Saturday, October 31, 2009

Second Division – a glimpse of the two winners in 1972, largely because I have photos of the teams… Pernik won the Southern Second Division in 1972 and were promoted to the First.
Top, left to right: P. Vladimirov – coach, V. Evgeniev, Zl. Avramov, R. Milanov, S. Malinov, Evl. Banchev – captain, P. Stefanov, N. Velinov, D. Dyulgersky – assistant coach.
Bottom: T. Vasilev, S. Yankov, V. Varadinov, R. Bozhilov, At. Cholakov, G. Yordanov, F. Slavchev, S. Shadov, An. Slavov.
The club from the industrial working class city of Pernik was one of the victims of 1968 forced mergers, but there were hardly any tensions because of that: the original clubs, representing the industrial nature of the city – Minyor (Miner) and Metallurg (Metalourgist) were never seen as rivals locally. Minyor was the oldest and generally popular club, representing the city and traditionally playing in the First Division. Metallurg belonged to a giant metalourgical plant and was seen mostly as a club belonging only to the plant and not to the city – coal mining was the traditional industry. Besides both clubs almost never in the same division and no rivalry developed. Minyor had reputation of tough guys, which was mostly due to the general perception of burly miners and industrial workers. Usually Minyor inhabited the lower half of the table, fighting to avoid relegation - they played rough football often, but obviously not to great results.
The merger brought new name – Krakra Pernishky (Krakra of Pernik, midevla local lord) and under this name they sunk one more time to the Second Division. But the new name was difficult to chant and in any case had nothing to do with industrial workers, so it was changed to Pernik, the name of the city. Eventually this name did not last either – in 1973 the club became Minyor again, the merger was quietly dissolved and Metallurg restored as well, starting in the 4th Division.
The close proximity of Sofia was the curse of Minyor (or Pernik) – they were routinely robbed of players by the clubs of the capital. Their coach is point in case – Vladimirov was one of the better Bulgarian players in the 1950s and CSKA got him, but did not used him much. The 1972 selection eventually suffered too – three key players eventually went to play for CSKA, Levsky-Spartak, and Akademik. But so far the team was quite good for a Second Division squad: they had great pair in the center of defense – Evlogy Banchev and Vesselin Evgeniev, both included in the national team. A very promising young broom commanded midfield – Varadin Varadinov (alas, never fulfilling the promise and soon disappearing from top level football) and very decent attacking line – Filip Slavchev – Georgy Yordanov - Angel Slavov (the wingers Slavchev and Slavov were eventually grabbed by Levsky-Spartak and CSKA, where they rarely played).
Good for Second Division, but not really good for the First: Pernik returned to their usual place – to the fight of avoiding relegation.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A little gallery of the Bulgarian 1971-72 season.
This photo from CSKA – Botev (Vratza) perfectly shows the huge gap between the top club and… almost everybody else. The small Tzvetan Atanasov is much higher than the big goalie and defensemen of Botev. Yet, it does not look particularly effective action…
Goal… The photographer called this photo ‘The Goalkeeper’s prayer’, because of the hands, although it was already too late for praying. May be training would have prevented the goal?

