Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One last South American stop: Chile. The local powerhouse Colo-Colo from the capital Santiago de Chile won yet another title in 1972. Should this trivia be mentioned at all?
Why not? This squad was the first Chilean team I saw. Thrilled by the expansion of my football geography, I searched further and eventually learned that the club is named after famous Indian chief. So rebellion and resistance were part and parcel of the attractiveness of the club. Correspondingly, the most popular Chilean club. And again correspondingly, the most successful Chilean club – which is the point where resistance ends and shrewd business begins… In 1972 Colo-Colo were international mediocrity, but wait for later years. At the moment – go back to earlier postings and take one more look at 1974 scandals.

Here is Carlos Caszelly, one of the best ever Chilean players and committed leftist. Two years before General Pinochet ended the supposed socialist paradise for Caszelly. Two year before football made the most weird truce of political enemies – Pinochet agreeing to tolerate the Left Winger, because he is great right winger for Chile; and Caszelly agreeing to remain Left Winger playing for Right Winger dictator in the name of the same country.

Monday, July 27, 2009

And Brazil? Judging by the second national championship, the samba of the World Champions from 1970 was gone. Palmeiras (Sao Paulo) won the national title, but it was a team playing unattractive football. Unattractive to most Brazilians, that is.

Back, left to right: Eurico, Leao, Dudu, Luis Pereira, Alfredo, Zeca
Front: Edu, Leivinha, Paulo Cesar Carpegiani, Ademir da Guia, Nei

