Three transfers have been made from the Romanian Liga 1 to the Premier League in the last decade as Vlad Chiriches (2013) and Florin Gardos (2014) made the trek from Steaua Bucharest to Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton, respectively. A 20-year-old from Craiova is the third and could make the biggest impact after Tudor Baluta joined Brighton from FC Viitorul Constanta in January. Brighton and Hove Albion’s astute worldwide scouting network recruited a midfielder who has been touted as a future replacement for Sergio Busquets for a meagre 2.9 million euros as he could be an asset to Graham Potter this season.
“I think he will face England, it is a championship that suits him. He is a smart boy and who can, attention, go to Barcelona to play in Busquets’ role in two years. In the offensive game of Barcelona, in which possession is superior to the teams in the championship, Baluta would have a great speed of play from the level of the central defenders, from the first line of the defence, but there is certainly a long distance,” said Dumitru Barbu who was one of Baluta’s youth coaches to Gazeta De Sud.
Baluta left Craiova to join Viitorul’s academy as a centre-back but youth coaches felt that he was too weak, and his talents would be better suited to a midfield role. The towering midfield controller adjusted to his role spectacularly and rose through the ranks while coaches feel that he would be able to deputise at centre-back if need be. Injuries allowed Baluta to make his debut for the Romanian National Team as he now has 5 caps despite being in the fledgling stages of his career.
Barbu’s statement that Baluta could join Barcelona in the space of two years should be considered hyperbole but the young Romanian certainly has gifts for the defensive midfield position. The Seagulls’ midfielder constantly allows the ball to roll across his body to his far foot when receiving possession allowing him to get into a proper passing position, giving him a better view of the field while also granting him a better chance to evade oncoming pressure. His passing range is exquisite as he can roll perfectly weighted balls in between the lines or ping accurate diagonals across the pitch. His favourite move is to chip balls into runners in behind the opposition defensive line or cleverly lob the ball to the wide areas with the outside of his boot. When Baluta is in the opposition half, he cleverly works diagonals to switch the position of attack and force the opposition defence to shift.
In possession, he will need to adjust to the speed of the English game as he can be slow in setting his feet to release the ball once he receives possession. He will need to understand how to use his body to shield the ball until a passing option arrives as he can also hold the ball for too long. He can drive the ball at the opposition defence, but this also gives opposition midfielders the opportunity to relieve him of possession. Baluta has a great command of his right foot and mainly uses his favoured foot to distribute possession but can struggle when using his weaker left foot.
Baluta’s defensive solidity belies his tender age as he shields his defence with tigerish endeavour once his team switch to a zonal defensive shape. He rarely loses focus and leaves his position as when the opposition tries to work play through the central channel, Baluta is adept at covering his zone. He has an impeccable sense of danger and is quick in tight spaces, lunging in to put in timely challenges to win possession as he rarely panics and goes to ground. His positioning to make interceptions is also highly developed as he can push up to win the ball in a higher press while his size allows him to be aerially dominant. Baluta frequently wins possession and adeptly recycles possession with through balls to instigate a waves of attacks.
Throughout pre-season, Potter’s Brighton and Hove Albion side have shown a penchant for counter-pressing as a form of prevention of counter-attacks and chance creation. Baluta will adapt well to this with his physical and technical capabilities. However, Baluta struggles when the ball is played to his blind side or when an opposition attacker dribbles to his left as he can look slovenly as the opposition attacker will skip past him with ease.
The young midfielder was one of Romania’s more accomplished performers during the U21 European Championships as Baluta’s side raced to two wins in their first two group games before a devastating loss against Germany meant they exited the tournament in the semi-finals. In the opener against Croatia, he received a pass from his centre-back to play a diagonal to the left-flank where the winger nodded the ball into the box. The keeper rushed out as George Puscas prodded the ball over the keeper for the defender to clear the ball into the path of Ianis Hagi who slammed the ball home to open the scoring. He had another moment where he received the ball at the edge of his own box to trap the ball with his weaker left foot and play a pass through the legs of a marker to a teammate to evade pressure.
Baluta possesses a fine blend of grit and calm as a Croatian defender tried to play the ball past him for Baluta to stretch and intercept play, drive into the box, dribble past a defender with his stronger right foot and finish with aplomb with his weaker left foot at the near post in a 3-1 victory. Baluta struggled against England as his good touches in possession were limited while in a 4-2 loss against Germany, he showed a willingness to drive and chip the ball as well as an innate sense for threading balls through the lines. Baluta returned to Brighton for a friendly against Crawley where he played on the right of a back three and in midfield.
“He’s more comfortable in midfield, but you can see that he didn’t let himself down at all at the back, playing at the right of a three. You can see his quality and range of passing, and when he went into midfield, you could see what he’s about," said Graham Potter to the club website after the match.
The Seagulls are well-stocked in midfield with Dale Stephens, Davy Propper, Beram Kayal, Yves Bissouma and Pascal Gross. Steven Alzate and Baluta are youth players looking to earn an opportunity for Brighton this season as Baluta’s mastery of the defensive midfield position allows him to be an able back-up for Stephens. Brighton are well-represented at centre-back with Dan Burn and Adam Webster looking for increased opportunities as it is highly likely that Baluta will feature in midfield this season.
Baluta has a strong grasp of the fundamentals of the defensive midfield position at only 20-years-old as he could be a useful resource for Potter as he navigates his first season in the Premier League. The level-headed youngster has spoken to the Romanian media of his desire to work and earn his opportunity the old-fashioned way in a playing style that will suit him. Brighton have one of the more accomplished scouting networks in England as they have unearthed a gem from Romania who could be an asset as soon as this coming season.