Monday, May 11, 2009

Josip Skoblar won the Golden Boot or Shoe trophy in 1971. The youngest and the most ill-fated European award was established in 1967 by the magazine France Football. It was award for the European top goal scorer in the season – all championships were treated equally. True, it was not the same to score goals in the Albanian and the Italian first divisions, but those were still innocent romantic days. The first winners were at least well known strikers and goal scoring geniuses: Eusebio, Petar Zhekov, and Gerd Muller. By mid-1970s Cypriots and others from lower leagues got the upper hand and the Romanians discovered that they can arrange a winner: just allow a guy to score 15 goals in 3-4 matches at the end of the season and he will top everybody else by a goal or two… which eventually killed the award. The new version is organized differently and championships are no longer considered equal. Anyway, in 1971 it was still fair competition. Skoblar scored 44 goals in the French First Division for Olympique Marseille, a record so far. Another French-based player, Salif Keita followed closely.

Josip Skoblar is a legend of Olympique Marseille today, yet he was hardly a mega-star. Born 1941 in Yugoslavia, he is a Croat, which today is a mild statistical problem: where to place him? He played 32 matches and scored 11 goals for Yugoslavian national team between 1961-67. He played in the 1962 World Cup. Yet, Yugoslavia always had much more famous players. By 2008 Croatia has bigger legends as well… Skoblar hardly played for a Croat club – he had one early season for lowly NK Zadar (1958-59) and moved to OFK Beograd, where he stayed from 1959 to 1966. Interestingly, he did not join one of the big Yugoslavian clubs – neither Serbian, nor Croat – but the smaller Belgrade club OFK Beograd. Generally, a mid-table club, always in the shadows of Partizan and Crvena zvezda. Then he went to Olympique Marseille – in 1966. Played 15 matches and scored 13 goals, but somewhat did not impress and was transferred to West German club – Hannover 96. Again not a big name. In 1969 moved back to Marseille – the Germans were reluctant to let him go, but eventually did, and finally Skoblar became known. His best years were in Marseille, where he played until 1975, collecting impressive total of 169 games in which he scored 138 goals. Getting long in the tooth, he returned to Yugoslavia and joined again small club – the Croat based NK Rijeka. He played for them from 1975 until his retirement in 1977. But he is well remembered in Marseille and is voted in the all-time 11 of the club. Mind, people like Jairzinho, Alen Boksic, and Rudi Voller (to name just a tiny few) graced Marseille’s squad – and they are not legends, but Skoblar is. He scored and scored, and scored. Recognized as a great player in France, he made modest impression to larger European mind: noticed as a great goal scorer, but hardly at the level of Cruiffs and Mullers, and other giants. Nevertheless, nobody disputes his marksmanship.
The last curiosity about Skoblar is his original transfer to West European club: Yugoslavia always exported players, but there was a rule – a player to be minimum 29 years old and no longer needed for the national team. It was kind of reward for ‘old horses’ - after giving glory to Yugoslavia, to spend their late years making money in the West. But Skoblar was 25 years old when he joined Olympique Marseille in 1966… no longer needed for the national team, obviously, yet too young. Why the ‘iron rule’ was not applied I have no idea. Was it the first time the rule was ‘twisted’ a bit, I don’t know either. I suspect, the reason was that Skoblar was not huge Yugoslavian star and quietly allowed to go abroad. I may be wrong, of coarse, but Yugoslavians abandoned the 29-years-old rule after 1975 and carefully at that.
Well, if nothing else, Skoblar deserved his Golden Shoe in 1971. He scored his goals fairly and his total of 44 in the season is a number unlikely to be bettered.