Palmeiras are one of the biggest and most successful Brazilian clubs, of course. They were not well known to Europeans – largely due to the fact that the club is from Sao Paulo and apart from Santos, best known to Europeans clubs were Rio de Janeiro ones. Naturally, people from Rio are not terribly fond of Sao Paulo clubs. On top of it Palmeiras is the club of the Italian immigrants, originally named Palestra Italia. During the Second World War the club was forced to change its name for political reasons (rather arbitrary exercise of state political correctness, because clubs with German names were not forced to change theirs) and became Palmeiras. As an ethnic club, it is seen as elitist and exclusive, although neither fan base, nor players support that – and not in the early 1970s either. The whole ethnic issue is ambiguous – fans hardly draw fine ethnic lines, but still tend to support clubs along ethnic lines. Club administration claims both ethnic pride and ethnic-blindness, often at once, so it hard to tell. Palmeiras were both lucky and unlucky, though. Their champion team was solid: Leao, the best Brazilian goalkeeper in the 1970s and most of the 1980s, Edu, Luis Pereira, Leivinha, Paulo Cesar Carpegiani (not to be confused with Paulo Cesar Lima, World champion of 1970), and the captain Ademir da Guia played for the national team. Eurico was considered a great promise. But… Eurico ended as a promise; Leivinha, proclaimed to be the next Pele never came even close; Paulo Cesar Carpegiani was never considered a real star, Edu was invited to the national team, only to be dismissed immediately, Leao refused to play for Tele Santana’s Brazil’82, Luis Pereira is not a name readily mentioned by Brazilians, and Ademir da Guia… was one of the most underappreciated players in history of football.
The trouble of Palmeiras was in part timing, and, in part, their radical tactical change. Palmeiras decided to follow European tactics and approaches – the club felt Brazilian football was no longer supreme and new concepts were to be adopted. It was not total football what they decided to coppy, but the German physical game. And Palmeiras played disciplined, tough football, where the defenseman Luis Pereira was more or less the key player. Brazilian fans did not like such bland and businesslike football. But Leao, Luis Pereira, Leivinha, Paulo Cesar Carpegiani, and Ademir da Guia were the core of the Brazilian national team for World Cup 1974, which was to play European football. It was miserable failure and as a result nobody (with the exception of Leao) was ever considered great. Not only that – again with the exception of Leao, nobody else was invited often to the national team after 1974. As for Leao, he was the only decent Brazilian goalkeeper in the 1970s, and as a goalie, he wanted strong defense in front of him. Most likely his refusal to play for Tele Santana was based on Santana’s attacking football, to which defense was secondary at best.
Paulo Cesar Carpegiani probably fell out of favour by association – he was inventive and technical midfileder, not at all dull, but been part of the terrible 1974-team, he was discarded with the rest. Ademir da Guia is an entirely different story of ill luck. The son of legendary Domingos da Guia, one of the biggest world stars of first half of 20th century (who are generally lost to us, because of the World War II), Ademir started his career with Bangu, the Rio-based club where the elder da Guia played most of his own career. Ademir was 17 years old in his first season, 1959. The age suggest plenty of talent – quickly noticed by the bigwigs of Palmeiras, who bought the young attacking midfielder in 1961. Ademir da Guia played for Palmeiras to the end of his career in 1977, and is perhaps the biggest club legend. He was a big star of Brazilian football as well, the world heard very little about him – Ademir da Guia fell victim of plentitude: between 1965 and 1974 he played only 9 games for the national team, most of them in the ill-fated 1974, when he was already 32 years old. Unfortunately for da Guia-son, Brazil had too many great players almost to the end of his career. He coincided with Didi, Pele, Zagallo, Jairzinho, Tostao, Gerson, Rivelino, to name but few of his competition, who either older and more experienced than him, or younger and therefore more promising than him. If Ademir da Guia played at different post, say left winger, he would have been constant feature of the national team. But he was attacking midfielder… Brazil was exceptionally rich there and Ademir da Guia most often was not even considered. He was elegant and clever player, but when finally invited in the national team, he was getting old and it was horrible team. Ademir da Guia did not impress anybody in 1974… His consolation were the two titles Palmeiras won before the horror. What consolation? The horror of 1974 was blamed on the boring ‘European’ football Palmeiras played in 1972 and 1973… or so think the fans.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Indenpendiente is confusing club both geographically and in terms of fame.
To most football aficionados Argentine football is River Plate and Boca Juniors – everything else fades behind the two world famous clubs from Buenos Aires. But in 1972 Independiente was often presented to curious Europeans as the most popular Argentine club. It may had been so back than – on one hand, fandom was not yet consolidated around two or three clubs and not only in Argentina – many clubs still had significant number of supporters, following traditional lines of neighbourhoods and cities. Massive consolidation came later. On the other hand, Independiente is a geographic puzzle: sometimes they are listed as club from Buenos Aires, but just as often Avallaneda is given as their home town. In fact, they belong to Buenos Aires only if we speak of Greater Buenos Aires – Avallaneda is incorporated into the megapolis, yet it preserves distinctness. It is not suburbia, outskirts, or even township – it is part of the whole called Buenos Aires, but preserving local pride and identity. Certainly bigger than a neighbourhood or even city district, yet not exactly separate entity. Finally, situated between Buenos Aires proper and La Plata, Avalleneda curiously serves La Plata – further away from the centre of the metropolis, La Plata is always taken as a distinctly separate city thanks to the vague border area called Avallaneda: at least in football, clubs are from La Plata, although there is no visible separation between this city and Greater Buenos Aires. Anyhow, going back to the issue of popularity, Indenpendiente may had been easily the most popular Argentine club at the time – no less than 9 clubs from Buenos Aires played in the first division in 1971, half of the 19-team league, that is, and not counting second and third division clubs. Buenos Aires is probably the city with most football clubs in the world, most of them old, with well established fan base thanks to combination of neighbouring pride and Argentine peculiarity – clubs are not simply clubs, but actually community centers with many activities, one among them – the professional football team. The most important one, but just one among many other activities nevertheless. This peculiarity attaches clubs to politics, which at the end makes fans out of people who may be supporting the club for political rather than purely sporting reasons. At least that was the general picture back in the early 1970s and although River Plate and Boca Juniors were traditionally the most popular Buenos Aires clubs, they still had to compete with many other clubs for the potential pool of supporters. Avallaneda was different story: the total number of local clubs was much smaller and competition with Buenos Aires concentrated fans to one of the two big local clubs – Racing Club and Independiente. Thus, it was very likely Independiente to have had more supporters than River or Boca in total numbers. Besides, the 1960s were not the best years of either giant – River Plate did not win a single title between 1957 and 1975. Boca Juniors won 5 titles in 1960s, but their record is checkered – no clear dominance and no international success. In contrast, Racing Club, Independiente, and Estudiantes (La Plata) won 6 Libertadores cups during the 1960s. 1972 was just the beginning of continental domination for Independiente – they won 4 Libertadores Cups in succession, which is South American record. Indenpendiente also won most Libertadores Cups so far – 7 in total. As it is, hardly small potatoes.
The team featured good number of Argentine national players – Sa, Balbuena, Pastoriza, Santoro, Semenewicz and was captained by Uruguayan star – Ricardo Elbio Pavoni. Pastoriza was part of the revived European import of South Americans, starting in 1972, but as a whole Independiente preserved the winning team, eventually adding more talent. In 1972 they were welcoming change – at least for South Americans – after the dreadful years of ugly Estudiantes and not exactly flying Nacional (Montevideo). They appeared elegant, attacking and, in contrast to the mentioned above teams, modern. To European eye, they were rather the same old story – brutal tricksters, naturally technical, but with no real spark. Tough and well organized team, but light years away from the beauty of total football. Which was true is difficult to figure out – Independiente did not dominate Argentine football, yet they dominated South America and were successful against European clubs too. However, Brazilian clubs were in various difficulties during the best part of the 1970s, and the Uruguayans were steadily declining as well, so the usual competition was not great in South America. Ajax refused to play the Intercontinental Cup in 1973 and Bayern also refused in 1975, so Independiente did not meet the best European clubs either. But numbers are numbers… and Independiente is the King of Cups in South America. So far.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Independiente won Libertadores Cup in may 1972. The club is interesting in several respects: they were not well known in Europe, yet, they already won two Libertadores Cups – in 1964 and 1965. Their third cup was contested by Universitario (Lima, Peru), a team featuring some Peruvian national players from World Cup 1970 (Ballesteros, Rojas, and Ramirez) but only one star – Chumpitaz. Since no club from Peru was ever among the grands of South American football, the success was more or less on the wings of the good World Cup peformance: more carried on enthusiasm than real strength. It is next to impossible to say how good Universitario were, but certainly they gave headache to Independiente:

Final (May 17 & 24)Universitario Per Independiente Arg 0-0 1-2 1-2 1st leg. Estadio Nacional, Lima, 17- 5-1972Universitario - Independiente 0-0
Universitario: Ballesteros, Soría, Cuellar, Chumpítaz, Luna, Techera,Carbonell (Uribe), Castañeda, Ramírez, Rojas, Bailetti.
Independiente: Santoro, Commisso, Sá, Garisto, Pavoni, Pastoriza,Raimondo,Semenewicz, Balbuena, Mircoli, Saggioratto (Bulla).
Referee: Marques (Brazil)Attendance: 45,000
2nd leg. Cordero, Avellaneda, 25- 5-1972 Independiente - Universitario 2-1 6' Maglioni 1-061' Maglioni 2-079' Rojas 2-1
Independiente: Santoro, Commisso, Sá, Garisto, Pavoni, Pastoriza, Raimondo, Semenewicz, Balbuena, Maglioni, Saggioratto (Mircoli).
Universitario: Ballesteros, Soría, Cuellar, Chumpítaz, Luna, Techera(Alva), Cruzado, Castañeda, Munante, Rojas, Ramírez (Bailetti).
Referee: Favilli Neto (Brazil)Attendance: 55,000
Third time winners of Libertadores
(Thanks to Igor Nedbaylo for the photo!):

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Super Cup was the last trophy Ajax won in 1972. Before beating Glasgow Rangers, they won the Intercontinental Cup. Their opposition was Argentine – Indenpendiente. Today is hard to say why exactly Ajax decided to participate in the contest – eagerness to win everything is a possible reason, but equally possible is the believe that Independiente were gentlemanly club. At least that was the presentation of them in South America, filtering down to Europe, where the club was not very well known. Going to Buenos Aires was not fun for Ajax – the reception was hostile. Johan received death threats and the local Police reacted with predictable indifference. Kovacs had to organize emergency security of Cruiff, for the threats sounded real, appointing big and burly looking Barry Hulshoff and himself constant bodyguards of Cruiff. Nothing happened, but the trip was tense. Crowds gathered around the hotel Ajax stayed making constant noise in order to disturb and prevent the team from sleep. The match itself was tough – although Independiente did not reach the level of violence distinguishing earlier finals, they played dirty and provocatively enough to disgust the Ditch. Ajax, outspoken as ever, were quick to express their views in interviews, which offended the Argentines in turn. For awhile the war of words was fought in the press, darkening already dark and hostile atmosphere – accusations were fired from both sides, in part in the hope that the opponents will be psychologically shattered. This may have been mostly Argentine hope, but it did not wear down the Dutch. At the end Ajax won in Amsterdam and collected the Intercontinental Cup. Immediately the club announced that they are not going to play in this tournament anymore, listing lengthy line of strong complaints. There was practically no South American response: down there it was important to beat the Europeans, but Ajax obviously were too strong, so if they abstained from playing in the future, all the better for any South American club. For the first time South Americans found themselves trailing far behind European club in strictly footballing terms – total football was above Brazilian, Argentine, or Uruguayan magic.
Intercontinental Club Cup 19721st. leg:Venue: Avellaneda. Field: Independiente ("La Doble Visera").September 6, 1972.

Independiente (Argentina) 1-1 (0-1) Ajax (Netherlands)0-1 5' Johan Cruijff1-1 81' Francisco "Pancho" Sa

Independiente: Miguel Ángel Santoro - Eduardo Comisso, Miguel Ángel López, Francisco Pedro Manuel Sa,Ricardo Elbio Pavoni - José Omar Pastoriza, Alejandro Estanislao Semenewicz, Miguel Ángel Raimondo (Carlos Alberto Bulla) - Agustín Alberto Balbuena, Eduardo Andrés Magglioni, Dante Mírcoli.

Ajax: Heinz Stuy - Horst Blankenburg, Wim Suurbier, Barry Hulshoff, Ruud Krol, Arie Haan, Johan Neeskens, Gerrie Mühren, Sjaak Swart, Johan Cruijff (Arnold Mühren), Piet Keizer.

2nd. leg:Venue: Amsterdam. Field: Olympisch Stadion.September 28, 1972. Ajax (Netherlands) 3-0 Independiente (Argentina)Goals: Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep (2).

Ajax: Heinz Stuy - Horst Blankenburg, Wim Suurbier, Barry Hulshoff, Ruud Krol, Arie Haan, Johan Neeskens, Gerrie Mühren, Sjaak Swart (Johnny Rep), Johan Cruijff, Piet Keizer. Coach: Stefan Kovacs.

Independiente: Miguel Ángel Santoro - Eduardo Comisso, Miguel Ángel López, Francisco Pedro Manuel Sa,Ricardo Elbio Pavoni - José Omar Pastoriza, Alejandro Estanislao Semenewicz,Luis Garisto - Agustín Balbuena, Eduardo Andrés Magglioni, Dante Mírcoli (Carlos Alberto Bulla).

Thus, Ajax were the kings of the world in 1972, winning every tournament they played: champions of Holland, European Chamions Cup winners, Super Cup winners, and Intercontinental Cup winners. There is no doubt left about the quality of their football. The supremacy of total football was… total. Since total football was not only winning, but also very attractive kind of football, at the end Ajax’s refusal to play again in the Intercontinental Cup was seen as appeal in the name of the game – let’s play it beautifully, otherwise there is no point, seemed to be the message. Fans agreed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The transfer policies of Ajax brings the interesting question about imports and exports of players in the early 1970s Europe – there was a change in 1972, related to Ajax as well, but the topic will be explored later. There are still tournaments to be narrated first. After winning the European Champions Cup, Ajax met Glasgow Rangers for brand new competition – the European Super Cup. Theoretically, the Super Cup appeared to be top of European football, opposing the winners of the European Champions Cup and the Cup Winners Cup of the year. But the competition was largely designed to take the place of the Intercontinental Cup – the reason really was the crisis of this tournament: the constant violence, which led to Ajax’s refusal to play at all in 1971. The Intercontinental Cup was hardly the summit of world club football, if the best European clubs refused to participate. UEFA tried to design a remedy – the Super Cup. It turned out to be a failure: attracting little interest from the start, the Super Cup never became the top European challenge – clubs, fans, football commentators never considered it important. Certainly not more important than the Europeans Champions Cup. The first Super Cup was not even played in 1972, but in 1973. Ajax won both games against Glasgow Rangers: 3-1 in Glasgow and 3-2 in Amsterdam. One more cup which Michels did not win, but Kovacs did…

