the Primeira Liga after hovering for six consecutive seasons in the second tier of Portuguese football.

Silva’s debut season as manager was a stunning success. Against all expectations he guided his team to the second-tier title with style, panache and, most notably according to local football pundits, tactical nous.

Promoted to the top flight along with Moreirense, both clubs were favourites for relegation. Moreirense went down, but Silva produced an even greater triumph as Estoril finished fifth; qualifying for the Europa League was also their first entry into European competition in the club’s 74-year history.

But when Lica and Steven Vitoria – their two key players – were sold to Porto and Benfica respectively in the summer of 2013, Estoril were once again favourites for the drop. Silva again deceived disbelievers by guiding Estoril to a historic fourth-placed finish. Sporting recruited him on a four-year deal.

He led the club to their first major trophy since 2008 by winning the 2015 Portuguese Cup, and finished third in the league behind Benfica and Porto. Despite his success, rumours of a rift with the club’s president proved accurate as Silva was given his dismissal just four days after winning the Taca de Portugal.

Marco Silva

Silva is hoping to pile on the misery for Arsenal

One of Silva’s most impressive attributes has been his ability to nurture young talent. As such, Olympiakos signed a handful of highly talented youngsters last summer and hired Silva in the hope he would bring the best out of a squad with potential. What followed has been nothing short of spectacular.

A 3-2 victory at Arsenal in the Champions League and 100% domestic record of 12 consecutive wins in the Greek Superleague have prompted inevitable comparisons with Jose Mourinho. His next challenge is to stop a highly charged Arsenal, with Silva’s side needing a draw to guarantee a last 16 spot.

2. Bozovic steers Red Star to record-breaking run

Miodrag Bozovic has always supported Red Star Belgrade with unbridled passion – even while managing other clubs. In the last 15 years he’s bossed clubs in Cyprus, Montenegro, Serbia and Russia, so in May Bozovic leapt at the opportunity to seal his long-held ambition when Red Star came calling.

His start was disastrous, after losing 4-1 on aggregate to Kazakhstani outfit Kairat in the first qualifying round of the Europa League

His start was disastrous, after losing 4-1 on aggregate to Kazakhstani outfit Kairat in the first qualifying round of the Europa League. Three weeks later, a 1-1 draw at home to Radnicki Nis incited vocal anarchy on the terraces as Red Star’s supporters harangued the board of directors.

Bozovic offered his resignation to supporters, but mindful of his lifelong love for the club, they gave him their full support – while continuing their tirade against the board. Their wishes were granted when several directors vacated their positions, leaving Bozovic free to manage the team his way.

Red Star Belgrade

Obligatory Red Star flare picture

It kick-started a record-breaking run of 16 consecutive league wins. “When I came to the club I told the players to make an effort to do something that will make us remembered,” Bozovic beamed after last Saturday’s win in a fiery Belgrade derby against Vozdovac. But he isn’t new to record-breaking, having steered unfashionable Borac Cacak to their highest finish of seventh in Serbia’s SuperLiga.

Later, he led Buducnost to a 17-match unbeaten run before disagreements with club directors prompted his exit. A short stint at Amkar Perm secured the Russians’ highest-ever position of fourth, and a first-ever qualification for European football. His Red Star experience threatens to outstrip all prior achievements, and barring any characteristic in-fighting, he should go on to win Serbia’s SuperLiga at a canter.

Top five managers in November

  1. Marco Silva (Olympiakos, Greece) – 12 wins from 12 league games. Only team in Europe with 100% record. Favourites to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage ahead of Arsenal.
  2. Miodrag Bozovic (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia) – On a 16-match winning run and unbeaten this season.
  3. Matjaz Kek (Rijeka, Croatia) – Unbeaten this season after 18 matches.
  4. Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich, Germany) – Unbeaten this season with 13 wins from 14 matches.
  5. Laurent Blanc (PSG, France) – Unbeaten this season after 16 matches.

Pep Guardiola

Pep's mob are eight points clear already

Longest current league winning runs

  • Miodrag Bozovic (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia) – 16 wins
  • Marco Silva (Olympiakos, Greece) – 11 wins
  • Mircea Lucescu (Shakhtar Donetsk, Ukraine) – 10 wins

Longest current unbeaten league runs

  • Miodrag Bozovic (Red Star Belgrade, Serbia) – 19 matches
  • Matjaz Kek (HNK Rijeka, Croatia) – 18 matches
  • Stephen Baxter (Crusaders, Northern Ireland) – 17 matches
  • Craig Harrison (The New Saints, Wales) – 17 matches

Matjaz Kek

Kek's Rijeka are the surprise Croatian leaders

November’s battles: the results

  • England: Manuel Pellegrini (Man City) 1-4 Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
  • Germany: Dieter Hecking (Schalke) 1-3 Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich)
  • Greece: Yannis Anastasiou (Panathinaikos) P-P Marco Silva (Olympiakos)
  • Italy: Maurizio Sarri (Napoli) 2-1 Roberto Mancini (Inter)
  • Netherlands: Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Feyenoord) 1-1 Frank de Boer (Ajax)
  • Russia: Igor Cherevchenko (Lokomotiv Moscow) 2-0 Andre Villas-Boas (Zenit)
  • Spain: Rafa Benitez (Real Madrid) 0-4 Luis Enrique (Barcelona)

Battles to watch in December

  • England: Arsene Wenger (Arsenal) vs Manuel Pellegrini (Man City)
  • France: Laurent Blanc (PSG) vs Hubert Fournier (Lyon)
  • Germany: Dieter Hecking (Wolfsburg) vs Thomas Tuchel (Borussia Dortmund)
  • Italy: Maurizio Sarri (Napoli) vs Rudi Garcia (Roma)
  • Romania: Gheorghe Hagi (Viitorul Constanta) vs Dumitru Dumitriu (Steaua Bucharest)
  • Turkey: Senol Gunes (Besiktas) vs Hamza Hamzaoglu (Galatasaray)

Maurizio Sarri

Napoli's chain-smoking chief is Italy's flavour of the month

November’s league-winning manager

  • Stanimir Stoilov (Astana, Kazakhstan)

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