Defensive tactics were bitterly criticized in Bulgaria for years: teams most often depended on lone striker, who had little chance to beat heavy defenses. As a result Bulgarian football was much more attractive in photography than on the pitch.
This is a collage amusingly true to the real game – a lot of effort, but who plays the ball? And to what end? The defense missed it; the striker is going to miss it, clearly running for something else. No goal! Again! This is a rare glimpse of the bottom of Bulgarian First Division – Chernomoretz (Bourgas) against N. Laskov (Yambol). Both teams survived in 1972, but soon after were relegated. The club from Yambol – here in defense, with white sleeves (but don’t ask me about the team colours!) – played only 3 seasons in the First Division, finishing 13th in 1971, 16th in 1972, and finally 17th – relegation zone – in 1973.
Another rare photo – CSKA – Marek 6-1. Marek ended 17th and were relegated, but this club is worth mentioning: they were the only small town club to last more than a season in the First Division (and at the end of 1970s to reach European tournaments). Their home town is Dupnitza, which was renamed Stanke Dimitrov during Communist time – after rather dubious Communist hero, a Soviet spy, if I remember correctly, who happened to be born in the town. His conspiratorial nickname was Marek – which became the name of the club. Since Marek is not Bulgarian name (Polish really), hardly anybody thought of the club’s name as the same as of the Commie. After the fall of Communism the town reversed to its original name, but not the club – fans are used to Marek.
In 1972 the club was related to something else: the sorry fate of small clubs in the Communist world. Never having good players, Marek depended on brutality for survival – they were notorious butchers, considered CSKA’s satellites. Since they were not an army club, the reason for that was different: CSKA applied political pressure on Marek – Dupnitza’s Party Secretary, the local semi-god, was told that the army will let local boys to stay in the city and play for Marek during their army service if Marek take it easy when playing against CSKA. As a result, Marek never resisted the ‘Reds’ – here is a prime example: Sapinev (#5, in white), one of the worst offenders in Bulgarian football, playing the lamb.
And one more point: Levsky-Spartak, like the original Levsky before, often lacked concentration against lower clubs, struggling as a result and losing points. CSKA had entirely different attitude: they were always concentrated and routinely thrashed the small fry, achieving supreme goal difference at the end of the season. There was no mercy for friend and foe alike, which helped them to many a title.

Monday, October 26, 2009

This is the junior team of Levsky-Spartak, Bulgarian champions in 1971. Only one player made it in the first team – Voyn Voynov, right of the goalie. The right winger eventually went to play for the national team and at the 1974 World Cup, he is interesting here in another aspect: during the 1970s he and only one other player coming from the club’s youth system were established in the first squad. In the past, Levsky depended largely on their youth teams – now, with first team clearly in trouble, no youths were included, no matter how good they played. To the horror of Levsky’s fans the Police club mirrored the Army club – Levsky-Spartak started stealing players from other clubs. Whatever talent emerged in Bulgaria was snatched either by CSKA or Levsky-Spartak. No wonder youths were abandoned – it was easier to get already established players from elsewhere… Voynov made it and also he turned out to be with ‘old fashioned’ mentality – he played only for Levsky-Spartak during his not very long career. When the club no longer needed him, he declined other offers and retired. But that was just about everything good about ‘Suek’ Voynov: he never ranked high – fans prefer other wingers from before or after Voynov’s time, and rightly so. Voynov was irritating player – not very fast for a winger and possessed by time-wasting attitude: not a great technician, Voynov constantly whirled around himself, pretty much at one place, and hardly ever moving his eyes away from the ball. He slowed attacks and worse: keeping his eyes on the ball, he hardly knew where his teammates were and many an opportunity was lost because Voynov never saw it. May be not a great player, but a nice guy and surprisingly good coach presently. Voynov appeared in the squad partly because of constant troubles Tzvetan ‘Metzy’ Vesselinov was having.

