Wednesday, December 15, 2010

There are teams with special aura; teams always feared and considered favourites, no matter their current form. Argentina is such a team, but by 1974 it was a special case, because the gaushos never won anything at the world stage. They were the second strongest South American country, and always ranked among the strongest world teams – the one, which may burst into winning at any moment. And since they failed to qualify for the 1970 World Cup, now, in 1974, they were certainly coming back with a vengeance.
But by 1974 Argentina was in deep crisis – the country was between military dictatorships: one just ended in 1973, and democracy was greeted with escalating Leftist terrorism. Which irritated the men in uniforms (a new Junta came to rule in 1976). The economy was in shambles and the country was already in chaos. What was left, was football.
Well, not quite: Argentine football was slumping in deeper and deeper crisis for more than ten years. It was not entirely separated from the state of the society, yet had its own peculiarities having nothing to do with larger social unrest. Bir part was the club structure: well before 1974 almost all Argentine clubs should have been bankrupted and folded for good – if they were normal football clubs. Every club was indebted with astronomical sums and none was able to repay even a fraction for years. Worse, international success proved to be suicidal – the prime example is Racing Club (Avallaneda), which never recovered financially from… winning Copa Libertadores in 1967. Not until mid-1990s, when it became the first privately owned club in Argentina – and practically a brand new club, for the transformation from public into private club did not include the debts. The trouble with the clubs was they not strictly speaking sports clubs, but something similar to North American community centers: public structures, providing various facilities and services to the surrounding neighbourhoods. The football section, although keeping professional team, and guzzling enourmous amounts of money, was structurally equal to, say, old ladies crochet section. It was very old structure, particularly strengthened during the rule of Peron in the mid-1940s. No politician dared touch football clubs, because touching them meant immediate repercussion from larger society: after all, closing football club meant closing more general services as well. And the clubs remained, accumulating more and more debts and ever short on cash. Which led to frequent strikes by unpaid for months players and by 1974 there were even more weird events: at least on one occasion regular match was not played, because bank’s officials came and ‘ceased’ the whole squad – the only material possession of the debtors. And the best time to ‘collect’ debts was before a game, when the ‘collateral’ was in one peace in the dressing room. No wonder Argentine players were massively moving to play abroad.
In 1972 ‘El Grafico’ estimated about 293 Argentines playing in 23 countries - from Chile to Canada, and from England to Turkey.
The numbers given by one of the greatest football magazines in the world are suspect, indicated by Bulgaria given as Tirkay on the map. The Uruguayans immediately objected the meager 3 Argentines in their clubs, given by ‘El Grafico’ – they said there were about 23 Argentines in Uruguay, only aggravating the reliability of the information. Which is immencely difficult to prove, for one can hardly find any foreign names in Greece, Turkey, and England at the time; Italy and Spain officially did not import foreign players; and as far as USA and Canada are concerned, it was never sure whether a player was a temporary hired hand, or genuine immigrant, intending to stay for good. Since most players were not recognizable names in the sport, most were considered local players in their new lands: ‘oriundi’ of one nationality or another; assuming citizenship and new names (most likely the case in Greece); or economic and political émigrés, making a living from football in countries short on talent, like USA and Canada. But even with reservations, the exodus was huge and alarming, especially when Argentina briefly included a Paraguayan born – and naturalized Argentine – player in the national team. Talent was seemingly drying at home… and, with that, the ever irritating question were foreign-based players to be included in the national team? They were, thanks to the domestic shortage.
The qualifying campaign was successful this time, unlike the one four years ago, but nobody was happy with the team coached by one of the biggest worldwide stars in late-1950s-early 1960s: Omar Sivori. Nothing helped the coach, even the European tour in 1973, which, at least in Europe, got plausible reviews. Sivori was sacked and new coach was hired for the World Cup: one Vladislao Wenceslao Cap.