Super Cup 1972
1st Leg, Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow, 16 Jan 1973, att 58000

Rangers (1) 1 Ajax (2) 3
34' 0-1 A: Rep
41' 1-1 R: MacDonald
45' 1-2 A: Cruijff
76' 1-3 A: Haan

McCloy; Jardine, Mathieson; Greig, Johnstone, Smith; Conn (McLean),
Forsyth, Parlane, MacDonald, Young
Stuy; Suurbier, Hulshoff; Blankenburg, Krol, G.Mühren; Haan, A.Mühren, Rep, Cruijff, Keizer

2nd leg, De Meer Stadium, Amsterdam, 24 Jan 1973, att 40000

Ajax (2) 3 Rangers (2) 2
2' 0-1 R: MacDonald
12' 1-1 A: Haan
35' 1-2 R: Young
37' 2-2 A: G.Mühren pen
79' 3-2 A: Cruijff
Ajax won 6-3 on aggregate

Stuy; Suurbier, Hulshoff; Blankenburg, Krol, Haan; Neeskens, G.Mühren, Swart, Cruijff, Keizer
McCloy; Jardine, Mathieson; Greig, Johnstone, Smith; McLean, Forsyth, Parlane, MacDonald, Young

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If Ajax was selling stars, there buying policy was unusual too – unlike any other big club, Ajax never spent much money on recruits, preferring either homemade juniors, like Cruiff himself, coming from the club’s youth system; or buying promising youngsters from small Dutch clubs, like Gerrie Muhren; or buying cheap imports. Velibor Vasovic was well known, but buying from Yugoslav clubs was not expensive. More, he was considered already over the hill in his home country - the very reason for allowing him to play abroad according to Yugoslav rules. The German Horst Blankenburg, in contrast, was plain nobody before coming to Ajax – he had shaky career - one season with Nurnberg, one season in Austria, moving again to West Germany to play for TSV 1860 Munich, from where Ajax acquired him. Nothing really to brag about… He became a star with Ajax, and was invited to get Dutch citizenship and play for the national team. He declined – and who knows how wise his decision was, for he was never invited to the German national team. The reason is simple – he played the same post as Beckenbauer. But many felt it was a pity he coincided with Keiser Franz. Hamburger SV bought a star from Ajax in 1975. Along with another German – Arno Stffenhagen, who came to Ajax cheaply too, disgraced by his involvement in the German bribing scandal of 1971, and punished with suspension in West Germany. The long list of Danish and Swedish players is also explained with the tied purse Ajax’s policy – they were amateurs, costing practically nothing. Lerby, Moelby, Arnesen, Jesper Olsen made their names as Ajax players and were sold as stars by the club. The last category was primarily Dutch players, who for one or another reason were not expensive – run of the mill players, players with injuries, players in decline, but never established stars. Ruud Geels is a prime example – he was bought from FC Brugge (Belgium) in 1974, after considerably uneven career so far. Geels played 20 games for Holland, scoring 11 goals, but never really becoming first choice, as he never was consistently first on club level until coming to Ajax. There he scored 123 goals in 131 matches played between 1974 and 1978 when he was sold to Anderlecht with solid reputation and corresponding price tag. Cheap buys made Ajax unusual in yet another way – they were perhaps the only European club in the early 1970s which did not care to play their imports – normally, clubs bought foreigners explicitly to play them: they were expensive investment. Ajax spent little on foreign players and if they were no good, they wormed the bench. Nobody saw any harm if some did not quite make it – Ajax had enough solid players anyway. For that reason, Ajax often – and also in contrast to usual club practices – had more foreign players than the rules permitted to field. Blankenburg was reserve at first because Ajax had two more foreigners. The Austrian Heinz Schilcher, bought from Sturm (Graz) in 1971, never made the first team – and nobody worried: after all, he was not that great, his main strength been the original price. Schilcher played once for the Austrian national team – an achievement which did not impress his Dutch employers. The Israeli Kalderon, also a national player of sorts, hardly made even the bench in Ajax – and again, no worries, the guy was cheap. The Hungarian defector Zoltan Varga was also bought cheaply and did not impress at all during his stay in Ajax – nobody worried about the aged player with tainted reputation: not a major expense. It was a policy of either cheap player would become a star when playing for Ajax and therefore profitable item, or he will fail, but being cheap investment, no financial damage to the club happened. The policy misfired only once, as far as I can judge - Jan Mulder. Occasional national player (5 caps and 1 goal for Holland), Mulder played in Belgium, for Anderlecht, with considerable success – he was Belgian topscorer in 1966-67 season. But he suffered heavy injury and was on the transfer list in 1972 – Ajax jumped on the opportunity to buy cheap player. At first nobody worried that he arrived injured – he missed almost entire season in his first Ajax year because of that. In 1973 Cruiff was sold to Barcelona and Mulder was to replace him. According to the new coach Knobel, Cruiff was not to be missed, because of Mulder. Well, Mulder was no Cruiff… Ajax went into great slump. But the policy was not changed at all – perhaps with one exception – the buying of the Dutch national goalkeeper Schrijvers – Ajax never bought a star player (and it is questionable was Schrijvers really a star… at least he is the closest approximation to a star Ajax ever spent money for). Unlike any other big club Ajax prefers to develop their own players, to buy unknowns, and to make profit out of them later. It is the only big club which thinks of itself as small club, supplying others rather than spending on big names.