‘Metzi in action. A very fast traditional right winger, Vesselinov was fragile player, easily injured. By 1972 it was clear that Metzy that he was not really to recover and he missed most of the season. Although predictable with his monotonous runs on the wing, Metzy was giving Levsky and later Levsky-Spartak an edge, which Voynov clearly was unable to provide. Metzy was much better goal scorer too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Levsky-Spartak finished second – by Bulgarian standards, normal affair, since domestic football was and is dominated by two clubs. By 1972 Levsky’s fans somewhat accepted the forced addition of the Police club Spartak… and tried to downplay it, although it was not possible – the Police ruled the club. Old fans left never to return, but the club was still the most popular in Bulgaria and no effort to make fans accepting the new name succeeded – there were officially peddled chants for instance, which the fans routinely ignored. It was only ‘Levsky’ at the stands – irritating chants to the Communist regime, since the fans were stubborn and there was nothing to really do against their attitudes. Not only Levsky’s fans refused to accept the new name of their club: in Plovdiv nobody ever chanted ‘Trakia’ – the crowds chanted ‘Botev.
Below the stands Levsky-Spartak was in trouble – the team was aging and clearly declining. It was largely made of former Spartak players, which the fans were still unable to embrace as their own. Memories of better days constantly confronted the present, but at least in one aspect the fans were entirely right: the new club drastically changed the old philosophy of Levsky and to very regretful ends. Levsky traditionally claimed moral superiority – CSKA was stealing players from everywhere; Levsky made their own. At the end, the clash between Levsky and CSKA was always seen as people versus government: small, home made Levsky versus ruthless omnipotent CSKA, collected from the best the whole country made. Producers versus consumers. No longer that and on top of it – Levsky played poorly. 1972 was bad season, but worse was coming… so far, second place, boring football, 8 points behind the champions.
Bottom, left to right: Y. Kirilov, Y. Haralampiev, B. Mikhailov, St. Pavlov, St. Aladzhov, K. Ivkov, G. Tzvetkov, G. Kamensky, Iv. Stoyanov, V. Mitkov
Top: Yoncho Arsov – coach, G. Todorov, Tz. Vesselinov, Kr. Bogdanov, P. Panov, D. Zhechev, M. Gaydarsky, P. Kirilov, V. Arsov, St. Vassilev – assistant coach.

A lot of dead meat here… Yanko Kirilov, Petar Kirilov, Haralampiev, Bogdanov… not really old, but whatever good days they had, it was in remote past. Fragile ‘Metzy’ Vesselinov, eternally injured. Rapidly declining old horses – Kamensky, Gaydarsky, Mikhailov. Soft Tzvetkov, never playing up to expectations… highly suspect young talent, playing like Tzvetkov – Panov and Todorov… political problems with ‘Fiffy the Feather’ Pavlov, whose ancestry made him ‘unfit’ for Communist Police… It was very telling for the state of Bulgarian football in 1972 – Levsky-Spartak finished 8 points ahead of Beroe (Stara Zagora), having perhaps their best ever team, and Levsky-Spartak – one of the their weakest. Beroe ended 3 points clear from the 4th placed Slavia, thus, the champions were 19 points above the 4th placed… and 27 points ahead the 7th placed Botev (Vratza), who finished 3rd in 1971. And Botev were only 5 points ahead of the 17th placed and relegated Marek… enourmous division in three tiers, more than half the league no good at all. The future did not look bright… and not for Levsky-Spartak particularly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname’ made a double, winning both championship and cup. Little surprise in that: CSKA had their ‘silver team’ – after the terrible 1960s, they had a squad evoking the glorious 50s, when nobody else was a match for the Army boys. How good this team was is hard to really tell – it was strong and well balanced, carefully built and maintained. Yet, the core players came from the disastrous 60s, when they were not dominant. True, the team came into maturity, but maturity was helped by outside factors – when other teams were forced into mergers and chaos disrupted their selections and performance, CSKA enjoyed tranquility. It should be mentioned that none of the 1960s Bulgarian champions remained in 1970, save for CSKA – both Plovdiv’s champions were destroyed in 1967: Spartak and Botev were merged into Trakia. Local fans hated the new creation. Levsky was merged with Spartak, becoming Levsky-Spartak (Sofia) to the displeasure of the fans. Lokomotiv was merged, however briefly, with Slavia into a disaster called ZhSK Slavia. CSKA was also merged, but only for the sake of appearances: the lowly Septemvry (Sofia) provided only slight change of name – CSKA ‘Cherveno zname’ (Red Banner) became CSKA ‘Septemvriisko zname’ (September’s Banner), replacing one Communist symbol with pretty much the same – the meaning of September in this case is September 9th, 1944, when the Communists took the political power in their hands thanks to the Soviet Army occupation and the secret deal between Stalin and Churchill. Official Communist history doctored that into ‘Communist Revolution’. Anyway, name is one thing, but squad is something else – no player at all was taken from old Septemvri. Unlike any other ‘merged’ club, CSKA kept their original squad intact – no superfluous players, no frictions between players forming mutually exclusive groups, no trouble of making a new team. CSKA simply shaped and tuned its squad, carefully replacing aging players with whatever talent emerged in the country. No wonder they ended up with very good team, but there was one more factor: CSKA were traditionally ruthless in their policy and this time they went to the extent which their own fans found unpleasant at least. CSKA retired one of their biggest ever stars, Dimitar Yakimov, very hastily – he was barely 30 years old. No testimony match for him – actually, his ‘retirement’ was not even announced. Yakimov surely was able to play a few more years – if not for CSKA, for some other club then, but no: CSKA both blamed him for the bad years and feared that another club with Yakimov would be ‘unreasonably’ strong. Yakimov was practically ordered not to play anymore and that was that.

