Sunday, February 7, 2010

Spain or Italy? Tough choice – which was worse among the big football nations? Unlike West Germany, down south football was stagnated. Well, since Netzer was going to Spain – Spain first. Dark years for Real Madrid. And for Barcelona. And for Spanish football in general – not qualifying for World and European Championships… not winning European club tournaments… the big clubs not winning at home… no Spanish players among the big stars… it was all relative, depending on the narrator’s bias. Atletico (Madrid) won its 7th title – great? Athletic (Bilbao) won the cup – also great? Legendary teams perhaps? May be… if one supports the above clubs and was actually alive then to see and is alive now to remember. Then another perspective: if one approaches from Real Madrid’s or Barcelona’s standpoint – what is the big deal? Some lucky winners… simply because ‘our’ guys were in crisis. But Spanish football is great and the Spanish league – terrific and always tough! Mm…

Athletic (Bilbao) – cup winners.
Top, left to right: Milorad Pavic – coach, Saez, Iribar, Marro, Carlos, Gisasola, Villar, Larrauri, J. Rojo, Aranguren, Zubiaga, Guillermo – assistant coach.
Bottom: Asrtain, Birrichaga – masseur, Igartua, Lasa, Arieta, Uriarte, J. F. Rojo.
In strictly Spanish terms – yes, there are some well known names (especially if we go exclusively Basque). From European standpoint? Only Iribar – considered the best goalkeeper in Spain and permanent national player… of the team unable to qualify to neither World nor European finals. If anything, this team provides some mellow political reflections: Franco was still alive and ruling – conservative anticommunist at best; fascist at worst. Using football for political ends though… which may be explaining the Yugoslav (hence, Communist) coach Pavic and the shoulder-length hair of Lasa. Amuzing at least… as well as the politics of the club: Athletic to this very day employs only Basques. Exclusively, no matter what. Never a single foreign player… but coaches were and are another matter in the twisted ultra-nationalistic concepts: from the day football was born in Bilbao there were foreign coaches. So nothing wrong an Yugoslavian to help increase the Basque glory… but no players! Irrelevant back in 1973, but interesting today, Bosman rule and all – seems the best way to curb the ‘rights of the employees’: after all, a player cannot hire himself to a club not wanting to hire him. Splendid. How about racism? I will leave the question unanswered.

As for this squad and the state of Spanish football at that time, it will suffice to remind who eliminated them in the Cup Winners Cup this same year – Beroe (Stara Zagora). Now, Bulgarian football never ranked highly, the Bulgarian league even less so, and Beroe traditionally are inconsistent mid-table club, often sinking to the Second Division (exactly where one can find them today). True, they had one of their best ever squads in the early 1970s, but this very squad also faced Second Division more than once. And they eliminated Athletic (Bilbao) with ease, which astonished the winners… no drama at all: 3-0 in Stara Zagora, and 0-1 at the stadium terrifying the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona.