Monday, March 30, 2009

Greece appeared a second time in the 1971 European cups – as a host to the Cup Winners Cup. Twice. The final between Chelsea (London) and Real (Madrid) was played on Karaiskakis Stadium in Pireaus. A revenge of a kind on Athens. The match ended in a 1-1 draw and had to be replayed. The second match Chelsea clinched 2-1 victory and won the Cup. As a fan of British football, I was happy. Moreover, it was my kind of football – the Davids fought bravely the Goliaths. Chelsea were nothing like the giant fueled by Roman Abramovitch’s money of today – they were rather middle of the row club. Good team – some think the best ever the club had – but hardly a candidate for a title. In the constellation of London clubs, they came under Arsenal, Tottenham, and West Ham. Not only that, Chelsea had no big traditional rival, and as derbies go, this special attraction for both fans and media, they were no part of it. Unlike today. Humble club, really.
Real were in decline. Still the mighty name, yet largely a name of the past. Tradition plays a big role in football of course, so the Spaniard were considered favorites, thus adding more glory to Chelsea’s victory and building a myth. But really! Real won its last European trophy in 1966 and there were some years to pass before they got new silver. As for Chelsea, this Cup was their only European success until late 1990s. Nobody was able to predict the difficult future in 1971 – Chelsea were good club with a good team. By the end of the decade the Pensioners were really true to their nickname – they were about to expire. With bankruptcy coming, nobody would had dream of Chelsea becoming a superpower and having fan clubs in Malaysia. However, we are in 1971 – a good year, suggesting solid future.

Chelsea (0) 1 Real Madrid (1) 1 aet

30' 0-1RM: Zoco55' 1-1 C: Osgood

Chelsea:Bonetti; Boyle, Dempsey, Webb, Harris; Hollins (Mulligan), Hudson, Cooke; Weller, Osgood (Baldwin), Houseman

Real Madrid: Borja; Jose Luis, Benito, Zoco, Zunzunegui; Pirri, Grosso, Velazquez; Perez (Fleitas), Amancio, Gento (Grande)

Final Replay, Karaiskaki Stadium, Peraías, 21 May 1971, att 35000 Chelsea (2) 2 Real Madrid (0)

132' 1-0 C: Dempsey38' 2-0 C: Osgood74' 2-1 RM: Fleitas

Chelsea: Bonetti; Boyle, Dempsey, Webb, Harris; Cooke, Hudson, Weller; Baldwin, Osgood (Smethurst), Houseman

Real Madrid: Borja; Jose Luis, Benito, Zoco, Zunzunegui; Pirri, Grosso, Velazquez(Gento); Fleitas, Amancio, Bueno (Grande)
Blue boys as good as they come:
Standing, left to right: Ian Hutchinson, Peter Osgood, David Webb, Peter Bonetti, Eddie McCreadie, Marvin Hinton, John Dempsey
Sitting: Tommy Baldwin, Charlie Cooke, Ron Harris, Peter Houseman, Alan Hudson, John Hollins.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wembley, 1971 – Ajax – Panathinaikos.
A few moments from the match.

Domazos dribbles and Keizer kind of challenges. Or may be the other way? From this perspective, looks like fairly equal match.

Domazos again, quite spectacular.

Antoniadis, always dangerous in the air, launches a header. Stuy, never great anyway, missed the crossing. Looks like Greek goal… no.

Wait a second: Kamaras was to shadow Cruiff and nothing else. What is he doing here? Almost scoring, that’s what. Almost…

Cruiff ruled though.

The Dutch scored for real. And established their hegemony.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ikonomopoulos between the goal posts; Tomaras right back, Kapsis and Sourpis centre defense, Vlahos left back. Gramos, Kamaras, and Eleftherakis in midfield. Domazos right wing, Antoniadis centre forward, and Filakouris left wing. Standard numbers, standard playing scheme. Kind of. Domazos, the captain, was normally midfield playmaker, but in London – so the team scheme tells us – he was moved to the right wing. May be because of the special role Kamaras was to play – to shadow and close mark Cruiff at all time and everywhere. But Kamaras was no Bertie Fogts and the plan achieved exactly nothing. However, it was Kamaras with a chance to score for the Greeks. Puskas played conservatively, minding the defense. Panathinaikos did whatever possible and lost clearly outplayed. But they were not so bad – Mimis Domazos is still voted the best Greek midfield player of all time. Antoniadis was tall and dangerous attacker, scoring plenty. Ikonomopoulos, Kapsis, Eleftherakis were solid national players for years. If they were playing today, they would have been not only noticed, but most likely playing for bigger European clubs. It was just the time and the bias – Greeks had no football reputation, and the international market did not look their way. Specialists largely ignored them. This team is largely a Greek legend (may be not for Olympiakos fans…) and rightly so – no other Greek club reached a final so far.
There is something important to be mentioned here: Panathinaikos had no foreign players, unless the Cypriot reserve Linaris is counted. But he had no impact on the team. The final made a revolution in Greek football – only after that better foreign players were imported, Panathinaikos leading the trend. In a long run, foreigners of quality also contributed to the ascent of Greek football. Panathinaikos is important team even for that (Foreign footballers played in Greece since 1959, but the regulations were strange: technically, no foreign player was permitted to play, but ethnic Greeks from other countries were no problem. Even after 1972 many a foreigner had to take a Greek name. Until 1971 the only player of some fame was Yves Triantafilos, and that only in retrospect – after he achieved some fame back with Saint Etienne and was included in the French national team for one match.)
Panathinaikos got more than it bargained for: Ajax refused to play for the Intercontinental Cup and the Greeks played instead. They lost from Nacional (Montevideo), but they noticed the South American football market. Puskas and the cub bigwigs decided to make Panathinaikos permanent football power in Europe – and bought ‘the Witch’ from Estudiantes (La Plata) in 1972. Juan Veron was the first big name to join Greek club. Other Greek clubs hurried to do the same and soon Greece was thick with South Americans. Mind, in 1971-72 South America was not prime market for European clubs – after Italy and Spain stopped import of players in the first half of the 1960s few South Americans came to Europe (mostly, if not only, in French clubs). Hardly any South American with big name came to European club between 1966 and 1972 – so, Panathinaikos were in a way leading Europe to a neglected market.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Panathinaikos deserve some lines as well. True, they were nobodies in 1971 and Greek football as a whole was considered lowly. But the ascent of Greek football started with this team and this final. It took years, not always wildly noticeable, but nobody takes Greek football to be a joke today. And Panathinaikos is hardly no-name today. In a sense, 1971 is a key year for Greek football.
Panathinaikos reached the final after eliminating Jeunesse (Luxembourg) 2-1 and 5-0 in the 1/16 finals; Czechoslovakian champion Slovan (Bratislava) 3-0 and 1-2 in the 1/8 finals; Everton (Liverpool) after away goal – 1-1 and 0-0 – in the ¼ finals; and Crvena zvezda (Belgrade) in the ½ finals. The Greeks lost 1-4 in Belgrade and were considered gone, but they won the second leg 3-0 in Athens. A miracle? Looked like one in 1971. Looked like typical Balkan plummeting too – the Jugoslavians were the stronger team and not for nothing consider themselves ‘the Brazilians of Europe’, but also they had (and have) the reputation to be shaky, often underperforming, and quickly losing confidence. It was not unusual a great match to be followed by disaster. Therefore, the defeat was not seen as very strange. Recently different story is told – largely coming from the wife of the Socialist Greek politician from the 70s Andreas Papayoanou – the semifinal with Crvena zvezda was bought. A deal, involving club officials and politicians from Greece and Jugoslavia propelled Panathinaikos to the final. True or false? I am inclined to believe the deal story.

Yet, Panathinaikos eliminated Everton without any deal and was not a bad team. Rather unknown than bad, hence, judged with bias. The only famous name was their coach – Ferenc Puskas. The former great player was not so great as a coach, though: practically the final in 1971 is the highlight of his coaching career. But it was strong aura for the Greek club, the moral was boosted, and no matter what, years of playing in Spain taught Puskas many a trick and the philosophy that only winning counts. Quality, or the lack of it, of players and football counted not if you win. Never mind how you win, as long as you win. Puskas improved the game of his team, but this was not so important as winning by hook or crook in Europe. Even his cynical approach helped – the Greek players got confidence, improved their game, and achieved notice, if not fame, in Europe. After 1971 half of the team were the solid backbone of the Greek national team, becoming tougher and tougher opponents to European squads, and eventually, motivating other Greek players as well. Just like Ajax, my first Panathinaikos photo was misleading – it was a reserve kit too.
Front, left to right: Filakouris, Antoniadis, Domazos, Grammos, Kapsis
Back: Tomaras, Ikonomopoulos, Kamaras, Athanasopoulos, Eleftherakis, Sourpis
This squad differs very little from the one meeting Ajax in London: Vlahos played instead of Athanasopoulos. And Panathinaikos played in their usual green:
It was clear at first glance who the winner will be: the long haired Dutch. Short haircuts signified losers.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