Dominant team, CSKA, but tainted dominance. Yet, the squad itself was good and well balanced – it was practically 12 players, who were the team. The rest were full time bench players… some temporary inlcuded, some warming the bench for years. Stability brought results though: CSKA finished 8 points (2 points for a win in those days) clear from the second placed Levsky-Spartak and 16 points ahead of the 3rd finisher Beroe (Stara Zagora). They also scored 95 goals – the all time record in Bulgarian football.

CSKA posing after collecting the Cup: bottom, left to right: Plamen Yankov, Borislav Sredkov, Todor Simov, Kiril Stankov, Christo Zapranyov (physiotherapist) Georgy Denev, Petar Zhekov, Dimitar Penev – captain, Dimitar Gevrenov (doctor), Boris Gaganelov.Top: Tzvetan Atanasov, Drazho Stoyanov, Asparukh Nikodimov, Ivan Zafirov, Manol Manolov (coach), Stefan Bozhkov (head of the CSKA’s football section), Colonel Givi Ordzhonikidze (USSR’s Military Atache in Bulgaria), Nikola Kovachev (assistant coach), Bozhil Kolev, Dimitar Marashliev, Stoyan Yordanov. If the Soviet representative surprises you, there was a reason: Bulgaria had no national cup as usually understood – it had the Soviet Army Cup instead, donated by the Soviets. Eventually UEFA forced Bulgaria to organize normal tournament and a new trophy in the early 1980s (The Soviet Army Cup remained until the fall of Communism, but no longer recognized by UEFA, it became unimportant and rapidly declining competition.) Until the new cup was established Soviet representative attended the final and awarded the Soviet Cup to the winners.

Yes, this squad was good… by Bulgarian standards. However, I can’t master much enthusiasm for the archenemy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

