Saturday, July 31, 2010

Up the scale a notch? Hard to tell… Sweden had reputation as a national team; East Germany did not register in neither club, nor national teams football. Not until 1974, that is – perhaps the finest year of DDR football. It is also the only success the comrades enjoyed during their existence. Back in the fall of 1973 there was gloomy business as usual – the domestic championship did not attract due or undue attention. And it is safe to say that apart from two teams, the East German football continued its lowly uninteresting presence in European football in 1974 and after. Once again, here is a case of championship without clear dominant clubs. A group of 4-5 clubs was relatively equal and the champions were one or the other, but hardly constant. 1. FC Magdeburg were one of those clubs, so for them to collect the national title was not exactly big news. However, the club is young and a result of politically motivated restructuring: in the mid-60s the lowly quality of East German football became a concern (no doubt, because of the constantly increasing quality of the ‘class enemies’ in West Germany) and it was proposed to create football-only clubs (as opposed to traditional all-sports clubs with football section) with the goal of achieving higher standards. 1. FC Magdeburg was the very first club of the new breed – founded in 1965. And because of that previous merged, split, and renamed clubs of Magdeburg do not count in the history of this one.
The scheme seemed to work – 1.FC Magdeburg won its first title in 1972 and doubled it in 1974. And not only that, but more – later.
Top, left to right: Heinz Krugel – coach, Jurgen Sparwasser, Manfred Zapf, Wolfgang Seguin, Wolfgang Abraham, Hans-Jurgen Herrmann, Gunter Konzack – assistant coach, Hans Weber – masseur.
Middle: Klaus Decker, Ulrich Schulze, Werner Heine, Jurgen Pommerenke.
Bottom: Detlef Enge, Helmut Gaube, Martin Hoffmann, Detlef Raugust.
As common in countries without dominant clubs, Magdeburg was not star-studded squad. It had 4 regular players of the national team – Sparwasser, Zapf, Pommerenke, and Hoffmann, all of whom generally emerged in 1973-74. Sparwasser particularly acquired bigger fame during the World Cup 1974 finals, and eventually defected to West Germany – curiously, well after he retired from football. As a whole, it was tough, disciplined, and excellent physically team, lacking imagination and compensating for that with constant running. Good enough to win the East German championship, although not impressively – the usual rivals Carl Zeiss (Jena) and Dynamo (Dresden) finished second and third, bith three points behind the champions. Lokomotive (Leipzig), another of the better clubs, ended 5th – not major ups and downs really in the small 14-team league. Down at the end of the scale Chemie (Leipzig) and Energie (Cottbus) were relegated, not a surprise either. As for the champions, they had the most wins (16) and the least losses (3) during the championship, but neither the best attack (scoring 5 goals less than the 2nd and 3rd placed), nor the best defense (Carl Zeiss had better one, and the 4th placed Vorwarts received the same number of goals as Magdeburg). The Cup went to Carl Zeiss, beating 3-1 Dynamo (Dresden) at the final. At the end, the East German football was pretty much the same as ever, and because of that a little doubt may be cast on the surprise European success of Magdeburg and the national team in 1974. Those were the prime years of East German doping of sportsmen. Nothing ever was said about football players, but neither Magdeburg, nor the national team repeated their performance of 1974. It was just a solitary year in the whole history of East German football. Suspect may be; successful surely.
And the Cup winners Carl Zeiss (Jena)

Sitting, left to right: Klaus Schroder, Rainer Schlutter, Helmut Stein, Peter Ducke, Konrad Weise.
Middle: Hans-Joachim Meyer – coach, Dieter Freund, Harry Kunze, Andreas Wachter, Norbert Schumann, Gert Brauer, Gunther, Bernd Stange – assistant coach.
Top: Brunner, Ulrich Gohr, Goebel, Harald Irmscher, Hans-Ulrich Grapenthin, Wolfgang Blochwitz, Lothar Kurbjuweit, Eberhard Vogel, Peter Rock – administrator.