Monday, July 13, 2009

After winning the Champions Cup the season was over replaced by the transfer fever of the summer months. Dick van Dijk made the news – Ajax sold him to OGC Nice (France). The transfer was somewhat strange: just a year ago van Dijk was the hero at Wembley and he was seen as the next big star – may be not equal to Cruiff, but certainly he was better known than the rest of his teammates. OGC Nice, although still leading French club, was not exactly top class in Europe. The transfer was puzzling and much commented because of that – on one hand, it was solid transfer in good and new to Dutch players market. On the other – going from Ajax to Nice was stepping down. It was difficult to see the wisdom of selling potential huge star.

As it was, this transfer indicated Ajax’s transfer policy and often is considered the beginning of the big unsentimental transfers the club did. Eventually, the whole Great Ajax squad was sold to foreign clubs and Dutch players became hot market item and stayed so. So far, Ajax sold no less than three great teams – 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s – along with string of other players. All to profit, and it started in 1972 with van Dijk’s deal. The player himself kind of disappeared on the sunny Mediterranean beach, ending his career in Nice without fanfares, but Ajax profited. His plummeting from potential megastar to mediocrity actually started in Amsterdam – he spend 1971-72 largely on the bench and it was obvious that there was no longer place for among starting eleven. But he had old reputation and that helped the club.
In fact, van Dijk was not the first transfer Ajax did – as every professional club, transfers were regularity, but the market was largely domestic and eventually Belgium, where Dutch players were routinely bought. France was new market, opening the doors for big European deals. Van Dijk was not the first to go France either – in the summer of 1971 Ajax sold two players – Nico Rijnders to FC Briges (Belgium) and Ruud Suurendonk to AS Monaco, but this transfers were not big news – Belgium was the traditional place for Dutch going foreign, and Suurendonk was generally reserve player. With van Dijk started the Ajax phenomenon: the club producing stars and selling them year after year. In 1995 France Football dedicated an article on this with the list of the major transfers, which follows here:
1971 – Ruud Suurendonk (AS Monaco), Nico Rijnders (FC Bruges, Belgium)
1972 – Dick van Dijk (OGC Nice, France)
1973 – Johan Cruiff (FC Barcelona, Spain)
1974 – Johan Neeskens (FC Barcelona, Spain)
1975 – Arie Haan (Anderlecht, Belgium), Johnny Rep (Valencia, Spain), Horst Blankenburg (Hamburger SV, West Germany), Arnold Steffenhagen (Hamburger SV, West Germany)
1976 – Gerrie Muhren (Real Betis, Spain), Wim Suurbier (Schalke 04, West Germany)
1977 – Barry Hulshoff (Grazer AK, Austria), Johnny Dusbaba (Anderlecht, Belgium)
1978 – Ruud Geels (Anderlecht, Belgium)
1979 – none
1980 – Ruud Krol (Napoli, Italy, via Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada) , Simon Tahamata (Standard, Liege, Belgium), Ruud Keiser (Coventry City, England)
1981 – Ton Blanker (Real Zaragoza, Spain), Frank Arnesen (Valencia, Spain)
1982 – Tseu La Ling (Panathinaikos, Greece)
1983 – Wim Kieft (Pisa, Italy), Soeren Lerby (Bayern, West Germany)
1984 – Jesper Olsen (Manchester United, England), Jan Moelby (Liverpool, England)
1985 – none
1986 – Ronald Koeman (PSV Eindhoven), Gerald Vanenburg (PSV Eindhoven)
1987 – Marco van Basten (Milan, Italy), Sonny Silooy (Matra Racing, France), Virgall Joemmankran (Cercle Bruges, Belgium)
1988 – Frank Rijkard (Milan, France)
1989 – John Bosman (Mechelen, Belgium), Frank Verlaat (Laussannesport, Switzerland)
1990 – Danny Muller (Standard, Belgium), Pal Fisher (Ferencvaros, Hungary), Dennis van Wijk (Giannina, Greece), Robert Witschge (Saint Ettiene, France)
1991 – Richard Witschge (FC Barcelona, Spain), Peter Larsson (AIK, Sweden), Mark Verkuyl (La Gantoise, Belgium)
1992 – Aaron Winter (Lazio, Italy), Jan Wouters (Bayern, Germany), Ron Willems (Grasshopper, Switzerland), Brian Roy (Foggia, Italy), Johnny van’t Schip (Genoa, Italy)
1993 – Marciano Vink (Genoa, Italy), Dennis Bergkamp (Inter, Italy), Wim Jonk (Inter, Italy), Alfons Groenendijk (Manchester City, England)
1994 – Stefan Pettersson (IFK Gotteborg, Sweden), Dan Petersen (AS Monaco), Michel Kreek (Padoua, Italy).
The list ends there, for it was published in 1995 – more transfers steadily followed, the last one is quite fresh – Huntelaar to Real (Madrid). Given the tradition, not the last one either: Ajax built reputation for developing stars and is perhaps unique star-maker among the world famous clubs – everybody else prefers to buy stars; the Dutch make stars and sell them.
This policy failed only once: the exception is Arnold Muhren. He was a reserve player, unable to secure place in the first team, which is not surprising given the competition. Ajax transferred him to Twente (Enschede) in 1974, a minor domestic transfer. At the end of the 1970s Twente sold him to Ipswich Town (England), and Muhren was part of the success of the club in those years. From Ipswich he went to Manchester United, also a success. At the end of his career he returned to Ajax and became the only player of the mythic Great Ajax to win major national team title – 36 years old, he was instrumental part of the Holland’s team winning the European Championship in 1988. Ironically, perhaps: Ajax made no serious money out of him, and at the same time his much more famous teammates from the 1970s never won a title with the national team.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Changes in the squads and coaching stuff are so normal to sport to amount to trivia. However, successful clubs, whether domestically, or internationally, tend at least to preserve their winning teams, if not recruiting more stars, in order to preserve their dominance. Big clubs buy stars, that’s a given. Ajax, in sharp contrast to common wisdom, employed very unusual policy and it is a policy the club still follows. Ajax makes stars and sells them – no other big club does that. As for recruits – Ajax is amazingly parsimonious. Bursting into fame, among the big guys of world football, one expected Ajax to invest in more star players, to follow the obvious pattern – instead, they parted ways with those who either got too big for their shoes, or brought big profits. In the same time there was a change in international trade of players, worth exploring and well related to Ajax. Ajax were unusual in using imported players as well. The first changes came in 1971, but became really noticed in 1972. Rinus Michels was the first to go, accepting an offer from Barcelona in 1971. Ajax apparently did not try to keep the coach who led them to European Champions Cup. His replacement was strange – hardly known, and therefore, cheap Romanian named Stefan Kovacs. True, Kovacs made successful team of his Steaua (Bucharest), but only domestically. In any case he was not big name and coming from Eastern Europe – hardly expensive. Michels, suddenly top coach, was correspondingly becoming expensive – and Ajax let him go to Spain. Kovacs navigated Ajax to two more European Cups and became a hot item in the process – once again Ajax preferred to let him go and hired another nobody, Georg Knobel, in the summer of 1973.