North of Greece and outside of foreign-players market, Bulgaria had her own excitement of sorts. Back in the summer of 1971, before the season started, the first of forced 1968 mergers collapsed – ZhSK Slavia split into old Slavia and Lokomotiv. Since those were relatively high profiled old clubs from Sofia, others had their hopes too – particularly Levsky’s fans. Futile hopes, as it turned out – they had to wait until the collapse of Communism for restoration of their beloved club. At least Spartak (Sofia) had no fans, so there were no frictions between different groups of supporters, but ZhSK Slavia was another matter altogether. The ill-fated merger did not go well from day one – functionaries, coaches, players, and fans of the two original clubs were at each other’s throats. Both blamed the other part and tensions were high. On the surface, the split appeared ‘democratic’, and often was seen as such by distant observers, not related to either club and not related to any other club forced into merging in 1968. But it was not so innocent affair: firstly, it was downplayed as much as possible, in hope not to provoke demands for dismantling the other merged clubs. Secondly, damage was already done – both Slavia and Lokomotiv lost old fan base during the artificial years and never recovered popularity. Thirdly, I think Lokomotiv was specifically damaged more than Slavia – Lokomotiv, in the past, played their best matches against the Communist creation CSKA. Slavia on the other hand was attached to an army branch, which was somewhat independent, yet not entirely – at the bottom, this branch was still part of the army and had to obey orders – CSKA was the army club, hence, Slavia rarely put much effort when playing against CSKA, but came strong against Levsky. Nobody can prove direct orders, yet the tradition is suspicious. Lokomotiv’s too, for that matter – they rarely opposed Levsky, saving themselves for CSKA. But in ZhSK Slavia old Slavia had the upper hand, which immediately created problem for the restored Lokomotiv – since most players were originally Slavia’s players, the split left Lokomotiv short and they pleaded for help. Characteristically, CSKA donated nothing – in the whole of their history the army club never helped anybody, always taking, never giving. Levsky-Spartak donated their third goalie Rumen Goranov. Apparently, nobody envisioned him playing for the ‘Blues’, so the short-sighted management gave him to Lokomotiv. Goranov immediately became not only top goalie of both club and national team – he is one of the best goalkeepers in Bulgarian football history, and although Levsky-Spartak got in the summer of 1972 very good keeper, who also played for the national team, Goranov was better one. However, mistakes happen often in football, so Goranov’s case is rather a historic curiosity. The most important result of the split was the increase of the First Division – since the split occurred late and out of the blue, there was only this way to deal with the situation – Lokomotiv was to be included in the league, since they were playing in it before the merger, but that made an odd number and either one more team was to be relegated or the league to be enlarged. Without early warning, relegation was out of question – instead, the lowly Chernomoretz (Burgas), who finished 15th in 1971 were allowed to stay and the league now consisted of 18 teams. This is the largest Bulgarian league ever, which lasted 2 years. This number most likely will never equaled, judging by the current state of Bulgarian football. Presently, shrinking of the league is more likely and entirely reasonable possibility.

The first restored Lokomotiv finished 5th – not bad for a club having to beg for players before the beginning of the season.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

La Bruja, however, was not to be made a fake Greek. Once again ultra-nationalism played a role, this time a reverse one: if normally foreigners had to pose as Greeks for the glory of club and country, La Bruja had to stay exactly who he was for the glory of club and country – Greece was showing to the world that it was becoming big football country. Watch out, world! Panathinaikos was coming to concur you! I guess an exemption from the rules was quietly made… which triggered a domino effect. It was not only Veron Panathinaikos bought, but two other guys – another Argentine named Irala and a Brazilian named Araken Demelo. Demelo at least can be traced: he played a bit for Vasco da Gama before moving to Huracan (Buenos Aires) from where Panathinaikos got him. He stayed three seasons in Panathinaikos, moving to Atromitos (Athens) in 1975, but his record is not impressive: 41 matches and 21 goals in four seasons. Irala is complete obscurity – even his first name cannot be found. Where Panathinaikos discovered his talent is also unknown. He posed with Demelo and Veron for photos intended to scare the world, but… he played 2 games if I am not mistken. Solid record of class. By the end of 1972 Panathinaikos obtained a forth foreigner – an Argentine again, Ramon Artemio Gramajo, who survived the grueling Greek football for two seasons. La Bruja himself played two years for Panathinaikos – a total of 57 matches in which he scored 22 goals. Not bad, but not great either.
However, if Panathinaikos is allowed to import players, Olympiakos must be allowed too. They were… 4 foreigners, so to be ‘fair’, but with a difference: as if to spit on their enemies, Olympiakos got Uruguayan player from Penarol (Montevideo), a little hint that Uruguayans had beaten Panathinaikos for the Intercontinental Cup in 1971. Milton Viera and Julio Losada arrived, joined by 2 Argentines – Antonio Justo Alcibar and Migel Alberto Nicolau, and Austrian of Greek ancestry Peter Persidis. There were already 2 French players and a Cypriot in the team from 1971 – Tryantafilos and Romain Argiroudis, and if they, Persidis, and Nicolau were to pass for Greeks, Losada and Viera were to be kept foreign, at par with Panathinaikos’s foreign stars. Curiously, the Olympiakos’s foreigners faired much batter in Greece than the Panathinaikos’s: Viera played 4 seasons and Losada (who later took Greek citizenship and settled in Athens) played 7 seasons for the club from Piraeus.
Now, if you allow Panathinaikos and Olympiakos to take foreigners, the third big club – AEK – cries murder. So they have to be allowed too… AEK acquired 3 obscure Argentines. The record went to a smaller provincial club, Kalamata, which was immediately graced by 5 foreigners – 4 Argentines plus a Brazilian, of which nobody ever heard of before… or after. And so it went: permitting Athens clubs to buy from abroad did not stay well with Thessaloniki’s big guys PAOK. If PAOK can import, its city rivals Aris and Iraklis should too… and very soon every Greek club was importing (largely unknown Argentines for the most of the 1970s) by the carload. Eventually, European players came to Greece and by the end of the 70s players of some fame started slowly to appear. It was far cry from Rivaldo and other major names routinely playing for Greek clubs nowadays, but it was the beginning of the improvement of Greek football. I strongly think the foreigners eventually introduced real professionalism into Greek football and started its ascent. As for the rule against foreign players, I suspect it was never changed, but quietly forgotten.
As for Panathinaikos becoming big, dominating club in the early 1970s European football – this did not materialize, La Bruja or no La Bruja. But the players market expanded nevertheless.
Julio Losada, the first successful foreigner in Greek football – 5 times champion with Olympiakos. Also called Losanta in Greece, the striker played for the national team of Uruguay before going to Piraeus, including 2 matches in the 1970 World Cup.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

