Saturday, March 27, 2010

Simple facts of greatness are never simple. South Americans did not mind saying Independiente was the best club in the world, but did not think so on their own continental level. Brazilians shrugged them off; Uruguayans did not think Independiente better than their own Penarol and Nacional; Chileans very likely pointed at the final results – well, Colo-Colo was almost as great… How about Argentines? Certainly River Plate and Boca Juniors fans did not consider Independiente the best. Even from aside is hard to think them best – sure, after Estiduantes, Independiente was refreshing team. Estudiantes were anonymous tugs, having only one real star – ‘the Witch’ Veron. Independiente at least had much more impressive players – Santoro, Comisso, Sa, Semenewicz, Balbuena, the Uruguayan Pavoni, the young and talented Bochini and Bertoni. National players and future national players. Worthy squad… which was unable to win domestic title in 1973. Impressive team, yet, in those years both River Plate and Boca Juniors were in crisis and Estudiantes were declining. Even international success was open to questioning: South America had peculiar problems – traveling around was difficult and expensive, which was the reason many clubs boycotted Copa Libertadores. There was a gruesome example: Racing Club won everything internationally in 1967. The success was very costly – Racing Club accumulated so much debt, they never recovered. To this very day. To win internationally was to play hide and seek with bankruptcy. Independiente did not go bankrupt, but did not win the Argentine title in 1973 either. Who did then?
South America is a statistician’s nightmare. Different formats, legal and illegal championships, the peculiarities are endless. Between 1967 and 1985 Argentina run two different championships in a single year: Metropolitano and Nacional. The formats and the number of participants changed almost every season. In 1973 17 clubs played in standard Metropolitano championship and 30 clubs divided in two groups competed for the Nacional. Two champions, both winning berths in Copa Libertadores. But which one was the proper Argentine champion? Both, according to the Argentines. Dim witted Europeans took the Metropolitano champion to be the Argentine champion by the virtue of winning familiarly structured tournament. Thus, no attention was paid to Rosario Central, the Nacional winners. The champion was Huracan (Buenos Aires).
Huracan was and is among the smaller clubs of city bursting with football clubs. Founded in 1908, Los Quemeros (‘the burners’ – the nickname comes from their stadium, built on the site of old garbage burning station) had some glory days long ago: they were champions in 1921, 1922, 1925, and 1928. All titles came during the amateur era and after that – nothing. Their arch-rivals San Lorenzo de Almagro were a bit better known outside Argentina, but the derby was not big enough to attract interest. Thus, the 1973 title was sweet and dear to Huracan’s fans, but curious novelty for the larger world. And dear remains to Los Quemeros supporters… for it is their last success so far. Very likely not to be repeated.
However, more than intriguing squad: Alfio Basile surely is familiar name today – he coached Argentina twice 1991-94 and 2006-08. Rene Houseman, Miguel Brindisi, Carlos Babington, Roque Avallay, Jorge Carascosa, and Omar Larrosa were all national players and made up strong attacking-minded midfield and forwards. Carascosa, the left full back, had fearsome reputation. Hoeseman and particularly Brindisi were considered to be the next superstars of Argentine football. It was a squad at par with the usual big clubs, as far as star players names could tell. And the players delivered.
There was one more name – a name nobody paid much attention to in 1973: one Cesar Luis Menotti coached the champions. Unknown young coach, who had not been a star during his playing career, which ended in pre-NASL USA. Kicking the ball for New York Generals in the late 1960s was not exactly something suggesting greatness. But Menotti’s Huracan was a whiff of fresh wind of change. Just a whiff…