Slightly more impressive squad than the champion one, with plenty with current and future national players – Ducke, Weise, Irmscher, Grapenthin, Blochwitz, Kurbjuweit, Vogel. Few East German football legends too: Peter Ducke, Eberhard Vogel, Konrad Weise, particularly Weise, who played impressive 86 matches for DDR. And one more famous man here: so far only assistant coach, but Bernd Stange will be long time national coach of DDR in the 1980s and Stasi paid informant under code name IM Kurt Wegner. When lustration came after 1989, Stange was fired and black listed – he cried in protest: he was not sorry for anything, the past was just alright, the present, however, was unfair and discriminatory. Bitter and unapologetic to this very day, Stange followed his moral convictions… coaching Iraq, when Saddam Hussein was still the ruler, and currently Belarus, the most stubbornly Marxist former Soviet republic.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

If Scotland had some, at least tangential, claim to glory (old football plus the fame of Celtic and Rangers), Sweden had no such pretences. Traditionally, Sweden had weak domestic football and strong national team, formed around foreign based professionals. The exodus of stars provided for unpredictable championship – no club was able to establish dominance. Atvidabergs FF lost its best players, there was no one to replace them, and another club emerged in 1974 – the champions were one of the more or less constantly strong clubs: Malmo FF
For Malmo FF it was a record 10th national title, although the previous one was in 1971 – a typical case in Sweden: the titles were evenly spread from 1944 to 1974 without long consecutive runs. Unlike Atvidabergs FF, Malmo FF managed to preserve its squad – the champions of 1974 were pretty much the same players who won the title in 1971. The major change was the coach – back in 1971 the team was still coached by the Spaniard Antonio Duran. In 1974 at the helm was the very young (34 years old) Englishman Bob Houghton. Swedish clubs were unable to keep their stars at home, let alone getting foreign talent, but hiring foreign coaches was another matter – as many smaller championships, the attempt for improvement was largely based on foreign training. It was the Spanish model back in the 1960s, but British one replaced it and, if nothing else, at least Malmo FF played disciplined, physical, attacking football. The core of the team consisted of the experienced midfielder Bo Larsson, who returned to Malmo FF in 1969, after playing for VfB Stuttgart (West Germany). His importance was great: the coach of the national team said at the time that you pick Larsson first and simply add players around him. But Larsson was not alone – another national player, Staffan Tapper (who played for Malmo FF the whole of his career), was helping him in midfield. Solid Jan Moller was between the goalposts – never a first choice, but eventually selected for the national team. Former national player (part of the World Cup 1970 squad) Krister Kristensson ruled in defense, surrounded by Roy and Roland Andersson, both becoming national players in 1974. Another young player who eventually became national player in 1974 – Thomas Sjoberg – completed the midfield line. No big names in attack, but nevertheless the squad was solid, and for Swedish standards even unusual – most of the above spent years in Malmo FF, almost never going to play abroad.
The champions of 1971. Bottom, left to right: Krister Kristensson, Staffan Tapper, Nils Hult, Antonio Duran (in front with funny cap) – coach , Bo Larsson, Roy Andersson.Top: Eric Persson – club’s director, Roland Andersson, Conny Andersson, Curt Olsberg, Christer Jacobsson, Lars Grandstrom, Harry Jonsson, Egon Jonsson – administrator.
And the boys of 1974 10th title:
Front, left to right: Thomas Sjoberg, Tore Cervin, Tommy Andersson, Jan Moller, Roland Andersson, Anders Ljungberg, Tommy Larsson.