By far, the most foreigners in Greece were Cypriots – but were they foreigners? The question is tricky, and quite political. The military dictators of Greece were heavily responsible for the conflict in Cyprus, which divided the island and keep it divided today. In terms of football the Greek ultra-nationalism not only recognized Cypriots as Greeks, but also included the champions of Cyprus in Greek First Division. Thus, Cyrpus was similar to Second Division championship between 1967 and 1974 – the champion of the league was promoted to the Greek First for the next season. And ultimately relegated at the end of the season… so big was the difference between the lowly Greek football and the even lowlier Cypriot football at the time. Ironically, the only Cypriot club to avoid relegation was in the last season of this weird practice – in 1974 APOEL finished 13th in the 18-club league, but was ‘relegated’ anyway, for Cypriot clubs were no longer to play in the Greek championship.

But during those years Cyprus had independent federation; the national team played in the international tournaments; and the Cypriot champions – in the European Champions Cup and the other club tournaments. And it stands to reason that Cypriot rules may have been different from Greek rules – which included surprise foreigner in the Greek league in 1972, when Omonia (Nicosia) had obscure Romanian player in its squad – one Constantin Fratila. Yet, even by the end of the 70s various foreign players had to take Greek names if wanting to play in Greece, a recognized nightmare for football statisticians, unable to establish who is who.

