In one of the last games of last season, Adrian Moto, the coach of Rapid Bucharest, was not satisfied with the ability of Rarsh Ilya. “Wake up already,” he shouted at the young midfielder. “Don’t replace me,” he asked him Ilyaand Moto replied: “I’m not going to replace you. I’ll leave you on the field so that you continue to be humiliated and learn a lesson.”
This story came to the public’s attention from Moto’s own mouth, and it must be admitted that it is very strange to see him delivering education series to players on the Mentor standard. After all, he had the potential to become one of the leading players of his generation in the world, and he threw it away because he messed around with drugs, entertainment, flamboyant spending and other nonsense. However, some testify that as a coach, Moto has something to sell because he understands the game well, and Ilya claims that in the few months they spent together in Rapid, the boss managed to upgrade his tactical ability.
Motu for his part did reprimand him from time to time, but mostly highly praised the lifter who – at least according to the Romanian media – should become his successor, only with a much better character and a head that sits properly on his shoulders. “Raresh is a great talent, with all the qualities that can propel him forward. He is fast, very technical and smart,” says the Romanian commentator Emmanuel Roche About the 19-year-old diamond who arrived on loan to Maccabi Tel Aviv until the end of the season.
He should seemingly step into the shoes of Oskar Gloch in the yellow uniform, and is certainly capable of playing in the playmaker position, but Rapid used him mainly on the left wing and he started his career as a central midfielder. In general, Ilya is a versatile offensive player who is not easy to put in a certain slot, and perhaps it is better not to do so. He is at his best when he is given a free hand to create on the field, as Moto did when he was sane.
As far as mental strength is concerned, Ilya received positive criticism from all directions and is seen in his homeland as an unusual figure in the landscape. His family even hired the services of a top psychologist who works with him on a weekly basis and makes sure to instill the right messages to keep his feet on the ground. In the interview he gave, the professional in question said: “Rarsh is a serious guy, an investor, punctual, determined, and open to hearing the opinions of others.” No matter how you look at it, his image was close to perfect and his career path helped him a lot to gradually advance in Romania.
After growing up in a modest club in Bucharest, he joined Rapid at the age of 16 in 2019. The magnificent club had just recovered from bankruptcy which at the time had relegated it to the fifth division, and was then playing in the second division. There, in the 2020/21 season in the shadow of the Corona crisis, little Ilya got his first opportunities in the team, scored 3 goals and was a part of the promotion campaign to Rapid’s natural place in the top league.
It was the best way to learn and last season he was already a leading player in the first division with the number 10 on his back. The Romanian fan base was exposed to him for the first time and fell in love with a player who enjoyed both dribbling and passing, and also had a good eye for possession. Ilya had 6 goals and 10 assists in the 2021/22 season, and many scouts flocked to Rapid games to watch his performance.
So Nice was the one who won his services for 5 million euros, on the direct recommendation of coach Lucien Fabre. The veteran Swiss, who in May conducted advanced negotiations to return to Borussia Monchengladbach where he was successful in the past, even stated: “If I had signed there, I would have brought Al Ilya to the Bundesliga.” Faber is known as a coach who specializes in promoting young people, so joining his team was received in Romania with great optimism – after all, he believed in him with all his heart, and the amount paid was very significant in local terms.
Rapid, which badly needs this kind of revenue in order to exist and develop, really didn’t stand in its way, but some commentators still expressed doubts about the viability of the deal. They wondered if the new big step in Ilya’s career wasn’t taken too soon. The point is that Romanian footballers tend to get lost after moving to Western Europe, and this phenomenon is very frustrating for the fans. The hope was that Ilya would be different.
“Most Romanian players are afraid to take responsibility and disappear in the decisive moments, but Rarsh plays with all his heart and is not afraid of anything,” he said Christian Sponaro, former Rapid captain who once played for Porto. Motu also gave him his blessing: “Rarsch is a winner at heart. He needs to show patience and acclimate himself to the French league gradually, because it is very different from the Romanian league in terms of pace and intensity of play, but we don’t have a young man as determined and ready as him in our country. If he succeeds in Nice, he will have a career Warns that you will remember forever.”
If you ask Ilya, this promising career should be spent in the Spanish league, preferably in his beloved Real Madrid, where he would not be opposed to imitating his idol Cristiano Ronaldo. “I dream of playing for a Par team in the Champions League, and also to represent Romania in the World Cup,” he says – and in his homeland, fingers are crossed for him. However, the first months of the adventure in Nice did not go according to plan, and Santiago Bernabéu will have to wait in the meantime. It turned out that even the most educated and intelligent trainee in Romanian football is not able to integrate immediately into a much stronger league at only 19 years old.
Favre really trusted Ilya in August, giving him a place in the lineup in the first two home games in the league and also sent him to the grass in both meetings against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Conference League qualifiers. The Romanian did not live up to expectations in these games and Fabre lost his patience already in the fourth round when Nice trailed 3:0 in the derby against Marseille at halftime. Ilya was replaced during the break, and did not get any more opportunities except for two appearances in the Conference League.
In the French league, he was no longer taken into account at all, and a place on the bench was his highest achievement – because in some weeks he was sent to the stands. This was the case in the battle against Paris Saint-Germain in September, before which he was interviewed with rather jarring innocence about his ambition to switch shirts with Neymar. In practice, he only saw the Brazilian from a distance and as time passed, the frustration grew.
Not only Ilya was disappointed with his situation, but also all of Romania. Suddenly, it became clear that he might restore the path of all the other talents that were lost across the border and there were also calls to return him on loan to Rapid. President of Craiova Marcel Puskas He claimed at the beginning of January: “Rapid received a lot of money, but what did Rarsch earn when he looks at the games from the sidelines? At the age of 19, he must be on the pitch to progress and he is not able to play in the French league. What will they do with him now? Will he be loaned to the second division? Why would he do this to himself? If he can continue playing Rapid?”.
Sponaro commented on this: “I don’t think he will take a step back to Rapid. Maybe he will move to a team in another country, but he clearly has to play.” Some speculated that the problem was with the coach, but this was a far-fetched assumption, and the status of Ilya Benis did not change after Fabre’s dismissal at the beginning of January. On the contrary – the Romanian boy is currently considered a kind of expensive mistake made by the fault of the Swiss, and Didier Digar was appointed as a temporary coach in his place because it is clear that he is not interested in him until the end of the season. This is how the need for the loan arose, and since Sponaro was right about the reluctance to take steps back, here came the opportunity for Maccabi Tel Aviv to enter the picture.
So what do the yellows get? On the one hand, Ilya’s enormous talent is indisputable and he is very hungry to play after months of inactivity. On the other hand, his self-confidence was damaged after experiencing for the first time in his life a significant professional blow and his ability to acclimate quickly in an unfamiliar environment is now in doubt. The Premier League is much closer in level to the Romanian league than to the French league, and it will be much easier for the young midfielder to express himself at the Israeli pace, but this does not guarantee that he will deliver the goods immediately.
If he doesn’t feel comfortable for some reason, his willingness to invest and integrate against the odds in his temporary group may be low – he will leave in May anyway. In any case, the risk here is low, given the modest cost of the loan and the fact that Ilya really cannot upset the balance in the dressing room. In the optimistic scenario, Maccabi will enjoy his ascension as a star and can be proud of having been a partner in his growth, and the fans will talk for years to come about how they saw the performance of Moto’s successor (or maybe even Georga Haji? Well, we exaggerated a bit). In the most pessimistic scenario, he will get no playing time and disappear without leaving any memories, on his way to becoming the Romanian flop on duty.