Top: Bob Houghton – coach, Claes Malmberg, Harry Jonsson, Roy Andersson, Krister Kristensson – captain, Conny Andersson, Bo Larsson, Staffan Tapper, Egon Jonsson – administrator, Eric Persson – club’s director. Europe did not know yet who these boys were, but will learn eventually… just wait a year or two. Curiously, the future was bright in Sweden – perhaps because there were no expectations and no fuss.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Scotland. If you are Celtic fan – great season again. If you are not – boring sameness and growing trouble. Same champions since 1966 – 9th consecutive title. A double this year, winning the Scottish FA Cup and also finalists for the Scottish League Cup. Celtic too great or the rest of the league mediocre? Greatness was no longer in the books – Scottish football was traditionally dominated by two clubs, Celtic and Glasgow Rangers. Now it was reduced to one… Most of the clubs were small and by 1974 suffered financially – attendance was low, but expenses grew. So far clubs depended mostly on the gates. Impoverished clubs meant urgent sales of whatever player of talent. Scottish exodus to English clubs was nothing new, but now it was practically the only way of survival for both clubs and players. Ever shorter on talent, the Scottish League had no attraction for the players and it was only natural: there was no money. There were no strong opponents either, so a talented player actually to show his talent and improve it, and acquire stardom. Even Celtic and Rangers, the only wealthy clubs, were not able to keep talent at home. Old, crumbling stadiums were increasingly unfit neither for the requirements of modern football, nor for prevention of the new and growing phenomena: fans violence. Not long ago – only in 1972 – Rangers fans fought with the Spanish Police after the Cup Winners Cup final. Never shrinking violets, the fans of Celtic and Rangers only increased the ugliness of their Catholic vs Protestant feud. New or least repaired facilities were badly needed, but there was no money. And by 1973 it was only Celtic-Rangers derby attracting big crowds. The big clubs were increasingly unhappy visiting the likes of East Fife – that is, the most of the 18-team league. It was waste of time, effort, and money. The national team fared much better, but it was also alarming sign: Scottish-based players were fewer and fewer, the stars came from English clubs. Club football, pressured by the financial changes, set on survival – and soon, in 1975, major reorganization was introduced, reducing the League to 10 clubs. It was the fate of other European leagues too (Austria, Switzerland), facing the same sad problems: decreasing revenues, rapidly increasing costs, and shrinking audience. Bankruptcies, last minute mergers… the future was not bright for smaller leagues. At the end, weak leagues crippled big clubs as well – much evident in Scotland. Celtic’s domestic monopoly did not translate into European success, just the opposite. Scottish football was the very opposite to what ‘wisdom’ tells – if England had great clubs, exciting league, and weak national team, Scotland had weak clubs, boring league, and successful national team.
Partly because it was same-same Celtic on top, and partly for the sake of old football, on the brink of extinction, no champions and Cup winners here… Hibernian instead.
The Edinburgh club is very old indeed – founded in 1875! In a way, Edinburgh’s version of the same great religious divide of Celtic-Rangers ill fame: Hibernian was established by Irish Catholics. Scottish Protestants rooted for Hearts of Midlothian. Edinburgh’s derby is a mirror image of Glasgow’s, but on much smaller scale – Edinburgh clubs, although having occasional success, were never really strong force. The early 70s were good years for Hibernian, which experienced something close to revival. They were no good to win anything, of course, but were constantly among the top clubs. ‘The top’ tier is something relative – to finish in the top 5 in 18-team league is strong… to be 4th in 10-club league is actually mid-table… so reduced league increased the suffering of smaller clubs. Relegation zone was constantly on the minds… But it was still big league and Hibernian finished second. One last bow to the small fellows:
I am not sure of the names and there may be some mistakes…
Top, left to right: Smith, Spalding, McArthur, Bremner, O’Rourke.
Middle: Turnbull – manager, trainer, Blackley, McGregor, Higgins, Schaelder, Black, trainer, trainer.
Bottom: Edwards, McKenzie, Harper, Brownley, Goddon, Cropley, Duncan, trainer.
No big names, but some club’s legends, including the manager Turnbull – Smith, McArthur, Bremner, Blackley. As it is, good for second place and for a decline after 1975. Good old days… and a crazy dream today.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Recapitulation: football always escapes logic and common sense. The countries failing to qualify for the World Cup were a mixed bag surely, yet some were obviously in decline when others were in transition, and a few had strong club football, which did not produce strong national teams. Both logic and common sense suggest that weaknesses should be affecting the whole football structure – a weak national team should be only a showcase of fundamental flows. Yet, Liverpool, Dynamo Kiev, and Anderlecht will win European Cups soon. Leeds United, Saint Etienne, and Ferencvaros will be finalists in the international tournaments. Ujpesti Dozsa, Slovan, Derby County will perform strongly too. Real Madrid and Barcelona need no mentioning: everybody feared them even during lean years. And after all, at least domestically, Sporting Lisbon and Universitatea Craiova played well – in the Romanian case, the 70s were the best years for Craiova’s club. Now let’s take a look at the mighty World Cup finalists – if the losers were strong, the winners must be fantastic. Ah, common sense creeps in again… perish the thought.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Moments and faces of English football.

