Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Different in Belgium: after all the ‘Red Devils’ missed the World Cup by a split hair. Never lost a match; not receiving a single goal in their net. Unlike other countries, Belgium was not really in crisis, but in transition. A small country, Belgium never had the luxury of large pool of players, but always had enough at hand to play spirited football. Similarly to many other countries, Belgian football was dominated by two clubs – RSC Anderlecht (Brussels) and Standard (Liege) – where the best players always ended. Anderlecht were among the best European clubs for years, although so far did not win any European trophy. Belgian football traditionally depended on foreign talent to supplement small domestic pool, allowing more foreigners than most importers, predominantly Dutch and Scandinavians. The system worked well enough, but change of generations was a natural problem. And the early 1970s were exactly that: one generation was stepping down, but new one was not yet ripe. Hence, transitional period, when failure to reach World Cup finals was disappointing, but not the end of the world. Anderlecht won the title once again – status quo recovered after the surprise champions FC Brugge the year before. Or so it looked like for the moment.

Anderlecht, smiling champions under the clouds:
Top, left to right: Braems – coach, Heylens, van Binst, Barth, Coeck, Broos, van Himst, de Bolle, Ruiter.
Bottom: Ladynszki, Dockx, Verheyen, van der Elst, Deraeve, Volders, de Nul, Rensenbrink, Edjerstedt. The squad had plenty of Belgian national players, however, most were yet to really establish their names. The real star – Paul van Himst – one of the greatest players of the 1960s, was getting old and thus the prime example of the transitional state of Belgian football – he was of the departing generation and the younger one was not settled yet. They would eventually, and van Binst, Coeck, Broos, Dockx, van der Elst will soon be familiar names around Europe. Not in 1974, though. This team had plenty of foreign players too – both goalkeepers were Dutch, Jan Ruiter and Leendert Barth. The left winger was also Dutch – one Rob Rensenbrink, already well established player in Belgium, but during the World Cup 1974 he was to become world famous star. Another World Cup guy tended to Anderlecht’s attack – Inge Edjerstadt, national player of Sweden , who participated in both 1970 and 1974 World Cups. A new right winger was acquired in 1973 from Feyenoord (Holland) – Attila Ladynszky, a Hungarian defector and technically a stateless person because of that. Unlike Zoltan Varga and Antal Nagy, he never played for the national team of Hungary, and was practically unknown. Thus, he was saved from venomous articles in the Eastern European press, but was not forgotten – he was not able to travel to Eastern European countries, a handicap for Anderlecht, if they had to meet Communist clubs in the European tournaments. Ladynszky defected in 1971 and for unknown player he made very good career in the West – starting in Rot-Weiss (Essen, West Germany), moving to Feyenoord (Rotterdam), than to Anderlecht, and ending in Spain, where he played for Real Betis (Seville) from 1975 to 1978 and is remembered fondly by the fans. Anderlecht had already a strong squad in 1973-74, with a core of players who only got better in the next years. Eventually, they improved the national team and restored its better position at the end of the 1970s. But transitional years are shaky time at best: the Belgian Cup was won by Waregem, smaller and never great club, which is not existing anymore, suffering the fate of small Belgian clubs – mergers. Unknown yet was the other part of transitional years – FC Brugge was improving, but still not a strong force; Standard was declining, which was to last.