Saturday, July 3, 2010

France reacted to its continuous failures since 1966 with the classic remedy: change the coach. George Boulogne was replaced by big name – Stefan Kovacs from Ajax fame. Boulogne, a revered, but conservative coach, selected players carefully and gradually, preferring established stars. Again, classic formula to maintain a winning team, but France was not winning. Now, it was hoped that the Romanian, professing total football, will suddenly elevate France from its miserable station. Kovacs lasted from the summer of 1973 to 1975, and was much more radical than his predecessor – he experimented with many players, invited young and overlooked players, tried this and that, but the only results he got were critical reviews.
Kovacs failed and the stain remains. Unfortunately, football hardly ever prefers the future to the present: results are needed right now. Short of results, vision matters not. Nobody waits for years. However, distance brings more sober view (alas, without been able to change failures…) – French football was outdated in every respect and to change it, more than world-famous coach was needed. Gilbert Gress, who played for VfB Stuttgart (West Germany) from 1966 to 1970, was openly critical – French football lacked quality, lacked physicality, lacked spirit. Gress himself is a point in case: regarded as a big star in West Germany, he played only three matches for France. His original crime was rebellion: he refused to cut his long hair in 1966, and was not included for the World Cup French selection as a punishment. A trifle may be, but telling one: French football chose not to use ‘suspect’ players, did not want to change. Hair was not an issue in the early 70s, but mediocrity continued – Boulogne never took a risk. Kovacs did, but fundamental changes do not come by simply taking a risk: they have to come from below, from clubs, from policies, from stable of younger coaches. What Kovacs did was to open the national team a bit, to introduce modern vision, and to fight doubting Toms – to lay foundation, in other words. When Michel Hidalgo replaced Kovacs in 1975 the climate was already different. So, in my view, Kovacs was not useless – rather, he took thankless job.
Kovacs instructing French national players. They look at him… surprised? Doubtful? Not having a clue? Unbelieving?
One of Kovacs’s experimental squads – the team beating Hungary 2-0 in 1975:
Top, left to right: Lopez, Tresor, Victor Zvunka, Bracci, Guillou, Charrieer
Bottom: Michel, Huck, Triantafilos, Herve Revelli, Bereta.
Not everybody was introduced by Kovacs – Bereta, Tresor, Michel, Herve Revelli played for Boulogne, for instance. But during Boulogne’s days younger players were included one at the time, replacing some old horse, yet, the team was shaped around the old guard. Kovacs dismissed the oldies and placed younger players in key positions. Not everybody stayed for long – for example, this is only game Yves Triantafilos played for France. But how bad Kovacs was? Here are bunch of players Michel Hidalgo used for years: Lopez, Tresor, Guillou, Michel, Herve Revelli. To my mind, Kovacs swept old habits and provided Hidalgo with group of players open for new football. Hidalgo benefited from the fruitless efforts of Kovacs.