Frances Lee (Manchester City)

Willie Morgan (Left) and Jim Holton (right) – great for Scotland, just the opposite for Manchester United.

Alan Ball (Arsenal).
Leicester City’s pride.
Ipswich Town.

Monday, July 19, 2010

For Manchester United fans this season stays as the darkest ever. Finishing second to last and good bye First Division. Relegation! The name of the enemy is engraved in the minds of the fans for ever – Tommy Docherty. The louse! Of course, hardly anybody counts that Docherty saved United from relegation the year before. Dark years… only 5 years after winning the European Champions Cup – down to the nobodies. Bobby Charlton gone, Dennis Law gone, George Best gone, Matt Busby gone… and First Division gone.

Going down…
Top, left to right: Arnold Sidebottom, Steve James, Alex Stepney, Jimmy Rimer, Jim Holton, Peter Fletcher.
Middle: Sammy McIlroy, Ian Storey-Moore, Trevor Anderson, Alex Forsyth, Mick Martin, Martin Buchan.
Bottom: Willie Morgan, Tony Young, Lou Macari, George Graham, Gerry Daly, Brian Kidd, Ray O’Brien.
How bad was this team? Well, by the names here, it was better than most English clubs. Having Stepney, Kidd; having bunch of Scots, all national players, and going to the World Cup right after the season ended – Morgan, Macari, Buchan, Forsyth, Holton, Graham; having Northern Irish national players like McIlroy and Anderson; having Eyre national player – O’Brien. May be not a great squad by United’s standards, may be transitional one, but impressive nevertheless… certainly better than what most clubs had. Except for Docherty… must be him, right? True, he failed to produce results. There was one big mistake – telling one too, for it is extremely rare in the history of Manchester United – a transfer mistake. Ian Storey-Moore was bought after fierce and back stabbing battle with Derby County. Storey-Moore was much praised in 1973 as a very promising player, a future big star certainly… Brian Clough wanted him. Why ManUnited fell for inflated player is mind boggling. It was not wise move. Storey-Moore produced exactly nothing for United and is perhaps the best symbol of the weak season. Storey-Moore did not fit the traditional profile of ManUnited player and, to my mind, was more Brian Clough’s type. Perhaps going to United was Storey-Moore’s undoing, but he was symbolic for this team – inflated, underperforming, chaotic and plain lazy. Forget about Storey-Moore – Brian Kidd did not play well! Forget about Graham and Docherty too. Where were Stepney, Morgan, and Kidd this season? They were to provide leadership and seemingly the shoes left by Charlton and Law were too big for them. No character.
Sadness apart, the relegation of Manchester United at least confirmed why English championship was the most exciting one in the world – nowhere else was possible a leading club to be relegated. The big clubs were either capable to sustain strong enough squads or were artificially kept in the top division. In England it was possible any club to win or to be relegated. Fair, if nothing else.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

And more talent arriving fast: Middlesbrough won the Second Division and promotion to the first. 15 points ahead of the second placed Luton Town! Mind, those were still old days – 2 points for a win, one for a tie. 15 points difference in English championship? Middlesbrough would not be an ordinary team – they would be another pleasant surprise soon! Remember QPR the year before? Already finishing a great season among the best! Middlesbrough would be similar at worse.
Yes, there is greatness… of a singular kind: Graeme Souness. Nobody knew him yet. However, when everybody knew him, Souness was Liverpool player. As for Middlesbrough… good for them winning Second Division.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The League Cup went to Wolvehampton Wanderers after a tough final with Manchester City. The Wolves won 2-1. Again 100, 000 fans attended – Cups still counted in the 1970s.

Bottom, left to right: Kelly, Wagstaffe, Powell, McGarry – manager, Bailey, Hegan, McCalliog.
Middle: Parkin, Eastoe, Daley, Parkes, Pierce, McAlle, Palmer, Richards.
