Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From Iberia to the Apennines, then. Dominated by defensive schemes, Italian football was rich on 0-0 draws. Similar to the Soviet football in this, but at least the meager results were fought for. Total football was admired and not followed at all – it is strange: Italy always gives the impression of creativity, flair, artful inventions, free wheeling, whimsicality, lack of discipline, and beauty. Yet, nothing of that was present in Italian football – even before dreadful catenaccio was invented defensive tactics were quite dominant. It is also strange to realize that Italians were never much of soldiers, in terms of disciplined tough armies, that is, but were more inclined towards the art of sneaky dagger and the garrote. Well, Italian teams knew the art of the dagger and the garrote too, but they were also disciplined as if they were German soldiers. Total football liberated creativity, yet the Italians chose not to try it – perhaps, they practiced half of it already, everybody defending, and as long as success smiled on them, why engaging in some risky attacking affairs? More realistically, tradition is difficult to break with and Italian coaches were old school. Aging too, so changes were not invited.

Juventus were champions, edging the opposition, building their more interesting to watch and younger team when Inter and Milan were reluctant to imagine life without Rivera and Mazzola. Essentially, Juventus was the same squad of the year before and the only interesting nuance was their coach – Cestmir Vycpalek. He was kind of temporary coach, yet worth mentioning: who, on earth, was this guy? Well, a Czech football player, a right winger, who moved in 1946 from Slavia (Prague) to Italy, where played for Juventus, Palermo, and Parma until 1958. Then he returned to Czechoslovakia, but the Soviet invasion in 1968 was not to his taste and he emigrated back to Italy, this time for good. For years his coaching career was mediocre, so at the end old connections with Juventus’ brass placed him in the club as coach of the youth team. Then again good connections seemed helpful: he was appointed to coach the first team – Italian league titles followed in 1972 and 1973, and more or less that was that. Whatever Vycpalek was as a coach, his team was somewhat different on the field than the usual Italian way of playing. May be his central-European sensibility revolted against dreadful catenaccio, who knows? His presence helped Juventus not only to the titles, but elevated the ‘old lady’ to dominance in Italy and European conquests eventually followed. The glory days were still far in the future, and Vycpalek was not part of them, but he started them somehow.

Or may be not… the new boy of the team, acquired from Napoli in 1972, was Dino Zoff (no need to introduce him) – 30 years old. He played 30 matches during the season – that is, every game, for Italy still had 16-team league – allowing only 22 goals in his net. It was this season which established Zoff as Italian number one, leaving his rival Albertosi on the reserves bench. Who was really better between the two? Hard to tell – Albertosi was preferred in the 1960s, becoming European champion in 1968. Zoff was the goalkeeper in the 70s and in 1982 he captained World champions.

So much for attacking football: the new star is 30-years old goalkeeper.