But fame only started in 1971 and it was not taken for granted yet. Ajax easily won over Panathinaikos 2-0, with Van Dijk scoring early in the game. The second goal is confusing – sometimes Haan, the substitute, is credited with the goal; sometimes the Greek player Kapsis is listed scoring own goal. Haan kicked the ball, which deflected from Kapsis and entered the net. Technically, own goal, for Kapsis ‘played’ last, but deflections are murky affairs. Ajax, it was said later, outplayed the meek Greeks in the first half and simply waited for the final whistle in the second. Not a great match.
Perhaps the final blinded the specialists: Ajax showed total football. Its players were versatile and flexible, comfortable in any position, switching position at will or whim, tactically superb and disciplined, and capable to adjust their football to the particular needs of a given game and given opposition. Suurbier played left back, when he was normally right back. Neeskens, an attacking midfielder, did not mind taking the right back position. Cruiff played as a right midfielder. These guys were able to play any position, seemingly at will. Effortless and skilful players, but also highly tactical – they controlled the tempo, and were able to change the speed of the game. They were also tough when toughness was required. They were not by any means physical and rough, yet, if they had to play against brutes, they also did not shy from violence and extra close marking. The match against Panathinaikos hardly showed all Ajax’s qualities and the specialists missed to take notice. Retrospectively, they grumbled – the match was not ‘representative’ of Ajax… it was dull… But I think Ajax provided enough and the Greeks deserve some credit: after all, at least somebody took notice - Barcelona hired Rinus Michels for their coach after the final. Ajax reacted… well, typically: they hired little known and therefore cheap Romanian – Stefan Kovacs, noted for his work in Steaua (Bucharest) at that time, but hardly big name.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Well, this is the squad coming out on Wembley on June 2, 1971 in traditional colours:

The Ajax European Cup winning team of 1971.Back: Hulshoff, Stuy, Suurbier, Van Dijk, Mühren.Front: Keizer, Swart, Rijnders, Vasovic, Cruyff, Neeskens. Not the ‘classic’ Ajax yet, however full of Dutch national players. Two things, characteristic of the club, were not evident in 1971, for nobody paid attention to the ‘newcomers’: the careful building of the club based on shrewd and parsimonious transfers. Ajax preferred to build their own players, to buy young and cheap footballers, and to sell at profit. It was careful planning as well as talented players and innovative coach bringing the success. This policy included rather unusual treatment of foreigners for the time. Thus, the Dutch stars of 1969 were either retired or sold by 1971. The Swedish centre forward Inge Danielson was also gone, although two years back he was somewhat of a team star. With the exception of the goalie Heinz Stuy, young players were bought from smaller clubs – like Gerrie Muhren – and developed in the club. Others came from the youth system – a long standing practice with Cruiff as a prime example. Three foreigners came along as well: the Dane Tom Sondengaard (27 years old in 71, 19 caps for Denmark) from Ravid (Wien), the German Horst Blankenburg (24 years old, 0 caps for West Germany) came from the freshly relegated TSV 1860 Munchen in 1970, and the Israeli Roni Kalderon (4 caps for Israel) – from Hapoel (Tel-Aviv) in 1969, only 17 years old. Cheap, unknown imports. Only Blankenburg became a starter, and it seems that he was bought to replace Velibor Vasovic, who retired after winning the European Champions Cup. But the German was already playing regularly, although more often as a substitute. It looks like he was a midfielder at first and settled as a sweeper only after the departure of Vasovic. Sondengaard was clearly a substitute and Kalderon hardly ever played. This was highly unusual practice – by 1971 clubs preferred to have only 2 foreigners in their roasters: there was no point to pay salaries to eternal reserves, for the rules in most countries allowed only 2 foreigners on the pitch. Ajax had 4 foreign players, and two of them were not meant to play much. Actually, Ajax invoked old Italian and Spanish practices from the early 1960s: those were the only countries keeping expensive extra foreigner on the bench, plus another two on the pitch. But Spanish and Italian clubs, rich as they were, were able to afford the luxury – Ajax was motivated more by utility. Their foreigners were cheap unknowns, and if they fitted in the system – fine; if they did not – no big deal. In the summer of 1971 Vasovic retired, and Sondengaard and Kalderon were gone to other pastures. Blankenburg replaced the Serbian veteran and Austrian player was bought from Sturm (Graz) – Heinz Schilcher, 24 years old. Schilcher (1 cap for Austria) was glued to the bench immediately, a rather deep reserve, who played very rarely for Ajax. But – once again – a cheap acquisition. When looking back, one thing is clear: Ajax did not like to spend money on stars. The top club in Europe in the early 1970s preferred to buy nobodies and eventually to make them stars, if they fit. Blankenburg was the early example, but in later years a string of foreigners made their names in Ajax – from Soren Lerby to Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu. The real reputation of Ajax is in making stars and it started in 1971, when, along with Cruiff, Neeskens, Krol, Haan, etc. became internationally famous.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cruiff arrived, hence, Ajax arrived, therefore total football arrived. In reverse: playing total football, Ajax won the European Champions Cup, and because of that Cruiff was voted Player of the Year. Brilliant… But not in 1971. The myth of great Ajax, perhaps the most universally liked team ever, is disjointed. First, it is long lasting myth: people are still fond of discussing Ajax. Perhaps the reason is television – unlike earlier great teams, Ajax was often watched internationally. It was not a team ‘heard about’ or imagined from reading press reports – it was internationally watched on TV. People have real memories. But old memories… fantasy replaced real details long time ago and the story of Ajax is distorted.
Second: Rinus Michels invented total football and the great Ajax is the result. True and untrue: Michels won only one European cup with Ajax and the winning squad is not the one remembered as the quintessential Ajax.
Third: in 1971 Ajax was not considered a super team. One time wonder, more likely. Winners simply because of the freak situation: two not exactly ‘grand’ clubs reached the final. One was freakier… no contest really, but wait for the next year.
Ajax eliminated the Albanian champion 17 Nentori in the 1/16 finals: 2-2 and 2-0. Then met the Swiss FC Basel in 1/8 finals: 3-0 and 2-1. The first real opposition was Celtic in the ¼ finals: 3-0 and 0-1. Well, Celtic was ‘rebuilding’… Semifinals against Atletico Madrid – 0-1 and 3-0. Tough, yet not tough enough… imagine if it was Real Madrid. The road to the final was felt as lucky one. And at the final: Panathinaikos. What kind of opposition the Greeks were?

On a personal level, Ajax came so out of the blue, that I thought they played in blue. Here is the very first photo of the team I ever got – in their reserve kit, as it turned out.

Ajax Amsterdam 1971
Standing: Sondergaard, Rijnders, Stuy, Suurbier, Krol, Suurendonk First row: Keizer, Swart, Vasovic, Cruijff, Van Dijk