Top: Jefferson, Hibbitt, Taylor, Munro, Dougan, Kindon, Sunderland, Chung – assistant manager. Although the glory days of the Wolves were long gone, the team was good – good enough to produce hope for revival: more than reliable veterans like Dougan and McCalliog; solid and well established players like Hibbitt; up and coming youngsters – Richards and Sunderland. More than a decent squad, in fact. Much better looking than some of the cup winners from the previous years.
Another peek at the Wolves – this time the whole squad, second team and all. Golden future, isn’t it? How possibly English football would be in crisis when you see so much bursting talent in golden shirts?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Liverpool finished second, a bit down from 1973, but it was growing team getting in better and better shape. Not reaching its full potential yet. Third finished Derby County – the 1972 champions, still coached by Brian Clough.
The first three spelled out bright future – recent champions were playing strong, and expected to play even better. None was ephemeral team, just mercurially rising only to sink immediately. The were different teams too, using different approaches – the Scotish Leeds; the younger and faster Liverpool, and the magic mix of Derby, where not exactly great players were shaped into disciplined and well knitted team, capable of overachievement. Shrewd managers led all three… but not for long: Revie left Leeds United to coach the national team; Bill Shankly surprisingly announced his retirement – the irony of it! The builder of the great Liverpool retired before Liverpool conquered Europe. Brian Clough, always a maverick, quarreled with Derby’s big brass and soon left to coach lowly Nottingham Forest. Yet, unlike Leeds United, both Derby County and Liverpool had a lot to say. Particularly Liverpool.
In 1974 Liverpool had to comfort themselves with FA Cup. With 2 goals by Kevin Keegan and one by Steve Heighway they beat Newcastle United in front of 100,000 fans. The last trophy Bill Shankly collected.
The boys in red were to collect much more gold soon. The squad was already ripe and ready, growing longer and longer hair.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

England, shocked, but still preferring to dismiss humiliation as something momentary and not at all deeply troubling. Continentals were clowns even when beating England. No matter, England is the best. Who had the most entertaining and competitive League, after all? Leeds United won the championship 5 points clear from Liverpool and massive 14 points ahead of the third placed Derby County.
What a squad! Don Revie’s masterpiece, featuring 16 national players, few of them soon to delight the world playing for Scotland at the World Cup. This squad had the making of a superteam, ready to concur the world and to remain on top. Alas, no… Leeds United may be the biggest underachiever of all time. All that talent and meager results – it was only 2 English titles and nothing higher than Fairs Cup internationally. Sure, they did not deserve to lose neither the Cups Winners Cup final, nor the Champions Cup final, but lost both nevertheless. I loved Leeds United of that vintage, but sympathy (an unusual too for a Manchester United fan) aside – Leeds is really enormous failure and may be a key for understanding the continuous shortcomings of England’s national team.
Everything started in 1961, when Don Revie arrived at Leeds as a player-manager. He was more than ambitious – he started a revolution. First he changed the kit of the traditionally mediocre club: the yellow-blue shirts were replaced by crisp all white kit after Real Madrid. It was more than a hint – Revie wanted to make Leeds as mighty as Real. He was also innovative, trying to copy great Hungary of the 1950s – particularly Nandor Hidegkuty, who played a playmaker of the kind favoured during total football playing 1970s. Thus, Revie was a rare bird in British football – taking account of European football, instead of continuing the traditional English schemes. But this was in 1961, when the Hungarians were still marvelous news, although declining by 1961. Revie started carefully building his great team by introducing young players, most of whom stayed in Leeds to the end of their careers. More or less, the core of the squad was shaped by the mid-60s and from then on it was steady refining, but nothing dramatic. The elegance of the old Hungarians were never achieved by Leeds, but the tough football of Real Madrid was – Leeds established mean reputation. They were known – and hated – for verbal abuse, rough play, and readiness to start a fight. Billy Bremner, the captain, was the chief offender, but he was not alone – Norman Hunter and Alan Clarke, and most of the rest, were always ready to exchange a punch or two, and to gang on opposite players. However, this reputation existed only in England – as mean as they may had been, Leeds appeared polite gentlemen in Europe, where real meanness dwelled: Leeds were tough, yet, when compared to other European clubs, they played by the rules. They did not argue much, did not simulate, did not spit and pinch, and their tackles aimed at the ball, not at the shins, did not waste time. Leeds played open, attacking football and by the early 1970s it had the perfect squad – more than 11 players of high abilities, very well attuned to each other. Having 16 national players was more than a luxury at the time – not a single European club had that. The squad amply provided for variety without risking quality – injuries were not scary on one hand. On the other – internal competition helped all players to be on constant alert and never to slack. Changes went smoothly too – Jacky Charlton retired, but Steve McQueen took his place. Johnny Giles, getting old, was sold – Terry Yorath already was getting famous. Mick Jones elevated himself to the national team of England, but already better centre-forward was pushing – Joe Jordan. Leeds did not have a single weak post… and with all this talent: only two titles!