It is hard to say how good or how inflated Kovacs really was: the departure of Michels was quite openly celebrated in the dressing room. Piet Keizer danced on a table in delight when hearing the news Michels was no more. The sentiment is understandable – Michels was disciplinarian and it was the early 1970s, players wanted relaxed and easy going atmosphere. Especially Dutch players, who are outgoing, opinionated, individualistic, and outright pigheaded (in the view of the writer Simon Kuper, who grew up in Holland and considers pigheadedness, outspokenness, and not respecting anybody typical Dutch characteristics.) Michels, therefore, was disliked by the very players he made winners and stars. Not everybody hated him, of course – the biggest exception was Cruiff, which made the arrival of new coach problematic. Kovacs revelaed that he his authority was immediately and unceremoniously tested by the team – surviving the challenge, he faired well and the players listened to him. As a person, he was the opposite of Michels – relaxed and easy going, not insisting on formalities and preferring close and friendly relations with the team than dictatorial methods. He also broke down heavy barriers existing between the players and the administration, which was appreciated by the footballers. In real time there was not opposition and criticism of him, but recollections from the 1990s tell different: according to the veterans, Kovacs was not much of a coach and did practically nothing. Cruiff was running the team and he decided everything. It is curious that not exactly titular players said that in the 1990s, but in the same time Cruiff, the ‘most pigheaded of them all’, as S. Kuper calls him, never mentions Kovacs at all. Cruiff did not clash with the Romanian in real time, though – it was harmonic and respectful coexistence. Whatever Kovacs was as a coach, he was wise enough not to make any changes in the squad and not to introduce different playing style. If nothing else, he relaxed the atmosphere, listened to his stars, and did not pressure them into new tactics. If Cruiff was really running the team, he was very good at that, for there were no publicly recorded tensions, grievances, and clashes between players, which are typical for star studded squads where egos run berserk. The replacement of Michels obviously worked – the string of cups won under Kovacs is enough evidence. Ajax played exciting, to some even better than under Michels, football under him.
If Stefan Kovacs did nothing but clapping his hands, it had been very effective clapping – Ajax won every possible cup during his stay with the club, something iron handed Michels never achieved.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So much is written about legendary Ajax, that to add more may be superfluous. Yet, I will give my own impressions, trying to avoid repeating the well known. Total football is Ajax, meaning the team played the whole field, moved constantly, and players had no clear positions, acting in different roles everywhere and all the time. One clear thing about this kind of play was establishing numerical superiority everywhere on the pitch – static opposition, keeping particular positions, was outnumbered by groups of Ajax players, who attacked those possessing the ball without returning to their nominal posts first. Thus, defense started exactly where the ball was, pressuring the opposition and making it almost impossible for the other team to develop attack. The lack of fixed positions also made Ajax’s attacks very quick and dangerous – there was no waiting, no passing the ball to ‘proper’ attackers – a defenseman would act as a midfielder or winger, or even centre forward without any hesitation, and without any clumsiness. Elements of almost any style of playing were incorporated into Ajax’s style, and their tactics changed easily depending on the opposition and also on particular needs during concrete match. Technically the Dutch were superb, tactical knowledge and intelligence excellent, physical condition – hardly matched even by German players. The team’s chemistry was also great and there was something very rare: no selfishness. Superstar like Cruiff did not mind at all playing defense or passing the ball to somebody else to score. They had the spark, the enthusiasm, and also displayed obvious joy of playing. The team was also gentlemanly – although tough and sometimes rough in no-nonsense defense, they never played deliberately dirty, did not waste the time, did not simulate, and almost never argued with the referee. They also had nerves of iron and often waited patiently for scoring opportunity, never panicking or shaken. Finally, Ajax gave very wrong idea about themselves before beginning of a match – casual, relaxed and hippie-like, they did not look determined and concentrated when coming out on the pitch. They almost never made a sharp line of players as other teams did – they were bending, looking around, hardly in line, keeping big distance between players, as if not really caring about the match and each other. It was all illusion, though – with the first whistle seemingly undisciplined and not knowing why they were on the field players suddenly transformed. What impressed me most was the way they cleared the ball when defending – it never looked like clearance. Normally, it is just kicking the ball far away from one’s own half. With Ajax, it looked like a careful passing to a teammate, for the ball always went where Ajax player was – so finely tuned to each other and so mobile the Dutch were, that clearance did not appear desperate measure. Cruiff, of course, was the greatest among them, but he was not alone in versatility: almost all Ajax players were not only comfortable in other positions, but with the years they changed their original positions. Cruiff himself, an unorthodox centre forward from the start, rarely found in the penalty area, but operating rather deep and coming from left, right, or centre, eventually became largely a midfield playmaker by mid-70s. Controlling the tempo and the speed of the game, organizing attacks, and feeding teammates with fantastically sharp passes was his later role, but it was obvious even in his earlier years. Krol started as left back, moving to libero position with the years; Neeskens was fielded as right back at first, but moved to loosely right-side based attacking midfielder. Horst Blankenburg on the other hand moved back – at first he midfield substitute in Ajax, but when Vasovic retired the German took his place in the centre of defense, becoming more of an attacking sweeper rather than genuine libero. Perhaps the most ‘limited’ was Rep – tall, strong, deadly in the air, he played right wing at first, quickly moving to centre forward of English type. The most flexible would be not Cruiff, but Haan – he changed drastically positions during his long career with apparent ease: a defensive midfielder in Ajax, he played stopper in the national team, playmaker in Anderlecht, and centre forward in Standard (Liege). He defied common wisdom too – usually players move from attack to midfield or defense, when aging, but Haan seemingly moved forward with time. At the end, so great and flexible Ajax were, they were not bothered by tremendous weakness – their goalkeeper was nothing.