Constantin Fratila may not be known to football fans around the world, but he played 221 league games, scoring 95 goals for Dinamo (Bucharest) before joining Omonia (Nicosia). He also played 7 matches for the Romanian national team, scoring 7 goals. A legend of Dinamo, he is a part of another little known story: Romania, by the early 1970s, was contemplating following the Polish model – quiet export of aging players. Fratila is one of the very early Romanian exports, as well as one of the very early Cypriot imports. An unique case in every aspect.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The third player went to Greece and two-folded story started with that.
Juan Ramon Veron – ‘La Bruja’, pictured with highly unusual transparent Panathinaikos jersey.
The Witch was a star player of the winning hooligans, Estudiantes (La Plata) before going to Greece. On one hand, he was part of the freshly invigorated European interest in South Americans and the general enlargement of players market. On the other – he represented big and intricate change in Greek football – he was the first major star to play for Greek club.
The background of the transfer was rather simple: after reaching the European Champions Cup final in 1971, Panathinaikos were determined to establish themselves as a big European club. And a big club needs big players, and big players are often foreign stars. After playing the Intercontinental Cup in 1971, South American stars were more or less obvious choice – the Greeks hardly had the means to buy European star and those from across the Atlantic Ocean were both famous and relatively cheap. The transfer of Veron is still understood as the first transfer of foreign player to Greece, a beginning of importation. This is wrong – Greece imported players since 1959, but in a very complicated way.
Alexander Mastrogiannopoulos prepared careful list of foreign players in Greece for the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation, where he makes very important note: ‘Many of the Players listed, came as Greek's, or obtained the Citizenship later. Cypriots do not count as Foreigners, but are also listed.’ Greece did not officially allowed foreign players – when the ban was lifted, if it was lifted, is unknown to me. It was certainly valid by 1972, but foreigners of Greek ancestry were permitted to play – the familiar ‘oriundi’ rule. Between 1959 and 1972 players from Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, France, but also Syria,Ethiopia, and even Turkey appeared in Greek clubs – who was really a diaspora Greek and who was not is impossible to tell. None was even remotely known player and in fact the only player with a name was the French Yves Triantafylos, who came to Panathinaikos’s archrival Olympiakos (Piraeus) from Saint Etienne in 1971. But Tryantafilos is is recognizable name only from a distance, in retrospect: he became top goalscorer in Greece, moved back to France and became part of the first phase of Saint Etienne, when the club was becoming strong, but not yet European power. Tryantafilos eventually was included in the French national team – and played 1 match with the blue shirt, but already as a Saint Etienne player. He had another stint in Greece nearly at the end of his career.
Bearded Tryantafilos starts for France against Hungary in 1974. One Stefan Kovacs was coaching France, after his success with Ajax. By the time Tryantafilos donned the blue French shirt, La Bruja was thinking of going home.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Three transfers of Argentine players in the summer of 1972 I think were pivotal for the new changes: Pasoriza, Veron, and Piazza.
Jose Omar Pastoriza or ‘El Pato’ (The Duck) was bought by AS Monaco from Independiente. El Pato was getting old, but he was a star. He played 18 matches for Argentina between 1966 and 1972, but more importantly he was fresh from winning Copa Libertadores with Independiente this year. A high profile player of the kind not seen in Europe after 1966.
Osvaldo Piazza was the opposite of Pastoriza: not a striker, but central defenseman. Young, not old, and coming from little known midtable Argentine club hardly known in Europe – Lanus. Saint Etienne snatched him as soon as he made impression in his home land to replace the legendary Robert Herbin, who took the coaching position of the club. Piazza became a key player of the great Saint Etienne of mid-1970s, one of the best defensemen in Europe at the time, and played a total of 15 games for Argentina between 1972 and 1977. Menotti wanted him badly in 1978, but Piazza declined the offer for family reasons, which at that time may had been really political reasons. Thus, Piazza failed to become World Champion in 1978, but his reputation in Europe was great.
France was buying South Americans in the previous years, perhaps the only European country doing so in the late 1960s, but this time high profile players came – once again South American stars were interesting for the European clubs, both established and young and promising, and in the next years the number only increased.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