Talent, but not exactly English talent – both goalkeepers were not English. The other key positions were predominantly Scottish – McQueen in the centre of defense; Billy Bremner in midfield; Lorimer and Jordan in the attack. As good as the English players were, they had secondary, supplementary roles. They did not conduct the team’s play. And that was the trouble with English football – the key players were not English not only in Leeds United. The new total football emphasized positions traditionally unimportant in England – the libero practically did not exist, for English teams practiced a line in defense. The playmaker was also practically absent – English football used long passes, normally coming from the sides, not the centre of the field. False wingers, the English innovation from 1966 was no longer valid either – total football wanted more real wingers and very mobile, not static, centre forward. Leeds did not have such players, nor English football in general. Managers stubbornly continued traditional football – and by the 70s Don Revie was among the main offenders: long gone were his revolutionary ways. Which is understandable – the man helmed Leeds United from 1961 to 1974. Getting older, he became conservative. And Leeds United, never fulfilling its promise, won a second title, but it was not to be a new are… turned out to be the swan song of the potentially greatest team never achieving greatness.
Don Revie was to step down, reason says… and he did, somewhat surprisingly, in the summer of 1974. He accepted to coach England – as if to ensure that England will sink deeper. Revie, behind his prime, was not a good choice – but yet another example of the entrenched conservatism in English football. Leeds United won little under Revie and England – nothing! However, in 1974 Leeds United were mighty and still destined for greatness. Or so was thought at the time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spain. Unlike the French, big domestic championship, big money, big fuss… like the French, no World Cup finals. But the fuss! The mega-transfers in 1973! Europe buzzed about it a long time, enlarging them – after all, it was really Cruiff and Netzer and nobody else – wildly. In Spain the noise was big too... in Madrid there was puzzlement. Netzer was difficult to judge – great player surely, but the attitude? Real Madrid wanted spirited man, at least when speaking to the media. Netzer said little about ‘the dream of my life’, and even less about ‘many titles to come’. Instead he said that he was 28 – meaning getting old – and coming to Real was his chance to get real money at last. He was talking salary, not trophies. He was extremely laid-back on the pitch, which was another puzzlement: the German did not run much. In his book on Real Madrid Phil Ball writes that Santiago Bernabeu never figured out Netzer – the guy was somehow doing nothing, except for the moments when he was delivering great 40-meters long passes, leading to goals. Ball is most likely right – the Spaniards expected fighters of which breed Netzer was not. If so, the Netzer episode is a sad comment on football culture – in less than 10 years it was completely forgotten that stubborn fighting was not ‘traditional’ quality of Spanish football. The great Real Madrid had one Ferenc Puskas – a player not exactly known for mad 90-minutes running on the pitch and kicking viscously whatever is in sight. If Netzer did not move, what was doing Puskas? They still adored him in Madrid by 1974. Anyway, Netzer’s ‘crime’ was misunderstanding on a large scale – he was representing modern football when Spanish football was not modern at all. Netzer only ‘appeared’ lazy, disinterested, and immobile – he was a playmaker, a great organizer, a conductor of the game. He scanned the field, looked for opportunities and used them by passing a surprise ball to a teammate in a position to score, or, failing that, at least to sharpen the attack. As a German, Netzer had no problem with massive running, but the football was so different in Spain, that there was no point of running. In West Germany