Heinz Stuy. This promotional photo is very curious today – the early 70s were promoting sponsors, yet not dominated by the rules of the firms. It would be unthinkable today to advertise casually two rivals, as Stuy does here promoting both Puma and Le Coq Sportiff.
Holland did not have good goalkeepers at that time at all – by far, the best was Jan Van Beveren from PSV Eindhoven, but for various reasons, including Cruiff’s dislike for him, he rarely played for the national team and is hardly remembered today. Behind him was mediocrity and Stuy did not rank well even among them – he played only one game for the national team, as far as I know. Even Ajax fans joked about him and gave him not exactly flattering nickname. As late as 1973, Stuy already having two European Cups on his belt, journalists made fun of him – I vividly remember a picture of him clearing the ball with the comment ‘vast improvement of Stuy – he now reaches the ball. May be after a year or two he will actually catch it.’ To my mind, Stuy was not that bad compared to other Dutch flunkies like Treytel, Schrijvers, or Youngbloed, who usually filled the goalkeepers spot at the national team, but nevertheless he was weak. Rare heroics like the fantastic beating of Mazzola at the 1972 final were… very rare. He did improve, though, but I think it was the boost of confidence coming from playing with very talented and enthusiastic mates. But Ajax were so superior at their time, they actually did not need a goalie – the ball so rarely appeared in their penalty area, the shots were even less. As a rule of thumb, Ajax’s defense annihilated any danger early and because of that it did not really matter who keeps the gate – actually, the impression was that they did not need anyone: it was superfluous post and no wonder Rinus Michels changed the whole role of the goalkeeper – something becoming visible in the World Cup 1974. Michels wanted his goalie to act as a sweeper, not a keeper. Stuy was found wanting in this role too… Michels invited Youngbloed in 1974. Amazingly enough, the great Ajax severely lacked goalkeeper. It was striking contradiction – 10 superstars and a zero.
But it was not only the players: Ajax, the club, was extraordinary and extremely unusual. It was not realized so quickly, but was noticed in 1972.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Before May 31, 1972 Ajax were familiar names at best. After May 31 they were superstars – the whole team minus one: the goalkeeper Heinz Stuy. This was also the team which became the archetypal ‘Grand Ajax’, oddly attached to the name of Rinus Michels, who was no longer in the club. The mythical Ajax also has Johhny Rep instead of Swart – Rep was already in the team in 1972, but he made his name in 1972. Myths mix things… yet, this is one of the most beloved team of all time, fondly remembered, if not outright nostalgically, by fans of very different nations. It is my all-time favourite too, and like most Ajax maniacs I can recite the line-up not only by names, but also by the numbers they used. The latter is a folly: Ajax did not mind changing their numbers, as they did a year later, but somehow nobody remembers that. A legend does not change, however incorrect.

