Wednesday, April 7, 2010

And the Dutch star was also big part of something new: the opening of Spanish market. The ban on foreigners was lifted and immediately Spanish clubs started importing. The reaction was feverish: here they are, the sneaky Spaniards, buying left and right and robbing everybody else of their best players. Inflating the transfer fees too. In reality, Spanish clubs did not buy much at first – true, Real and Barcelona broke all records and immediately disregarded the regulations of the Spanish Federation, but smaller clubs bought modestly, if at all. At first only one foreigner was allowed to play in a regular Primera Division – quickly changed even before the ban was lifted, so there was some confusion as for how many foreigners were permitted to play. Part of the reasoning, influenced by the big clubs, was insurance: a foreign star may be injured, so let have a replacement. Another part was more devious – let’s put pressure on the Federation to permit more foreigners. Real, Barcelona, and Atletico (Madrid) had two foreigners when only one was allowed to play, and when two were allowed – they reacted with having three. A third part, however, was uncertainty: it was not at all clear that some players would don the jersey of a Spanish club. The saga of Cruiff’s transfer dragged for months – there were early rumors that he will go to Barcelona. Negotiations were difficult, although more or less hidden from nosy journalists – Cruiff asked for too much money and Barcelona disagreed. Meantime the star was saying in interviews that he was not leaving Ajax. Behind the scenes Cruiff managed to alienate everybody in Ajax and his teammates voted Pete Keizer to be team captain. Real Madrid stepped in and made an offer, which Cruiff rejected, stating that if he goes to Spain at all, it will be only to Barcelona. Fine, but negotiations appeared to be at impasse. So the first player Barcelona bought was the Peruvian star Hugo Sotil. Much cheaper than Cruiff too… When finally Cruiff went to Barcelona, Sotil became automatically a reserve. And remained on the bench – next year Neeskens was acquired and Sotil was again superfluous. He became an alcoholic… may be because of despair? Anyway, Madrid was not to be outdone in 1973 – they got Gunter Netzer plus the Argentine scorer Oscar Mas from River Plate. Mas repeated the case of Sotil – extra in 1973, and remaining extra in 1974 when Paul Breitner was bought. Mas played even more rarely than Sotil, but did not turn to drinking.
The halo of Cruiff and Netzer hid the reality of the other transfers: Atletico (Madrid) acquired two very good Argentines – Ayala and Heredia – but neither was a superstar. Valencia was parsimonious – Kurt Jara was hardly well known name in 1973. The Austrian came from Swarovski Wacker – not exactly a club making waves and hardly asking fantastic amount of transfer money. True, Spain got two of the best world players at the time, but the rest of the imports were not that great and did not cost an arm and a leg. Cruiff’s transfer, however, was a record: Real paid 922, 000 British pounds to Ajax…that’s loose change nowadays. Yet, Spanish market boosted transfer fees and eventually more and more expensive stars moved to Spain.
Michels and Cruiff together again. Cruiff presented hippie attitudes on the surface, but very different ones in reality – when Barcelona told him number 14 is out of the question, he simply donned traditional number 9. Good bye famous number; good morning record paycheque.
The second huge transfer – Gunter Netzer joined Real Madrid. Unlike Cruiff, the German was not a conformist. Also unlike Cruiff, Netzer was not very successful in Spain.