they run to find open space, to create open space for attack, or to close the space for the opposition – in Spain the running was to get close to a player of the opposition and slash him. There was no creativity, but a war. Netzer found out that running is pointless – he had to look and try to shape a shapeless battle. His teammates did not understand him and most of his passes were lost, for when it was time to run for position nobody run. It may had been one of the biggest cultural clashes in football history – Spanish players (the imaginative ones, the legend tells us) bewildered by a German (no imagination, only dull strength, according to the same legend) who wants them artistic. Real Madrid had terrible season, crowned by humiliating loss at home to hated Barcelona 0-5. Madrid finished 8th – which sums it all. Cruiff scored one and set up three of the five goals Barcelona spat at Real in Madrid. One may say that they are more easily forgiving in Catalonia, or that football infects people with amnesia. Depending on opinion, either view will do… the soap opera of Cruiff’s transfer ended in triumph, the Dutch star making sure to say the right words in public even when in the back room he was saying the opposite. It was his dream to play for Barcelona, he was saying publicly. Forget having me, if my financial demands are not met, Cruiff was saying in the closed negotiations. He loved Ajax, and not leaving, naturally. He loved Barcelona and joining it, naturally. But his public relations skills never failed him: he took sides early and never changed that – he was never to play for Real Madrid. He also new very well the order of importance: to speak of freedom is great, but ultimately business tops freedom – when he was told that he has to don old-fashion number 9 and using his favourite number 14 is out of the question, the great Cruiff obeyed without protest. No wonder the Catalonians loved him from the first minute they heard he was coming. It was very slow coming – he missed almost two months of the championship because of mysterious administrative problems. It was some nasty Madrid’s plot, as ever, grumbled Barcelona fans and officials, for in the great Spanish divide Barcelona is the eternally oppressed club, suffering injustice after injustice. When finally Cruiff stepped on the pitch melodrama ended – unlike Netzer, he delivered. Barcelona won its first title since 1960, finishing 12 points clear from second placed Atletico (Madrid). The team also had the best attack – scoring 75 goals – and the best defense – allowing only 24 goals – in the league. Real Madird took revenge by beating Barcelona 4-0 at the Cup final, but nobody in both Madrid and Barcelona really counted the Cup this year.
Life is sweet when the big cup of the Spanish league is in Catalonia. As it is only proper, real fighters do not smile much – tough men winning a tough champioship. In the great noise something was entirely forgotten – Barcelona did not play vanguard total football, although both high priests of the style were here. Rinus Michels did not start changing the way the team played, but rather used traditional Spanish habits more intelligently. In Madrid they failed to use Netzer’s qualities by placing him in the team instead of organizing the team’s play around him. Michels did not make the same mistake – Barcelona was to be orchestrated by Cruiff. He was free to play as he saw best, but the rest were to be on disciplined alert for his passes, to provide support, and to help and protect the star in every possible way. As grand rich club go, Barcelona was star studded squad, almost everybody a national player (Spanish, Dutch, and Peruvian), but the real strength of the team was midfield. Cruiff himself moved further back, taking playmaking role and no longer real striker. Asensi and Rexach provided iron to his artistic lightness. The defense was typically mean Spanish line with plenty of murderous inclinations. Sotil, underrated from the start, had his own moments of greatness now and then, but particularly he distinguished himself during the 5-0 victory in Madrid.
