Monday, January 10, 2011

West Germans celebrating – Schon is about to cut the cake; Hoeness, Muller, and Maier waiting for their share. Fun, games, and no worries.
Jumping ahead, from today’s standpoint it could be said that total football indeed succeeded – today’s game is an evolution of it. But how different from the original! It is rather sad that ‘total football’ is the last – so far – big innovation in the game. It is also sad how quickly the original deteriorated into the ugly football of the 1980s. Nobody envisioned such direction in 1974 – nobody, except Kaiser Beckenbauer. When the West German football authorities were busy smiling and celebrating, Kaiser Franz called alarm: in his view, there was no new talent in the country and urgent measures had to be taken to develop it. He was right: German training already was set on producing robots. Total football was interpreted as excellent fitness and capability of playing any post, but not as artistic improvisation. Already there were signs, if there was anybody to read them: Helmut Schon introduced and increasingly played too quite different from Beckenbauer, Netzer and Co. players – Bernhard Cullmann and Heinz Flohe, nominal midfielders from FC Koln. On the surface, both fulfilled the basic requirements of total football – always fit, disciplined, capable of playing at any required position, very reliable, and able to follow tactical directions to the letter. But neither had any spark – both were bland, lacking imagination and compensating limited technical skills with vigor and physicality.They never disappointed, but did not shine either. They were hard to distinguish from many other similar players, they were hard to remember. But they were always ready and fought from beginning to end. When the team was playing good, they played good. When the team was struggling, they were not the boys lifting it up and improving it. They were fighters alright, but never great memorable players. Yet, it turned out that Flohe and Cullmann – not Beckenbauer and Netzer – were the prototypes of the future: what total football promised in 1974 became fast robotic game played by undistinguished players by the end of the 70s. This kind of dependable robotic game was already protruding as the dark side of total football. Flohe played 39 games for West Germany, scoring 8 goals, between 1970 and 1978. Cullmann appeared in 40 games, scoring 6 goals, between 1973 and 1980. Even the numbers of the early robots are the same… and they were followed by an army of their kind. Beckenbauer sensed that in 1974 and sounded the alarm. But nobody listened… it was time for celebrations. The future was bright! The Kaiser imagined things… ominously, the celebrations produced revolt: Breitner and Netzer were outraged and quit the national team in 1975. The whole thing started with old-fashioned discrimination: at one official reception the Federation invited the wives of the national players, but girlfriends of the bachelors were left out. It was ‘improper’, the old brass argued. The rebels saw more than offensive old-style morals - they saw administration incapable of change and therefore incapable of developing football in progressive direction. The players announced their refusal to play for West Germany, opening room for more Cullmanns and Flohes… which were only to increase, because the champions of 1974 were practically of one generation, getting old and retiring from football, or at least some high level football. But West Germany was the best model to follow and by the end 70s Holland was producing players similar to Cullmann and Flohe, not to Cruyff and Neeskens. Total football was strangled almost at birth – to a point, it reached its brightest moment in 1974 and… died. After this year it was something else, called ‘total football’ by inertia.
But enough of the future! The 1974 World Cup was great – perhaps one of the best ever. To me personally it is the most innovative and entertaining ever played, but I am biased. The more objective point would be that after the championship ended it was mostly praised and considered important in development of the sport. It did trigger coaching, training, and playing changes.