Well, well… apart from Cruiff (really should be Cruijff, but the ‘j’ is practically lost by now from the spelling of his name), only Vasovic and Van Dijk were vaguely familiar names to me. And not only to me the players did not mean much yet. However, this was not the line up winning the European Champions Cup – at the final it was slightly different: Stuy (1), Neeskens (7, as right back), Vasovic (4, central defense), Hulshoff (3, central defense), Suurbier (2, left back), Cruiff (14, right midfielder), Rijnders (6, central midfield), Gerry Muhren (9, left midfield), Swart (8, right wing), Van Dijk (10, central forward), Keizer (11, left wing). Later Blankenburg (12) replaced Rijnders in midfield and Haan (15) replaced Swart. I am giving the numbers too, for Ajax is famous for their individual numbers. Well, those differ too from what is known as ‘great’ or ‘archetypal’ Ajax. Positions slightly differ as well. It is different team from the one which lost the same final 1-4 to Milan in 1969 as well – then it was Bals (captain, goalkeeper), Suurbier (right back), Hulshoff and Vasovic (central defensemen), Van Duivenbode (left back), Pronk and Groot (midfielders), Swart (right wing), Cruiff and Inge Danielson (central forwards), Keizer (left wing). Muller replaced Suurbier and Nuninga replaced Groot. Vasovic scored the only goal for Ajax. Cruiff played with standard number 9. Michels was coaching.
The ‘classic’ Ajax is: Stuy (no number at all), Suurbier (3, right back), Blankenburg (12, sweeper), Hulshoff (4, stopper), Krol (5, left back), Haan (15, defensive midfielder), Neeskens (13, right midfielder), Gerrie Muhren (9, left midfielder), Rep (16, right wing), Cruiff (14, captain, centre forward), Keizer (11, left wing). But… this is a combination of two squads – 1972 and 1973, and in 1973 some players used different numbers then the listed ones. Michels was gone to Barcelona and Kovacs was the coach for the next two cups. So, Michels – one cup, Kovacs – two cups. The legend does not fit statistical records. Strictly speaking, the Jugoslavian Velibor Vasovic was the most famous player of Ajax in 1971 – and rightly the captain. This was his third European Champions Cup final – the first was in 1966, when he was still playing for Partizan (Belgrade). They lost 1-2 to Real (Madrid). Vasovic scored the goal. He played 32 games for the national team of Jugoslavia by then. He moved to Ajax after the lost final and played the next five years for Rinus Michels, scoring the goal against Milan in 1969 European Champions Cup final. It seems reasonable to argue that Vasovic was the star – the most experienced, the most successful so far, and evidently fit for Rinus Michels’s total football ideas – a goal scoring defenseman. An asthmatic one, which makes him even more interesting case (apparently, he died from asthmatic complications). And even his caps for the national team are interesting when compared to Cruiff’s: 32 vs 48. But under Jugoslavian rules foreign based players were not to be included in the national team – if he stayed at home, probably he would had collected more appearances. Nobody seems to remember Valibor Vasovic today. Certainly nobody includes him in the ‘classic’ Ajax.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cruiff arrived! He was voted European Player of the Year for the first time. To write about Cruiff is redundant at best. There is so much already. Back in 1971 it was a breath of fresh air – fun was returning and how! The Dutch was definitely the 1970s – he was only 24 years old, a big promise for the future.
Slender, fragile looking on the field, Cruiff possessed skill, imagination, and fearlessness. Cruiff operated on large front, preferring to attack from deep midfield, usually accelerating quickly. Great balance, change of direction, and speed. He never appeared intimidated, but preferred to settle arguments by outplaying the opposition. Not a traditional centre-forward either: he operated everywhere, left, right, and centre of the attack; in midfield; whenever necessary – in defense. Later, he settled more like typical midfielder, but in the early 70s he was an attacker with flair and constructive mentality. Unlike many an attacking star, he was selfless and never a consumer. He was not a physical fighter and was not involved in rough play – another already rare quality. Did not simulate as well – he obviously favoured fair play. No wonder fans idolized him – he gave us the beauty of the game after years of dull tactical football. A charming personality too, seemingly easy going, yet, once on the field, he was deadly. There was no scandal in his life – Cruiff appeared modest, highly intelligent, unusually opinionated and articulated, and loyal. The dream of a fan: a boy from humble origin, coming from the club’s youth system, debuting at 17 in 1964.
It was not exactly like that – true, he was the dream of any fan: a player emerging from poor family, playing for one club from kid to the first squad. But he used his charms cunningly: little was known until 1974 about his not so charming side. His shrewdness when money was an issue; his refusals to play for both club and national team when something was not to his liking; his chain smoking; his authoritative persona; his readiness to jump ship. To my mind, Cruiff cleverly manipulated public opinion – no scandal became public, thus, the fans remained sympathetic to him and adored him without hesitation. Which is great – when compared, for instance, to Ronaldo saying that he dreams of playing for Real Madrid when donning Manchester United jersey. Cruiff was always careful to keep the fans on his side and, most importantly, his quarrels stayed outside the pitch – once on the grass, he played. Did not sulk, did not show how ‘unhappy’ he was… it was by far more dignified behavior not to come out on the pitch than to be in the team, but to handicap his teammates by demonstrative disinterest, as Berbatov did until transferred to Manchester United.
It is often said that Cruiff had short temper – I don’t remember him ‘short tempered’. He argued with referees occasionally, but only when captaining the team. However, he was pigheaded, especially in the national team. He debuted for Holland in 1966 and was national player until 1978. For 12 years he played a total of 48 matches – very small number for one of the greatest players of all time. Well, he often refused to play for Holland – was he the ‘father’ of this particularly Dutch trend is hard to say, but he had many followers. At the time even his negative qualities were charming. The grand master of total football was pleasure to watch. He never disappointed on the pitch.