Sotil’s header ends with yet another goal in Real’s net. However, the winning Barcelona did not have much potential – Sadurni was already over the hill, some other players were not getting younger either. Barcelona was not Ajax, not a squad for the future, but a squad in need of improvement, shaping, and new players. Real Madrid had younger and hungrier players and was better positioned for the future. Michels and Cruiff took the Spanish league by storm, but were not capable of changing the whole Spanish football overnight. It was rather the opposite – both adapted themselves to the realities, changing themselves, but not deeply entrenched attitudes. When the dust settled Spanish football remained exactly where it was before – dull, mean, warlike game, where tugs aimed at players legs rather than at the ball, and the arts of simulation, complaining, arguing with the referee, wasting time, were prime movers and shakers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

One man hardly can make fundamental changes – real changes appear when reforms are done on lower levels than the national team. Saint Etienne was the club starting the revolutionary change in French football. Now, Saint Etienne were not some newcomers: the club dominated the French league after 1966, briefly losing ground to Olympique Marseille and Nantes in the beginning of the 1970s. It was the time when the new wind started blowing – Robert Herbin, who spent the whole of his playing career in the club, was appointed coach. True, he was close to the club’s President, but still it was revolutionary move – Herbin stopped playing in 1972, becoming immediately head coach. He was 33 years old when he replaced Albert Batteux. Battex, 53 years at the time, had a huge reputation – he coached the legendary Stade de Reims. Which was in the 1950s… telling that reputation alone is not enough: Batteux, as good as he was, was a coach of the 50s, not the 70s. No wonder the old stars with whom Batteux won the Saint Etienne’s titles of the 60s disappeared – Herbin had no use for his teammates and introduced youngsters from the club’s youth system, like Janvion. This was the first change: paying attention to the youth system, building and using homegrown players. Of course, the club was buying players from elsewhere too, but carefully – only to strengthen the team, and whoever did not fit was quickly sold no matter how big his name was. The chemistry between club brass, squad, and Herbin was obviously perfect: he was allowed to do what he thought right and his age made him agreeable to all players – with the veterans he used to play not long ago (he appeared in 383 matches, scoring 78 goals – not bad for a defensive midfielder, moved to left back in 1969. He also played 23 games for France, scoring 3 goals.) At 33, he was not very distant from the young boys and he was hip too – growing his famous red hair long after retirement from playing. Retirement? He was still in good shape for the pitch in 1974-75 season, when he played 1 match and scored his last goal. Unlike many old coaches, Herbin was able to practice the drills with the team – always bringing players’ respect. He even did not pose with suit for team’s photos – he was generally dressed in shorts and team shirt, like a player, not like a boss. 1973-74 season was his second – Saint Etienne won a double!
Champions and Cup winners. Soon everybody in Europe will know these guys very well.
Top, left to right: Repellini, Merchadier, Piazza, Synaeghel, Farison, Curkovic.
Bottom: Patrick Revelli, Larque, Herve Revelli, Bereta.
The great Saint Etienne of the 1970s is practically made already – the two great foreigners Curkovic (Yugoslavia) and Piazza (Argentina) plus 9 French national players. Most remained in the first eleven for years, Repellini and Merchadier eventually becoming substitutes. Bereta was the first sold away – but replaced by younger and better winger. After building this squad, Herbin only refined it by smart transfers. There was no need of drastic measures for ten years. In 1974 Saint Etienne were not yet the awesome team they would be in the next year or two, but they were new. The old was good enough to provide a Cup finalist – RC Lens were sharp contrast. Only a year before they played in the Second Division – something quite typical for the French clubs and French football. No consistency – one great season, then mediocrity and relegation, then coming back on top, and so on, and on. RC Lens were and are one of the prime examples. Fancy this – a Cup final just a year after struggling for winning Second Division.
Top, left to right: Lhote, Gregorczyk, Lemerre, Hopquin, Marie, Lannoy.
Bottom: Faber, Mankowski, Arghuridis, Bousdira, Elie. No big names here, although a few will be remembered fondly in France. Sturdy professionals, but run of the mill anyway. The best known here – statistically, that is – are the foreigners Ryszard Gregorczyk (real name Grzegorczyk, unpronounceable in French, so slightly changed) and Eugeniusz Faber, both Polish and former national players. And perhaps this is showing the difference between Saint Etienne and the rest of French clubs: Gregorczyk and Faber were old and well behind their best years. There was no future in them; there was no way to build a team around them. The foreign players of Saint Etienne were entirely different – Curkovic was not young, but still was good for about ten years. Piazza was young – his best years were yet to come. Unlike the Poles, the foreigners in Saint Etienne were real part of the team’s future, not just ephemeral presence for a season or two. The French football revolution had began thanks to Robert Herbin – the results will arrive years later. Almost ten year later Saint Etienne was still champion and Robert Herbin’s curly hair was still long, although only one player – Curkovic (in sky blue jersey)– remained from the original squad above. Yes, Platini is in the photo – second from left, second row. Herbin – sitting last on the right still looks like one of the boys.

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.