Saturday, September 27, 2008

The new player. Of course, the stars and the focus on them were nothing new. The new was the accent, the new public image of the stars. Di Stefano and Puskas were superstars and hardly anybody cared how they were dressed, or what they had to say outside the last match, or how did they spend the night. In a sense, football stars belonged mostly to the supporters of the club they were playing for and nobody else. In a sense, until the end of the 1960s the stars belonged to ‘us’, a unity between club, players, and supporters. ‘We’ cared little, if at all, for the stars of ‘them’. But somehow during the 60s emerged the professional image of the player – disciplined and humble creature, training hard during the day, dressed neatly, but not flashy, after work, going to bed at 8 pm, never drinking, nor smoking, nor anything. The image of a saint, not a man. Not anymore after 1970: the public image of the star enlarged. The players were suddenly hip. They grew long hairs and beards, dressed in the latest colorful fashion, appeared with long legged girls and fast cars, gave interviews on non-football subjects, and smiled from advertising billboards. It was part and parcel of the changing culture, of the hippies and rock stars storming and scandalizing the conservative mainstream. George Best was perhaps the best example, to his own peril. It was fascinating at first, and even greatly liberating event… hip George with the new girl, hip George going to Palma de Mallorca instead to training, and so on… until George was out of form, did nothing on the pitch, and had to be sacked. It was 1971 and George was merely 26 years old. He plummeted from Player of the Year in 1968 to alcoholic playboy in 3 years.

But nevertheless the new player was fun, especially after the invention of total football – liberated game was played by liberated players. Flashy, long haired, colourful, opinionated, rich… even choosing the number on their jerseys, braking with any football tradition. True, Best was the risky downfall, but the bunch of ‘hippies’ – Ajax, West Germany – were hardly football disgrace. They performed, they were fit… Netzer may have been a rebel, but he played. Breitner may have been a Maoist, but didn’t show it on the pitch.
George Best celebrating his downfall. He liberated football in one way…
A superstar unashamed from dirty work – Netzer desperately trying to stop Keegan’s kick at 1973 UEFA Cup final Liverpool – Borussia Monchengladbach, which Liverpool won. Although Netzer had cars as flashy as Best’s and clashed with coaches as often as Best, he liberated football on the pitch. And the future was bright indeed – new broom Keegan already making his mark.