Ajax 1971-72. The photo is from the beginning of the campaign – the summer of 1971, so still only one European Champions Cup. Ruud Sourendonk is on the picture, but he was sold to Monaco soon after the photographer took the snapshot. The rest won their second trophy.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

At the final Ajax cemented their so far shaky reputation – they won by clear 2-0, the European Champion’s Cup remained with them. From Dutch players perspective Arsenal may have been the most important opponent, but to outsider’s eye the final with Inter was more convincing: it was versatile team, capable of many different things. Sure, they were attack-oriented, highly skilled, and tremendously imaginative, but also they were superb tacticians and easily meeting particular modes of playing, depending on the opponents. Against Inter, Ajax were tough, played physical game, never shying away from hard tackles, dirty tricks, and committing fouls. Defensively, they outmastered the Italians in their own specialty, even more so, for traditionally the Italians met the opposition in their own half of the field, but Ajax never invited Inter in their own half, but mercilessly tackled them everywhere. The Dutch defense was triggered at the very moment they lost possession of the ball and their approach was Italian to boot. But they did not play the same way against teams with different approach to the game – extremely tactically versed, Ajax adopted the tactics of the opponent to their own benefit. Being faster and much more mobile than Inter, Ajax easily covered the whole field, looking that they had more players than Inter. However, they were still thinking primarily of attacks, and in them they were deadly – both goals looked more like mockery of Italian defense: Ajax shattered the black and blue defense to the point that the goals appeared easy, a kids task.
Inspiration and motivation went a long way too – Heinz Stuy, never much of goalkeeper, made fantastic save when no other than Sandro Mazzola erupted alone in front of him. Not many keepers ever saved their net when one on one with Sandro, but Stuy won the duel. There was nothing the Italians could do to end in a draw, neither defensively, nor offensively. As for winning – it was beyond the wildest imagination. Ajax controlled the game, its tempo, and its flaw. Clear winners.
It is hard to say what lessons the Italians learned from this final: most likely none, for they mostly blamed their young goalie Ivano Bordon for the loss. Inter’s titular keeper was injured and Bordon played. The mistakes he made cost Inter the cup – so was the Italian view. Ironically, the good-for-nothing Bordon was included in two World Cup Italian squads, becoming World Champion in 1982 (although he did not play a minute, having been reserve.) No changes were made in Italian football after seeing how deadly total football is – resulting in disastrous performance at 1974 World Cup. Italian football somehow failed to see the new football emerging with Ajax and West Germany. Inter looked hopelessly outdated in 1972 – with players like Mazzola, Facchetti, Burgnich, Boninsegna, the Brazilian star Jair, no less. And with promising talent like Bellugi and Oriali. They looked old… ancient, actually.

Final, Feyenoord Stadium, Rotterdam, 31 May 1972, att 61000

Ajax (0) 2 Internazionale (0) 0
47' 1-0 A: Cruyff
78' 2-0 A: Cruyff

Ajax (trainer Kovacs)
Stuy; Suurbier, Blankenburg, Hulshoff, Krol; Neeskens, Haan, G.Mühren; Swart, Cruijff, Keizer
Internazionale (trainer Invernizzi)
Bordon, Burgnich, Facchetti, Bellugi, Oriali; Giubertoni (Bertini), Bedin, Frustalupi; Jair (Pellizarro), Mazzola, Boninsegna
Referee: Helles (France)
Ajax players always superior, even when outnumbered.
Cruiff scores with unlikely header.
His second one was so easily done, it was mocking comment on ultra-defensive football. Note Keizer at the right: he captained Ajax more often than Cruiff.
Stuy winning one-one battle with Mazzola. Inter down (in contrast to the position of the players) everywhere.
Second Champions Cup indeed. Just in case there were any doubters left.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The European Champions Cup produced Italian – Dutch final. The Cup holders of 1971 Ajax were to meet Inter (Milan) at Rotterdam, somewhat an advantage for Ajax, but not exactly home turf. Inter, still with mighty image built in the 1960s, eliminated Standard (Liege) in the ¼ finals thanks to away goal – home win 1-0 and 1-2 loss in Belgium. The semi-final was scoreless: neither the Italians, nor their opponents Celtic (Glasgow) managed to outwit the other team and after two 0-0 ties penalty shoot-out promoted Inter. The drama ended 5-4 in their favour. It is hard to say were Inter good or bad – in general, Italian clubs were defensively obsessed misers even when facing insignificant teams. It was as likely giant club like Inter to eliminate nobodies, say from Luxemburg, by 1-0 at home and 0-0 tie away, as a lowly Italian club to eliminate by the same results some strong British or German opposition. Even when the Italians were obvious favourites they just shut down the game, happy to lead by a goal and patiently preserving strength for other games. To see them at the final was not surprising at all, but expected and hardly commented.

Ajax on the other hand was commented: reaching the final again needed reevaluation of their success in 1971: not one time wonder, seemingly, so attention was paid on their progress. The results were not so impressive as numbers: they eliminated Arsenal (London) in the ¼ finals winning both legs – 2-1 in Amsterdam and 1-0 in London. Benfica (Lisbon) faced Ajax in the ½ finals and the Dutch won by 1-0 in Amsterdam and 0-0 in the second leg. The poor results were not so poor at close glance: Benfica was not exactly easy pray – they met Feyenoord (Rotterdam) in the ¼ finals and after losing 0-1 away, thrashed the Dutch champions 5-1 in Lisbon. Ajax, merely second in Holland’s !970-71 championship, did much better than their domestic archrivals. But it was the ¼ final against Arsenal which counted more. According to many Dutch players, Cruiff included, prevailing over British club was crucial – they said they respected and feared the English football, growing up watching the Brits on TV, and admiring them as superior. Eliminating Arsenal was more than success, said the Ajax players – it was these two matches which brought them real confidence and conviction that they are really strong and good. It was a turning point – from been a merely good team into a mighty one, which has no fear of any opponent whatsoever, believing to be superior no matter who they were to play against.

Playing against Arsenal (in dark jerseys) really boosted Ajax. For them, these were the most important wins.

Although Benfica was coached by English coach – Jimmy Hagan – Ajax did not even blink: after Arsenal, there was no club in the world to beat them, they felt. Ajax felt they were unstoppable and unbeatable.