Monday, November 3, 2008

Scandals are scandals, but was it not the general state of football bright in the 1970s? The optimism of the beginning of the decade did not last long. Neither the Brazilian samba, nor the total football survived - rather, they were transformed into something else: domination of tactics, great physical emphasis, and sharp decrease of creative players. The grave signs were already present in 1974: on one hand was Brazil, and West Germany was on the other. Seeing what was going on in Europe, coaches in Brazil were alarmed – they detected lagging behind and urgent need of change. The result was the dreadful Brazilian team at the World Cup 1974, which was to catch up with European football. It was defensive minded, disciplined team. There was no spark in it, no imagination, no fun. Only victory mattered, not how it was achieved. Yet, Brazil had to surrender its title and finished 4th. Many, myself included, felt even 4th place was too much, Brazil did not deserve to be that highly placed. Meantime the West Germans were on another road: after Ajax destroyed Bayern in 1973, the Germans realized that attractive football was not going to win anything. In 1974 Bayern won its first European Champions Cup. The Bavarians added two more cups in the next two years. None of their games was pleasant to watch – they barely survived the nasty final with Atletico Madrid and won the Cup in the replay thanks to superior fitness. In 1975 the whole final was played in the penalty area of Bayern, but it was not Leeds United victorious at the end – Bayern won 2-0. In 1976 Bayern scored one goal against St. Etienne (France), and it was enough. The French played much more pleasant to the eye football, and lost. Bayern was winning largely because they were able to outrun the opposition, to terrorize it everywhere on the pitch, to defend themselves shrewdly, and to wait for rare counter-attacking opportunities. By the end of the 1970s practically everybody learned to run non-stop 90 minutes, to pressure the opposition, to fight for the ball cynically, to waist time by endless passing between defense and goalkeeper. Players became the same, there were no more outstanding individuals. The game was moving and more into the central area of the pitch, where both teams fought not that much for the possession of the ball, but fought to block and prevent the other team from developing attacks. Superficially, attacking football, total football dominated the decade, but teams were happy to score one goal and the rest was just speedy running around and tackling the opposition. Defensive football did not die at all – for the most part of the 1970s the Italian championship showed 0-0 ties. The Soviets were the same and tried to introduce changes, hoping to break the scary habits of clubs to end half of their matches 0-0. Ill fated reforms, though… the first was no points for 0-0 ending matches for both teams. No problem, winked the clubs – by silent agreement, both teams were quickly scoring a goal each in the first minutes of the match and whatever ‘real’ playing followed after point giving 1-1 was established. The Soviet federation fought back: no points for more than 10 ties in the season. But the clubs were not to give up – very few clubs lost points for having too many ties. Instead, clubs started exchanging wins in a ‘gentlemen agreements’ : A wins at home against B, and gets 2 points. Later, when visiting B, A loses and B gets their 2 points. At the end, the same number of points for each, as it used to be before with two ties. From this perspective, the 1970s were hardly exciting decade. Franz Beckenbauer delivered warning as early as 1974: talent was drying out and grave days were coming. He spoke for the German football, but his prediction applied to the whole of European football. Everybody can prepare players to run 90 minutes non-stop, but so what? Of course winning is very important, but what about beautiful football? The new reality seemingly had no place for skilful players and they were disappearing fast – no new Netzers, Beckenbauers, Cruiffs emerged. Players were look-alikes workaholics without individuality. Teams looked the same, games looked the same, football was quickly becoming very boring.
Bayern won the European Champions Cup third time in a row in 1976. As in the previous years, Bayern failed to inspire fans. St. Etienne was the better playing team at the final, but the Germans were once again physically stronger and tactically more disciplined. Rummenigge was already displaying the features of the new breed of footballers: supremely fit, disciplined, forceful, but not exactly shining player
Hoeness and Hansen with one more cup. They even don’t look particularly happy; rather, businesslike – job well done and nothing more. Tactics prevailed: only 2 years earlier Hoeness was fun to watch. By 1975 there was no big difference between him and ordinary player Hansen on the pitch: both running and fighting endlessly. Hoeness did not risk anything skilful or extraordinary, it looked like he sunk to the level of Hansen, not the other way – an ordinary player becoming imaginative and skilful like earlier Hoeness.