All of the above was about to change soon, the first signs of change appearing in 1972. After long draught noticeable South American players came to Europe. One of them went to Greece – the biggest foreign import Greek football saw so far, and with this started the elevation of the Greek football. Ajax broke the old rule of having only as many foreigners as allowed to be fielded by the rules, broke another rule by keeping foreigners on the bench, instead of playing them to death, and made the first big transfer of their own player, thus braking another rule – not to sell stars when the team is in its prime and winning. The German bribery scandal suddenly provided a whole bunch of players, previously off the international market, to other countries, including the so far unusual places like Scotland and South Africa. Soon the market was to be very dynamic, with Spain lifting the ban on foreign players, Yugoslavia abandoning the age restriction and starting to include foreign based players in the national team as well. All of this was still in the future, but the market started to expand in 1972. The argument whether foreigners are good or bad is as old as football itself – and provides no clear answer. To me, it is clear that foreigners played a role in the success of Ajax, in the development of Greek football, in reestablishing of Barcelona among the big clubs after very lean 1960s, and many other achievements. It is also clear to me, that there is no much fun in having 20 foreign national players in the stable. After all, England’s Premier Division consists of 60% foreign players – and look what the English national team looks like steadily after 1972. Foreign players are not a curse, but they are not a blessing either, yet, it was much more interesting – to me anyway – to see transfers in the early 70s than nowadays.
And saying so, can you tell me, if such names are familiar to you at all, was Ole Bornmose a good player? Or Heinz van Haaren? Or may be Idriz Hosic? Were they to improve Denmark, Holland, or Yugoslavia respectfully, back then? For I have no idea.
Idriz Hosic, playing for 1.FC Kaiserslautern in the 1971-72 season. Perhaps I am a bit unfair to him: as a Partizan (Belgrade) footballer the Bosnian played at the 1968 European Championship final. Actually, in the replay, after the first match ended in 1-1 tie, which Yugoslavia lost 0-2 to Italy. So, he was silver medallist, but by 1972 the scrupulous German ranking did not consider him a ‘world class’.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Yugoslavia, Sweden, and Denmark provided the main supply of foreign players to small European market. It was enough. Occasional Turk or Finn appeared here and there, Austrian players went to play for small West German clubs, German journeyman not able to establish themselves at home went to help an Austrian or Swiss club to win a domestic title and practically that was all. Except one more country with peculiar exporting practice should be added: Poland. Occasionally and on individual basis, Poland allowed aging local stars to play abroad, almost exclusively in France. It was quite affair, never mentioned in the press, so very often fans thought that certain player already retired, when he was kicking the ball in France. So little was known – and always discovered too late and accidentally – that it is impossible to tell what the exact policy was, if there was established policy at all. Some players were allowed, but others – not. A middle of the road player may be allowed to go at about 30 years of age and end up in First Division, when a star would be kept until he was well over the hill and useless for anything else but Third Division. Active national players were not going to foreign pastures of course and in any case it was not frequent event – years may go by without any Pole allowed to play abroad, then suddenly four-five veterans were unleashed. It hide and seek game, played by the Polish Federation trying to establish export without attracting Communist political attention in the process. Certainly more Poles played abroad than, say, Turks, but it was insignificant number anyway.

Ryszard Gregorczyck, a typical Polish case: aging former national player with 23 matches and 2 goals, he was not included in the national squad since 1966. In 1971 he was allowed to play in France – here is with RC Lens kit during 1972-73 season. Nobody heard of the transfer and my original impression was that he defected. Apparently, I was wrong in 1973, but learned I was wrong in 2007.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Now, Sweden followed the same road until the end of the 1950s, but changed policy after seeing the famous Gre-No-Li line (Gren-Nordahl-Liedholm) going to Italy. There was no way to stop the players – top Italian clubs were offering big money and to play in top championship was more than tempting too. Even for the good of Swedish football it was better the stars to play in Italy, since domestic football provided nothing for keeping the stars stars. But the national team was the loser in the same time – if only amateurs were to play for Sweden, than… mediocrity. It would be much better to have Gre-No-Li – and other foreign based stars – in the squad. So, Sweden stopped using only amateurs – foreign based professionals were called to play for the national team, which in turn was much stronger. In 1970 it was the only country at the World Cup finals to have significant number of foreign based players in the squad. Sweden played at World Cup finals regularly; Denmark finished last in qualification groups, a punching bag almost everybody. And exporting in the same time good players one after another. Yugoslavia maintained the same policy as Denmark – only domestically based players (amateurs) were to be included in the national team. Yet, there were two significant differences: Yugoslavia was able to keep top players at home, no matter what the players wanted, and also had much bigger pool of talent – the ratio could easily be 10 to one in favour of the Yugoslavs even if Sweden and Denmark are combined.
Gunnar Gren, one of the biggest stars in the world during the 1950s and one of the many Swedes supplying European clubs for years. It was because of players like him Sweden changed its strictly amateur policy, and the national team profited from that.