‘El Polaco’ was unknown in 1974 and even less today, but he was a former national player, part of the Argentine squad at the 1962 World Cup. As a coach, he seemed less adventurress than Sivori, who tried many players, both domesticly and foreign based. Cap settled on well known veterans, some, like Perfumo, were part of the ill-rememberd Argentine 1966 World Cup team; some promising youngsters; and some,who appeared to be in good at the time. The last portion of the team was a mixture of domestic and ‘foreigners’ – Hugo Bargas (Nantes), Ruben Ayala and Ramon Heredia (Atletico Madrid), and Hector Yazalde (Sporting Lisbon, Portugal) were of this category, especially Yazalde, who was unlikely to be called for national duty, if not winning the Golden Boot exactly then. It was a suspect squad, seemingly not based on tactical reasoning, but just a bunch of players in good current form. Cap thought otherwise and stated so – he was the only coach in 1974 to announce defensive tactic – even the Italians did not dare to say openly they were playing defensive game by that time. To Cap, modern football was strictly defensive affair: fortify the defense and if you get occasional chance for counter-attack – good, but not essential. Cap went on record saying that ‘Attacking football is a suicide’. What was the role of Ayala, Yazalde, and Kempes in the team was mystery to all, may be most to the strikers. So far, so good: Argentina was coming to West Germany to stay in their own half, but the imbedded problems of Argentine football protruded once again to the front lines. The team was to fly to Europe on May 4 and the departure was postponed – the players striked, demanding better payment and clarity about it. Negotiations took place, solved at last, and team arrived in Europe on May 12.
Head coach: Vladislao Cap
No. Pos. Player DoB/Age Caps Club
1 GK Daniel Carnevali 4 December 1946 (aged 27) 2 Las Palmas
2 FW Rubén Ayala 8 January 1950 (aged 24) Atlético Madrid
3 MF Carlos Babington 20 September 1949 (aged 24) Huracán
4 FW Agustín Balbuena 1 September 1945 (aged 28) Independiente
5 DF Ángel Bargas 29 October 1946 (aged 27) Nantes
6 MF Miguel Ángel Brindisi 8 October 1950 (aged 23) Huracán
7 DF Jorge Carrascosa 15 August 1948 (aged 25) Huracán
8 MF Enrique Chazarreta 29 July 1947 (aged 26) San Lorenzo
9 DF Rubén Glaria 10 March 1948 (aged 26) San Lorenzo
10 DF Ramón Heredia 26 February 1951 (aged 23) Atlético Madrid
11 MF René Houseman 19 July 1953 (aged 20) Huracán
12 GK Ubaldo Fillol 21 July 1950 (aged 23) River Plate
13 FW Mario Kempes 15 July 1954 (aged 19) Rosario Central
14 DF Roberto Perfumo 3 October 1942 (aged 31) Cruzeiro
15 FW Aldo Poy 14 September 1945 (aged 28) Rosario Central
16 DF Francisco Sá 25 October 1945 (aged 28) Independiente
17 MF Carlos Squeo 4 June 1948 (aged 26) Racing Club
18 MF Roberto Telch 6 November 1943 (aged 30) San Lorenzo
19 MF Néstor Togneri 27 November 1942 (aged 31) Estudiantes
20 DF Enrique Wolff 21 February 1949 (aged 25) River Plate
21 GK Miguel Ángel Santoro 27 February 1942 (aged 32) Independiente
22 FW Héctor Yazalde 29 May 1946 (aged 28) Sporting CP
An early Gaucho version: top, left to right: Carnevali, Guerini, Brindisi, Houseman, Heredia, Correa, Fillol, Ghiso, Pernia, Sanchez.
Bottom: Telch, Babington, Avallay, Chazarreta, Ponce, Alonso, Wolff, Ayala, Esposito, Rosl.
Well, here are those who conquered West Germany in 1973, but Guerini, Ghiso, Pernia, Sanchez, Avallay, Ponce, Esposito, Rosl, and the Paraguayan born Correa were not coming back in 1974. Cap’s selection included 6 foreign based players, but otherwisewas a mixed bag. River Plate and Boca Juniors were practically not represented – only 2 River Plate players were included – and if the giants were not in good shape at the time, it is strange that Independiente was not better represented. Cap included only 2 players from the best club in South America, if not in the world! On the other hand ‘El Polaco’ included 3 players of Huracan and 3 from San Lorenzo , which were the best domestic clubs in 1973-74, but the choice was weird, given how tactically different those clubs were. What was the point of including Huracan’s players, coached by attacking minded (yet unknown to the world) Cesar Menotti, if you want defensive game? Rag-tag selection, but Argentina was seen as one of the favourites, capable at least of going to the second round. In Group 4 they were ranked second after the Italy. Solid number two and who knows what may come later.
But Argentina contributed to the visual revolution of 1974 – they used unusual numbers – the striker Ayala had number 2, the central defenseman Heredia played with number 10, midfielder Babington was number 3, another striker, Balbuena was number 4, and with number 9 played Glaria, a defenseman. And finally Ruben Ayala was the player with longest hair at the World Cup – 45 centimeters long. It was curious display of frivolity by the arch-conservative team, but was it going to win games? Alonso and Brindisi were considered the stars making the winning difference.