Traditionally, Yugoslavia was regarded for playing the best domestic football in Eastern Europe, but 1974-75 was hardly great. The hangover after the good performance at the 1974 World Cup took its tall. Just a year ago the image of Yugoslavian football was thrilling dribbling like:
Danilo Popivoda (middle, with the green shirt of Olimpija Ljubljana), or exciting moments from new derbies, like Hajduk (Split) – Velez (Mostar):
Halilhodzic (red shirt, Velez) scores in the net of Meskovic of Hajduk.
A great duel in front of Velez’s net: Branko Oblak (Hajduk) kicks spectacularly, but is denied by Velez goalie and captain Enver Maric. In the next moment this was repeated. Thrill was the word in 1973-74.
1974-75 was perhaps best illustrated by this moment from the big derby Crvena zvezda – Partizan:
Now, classic derbies were more often war than football, but in the new season it was a parody: complaints and simulations. Players spent long time pretending to be dead. Was football dead? Or was it asleep?
There were some good reason for the decline: Partizan was still rebuilding and played small role in the first half of the 1970s. After the World Cup large number of strong players were permitted to play professionally abroad – Crvena zvezda suffered most from the exodus and needed time to build new team. Others either suffered from exodus of stars or felt victims of the rebuilding of the ‘grand’ clubs, losing promising players to them. Velez (Mostar0 was raising, it is true, but they never had the means for recruiting stars and depended on their own production. It was good at the moment, but still limited in numbers, so the club was hardly championship contender. There was one more reason - organizational. There was no cup tournament in 1975. Two years back Yugoslavia organized a single year cup tournament and now was going back to the usual fall-spring structure. The transition was difficult: there was no time to stage 1975 cup competition – the spring was too short, and in the fall the 1975-76 tournament was beginning. One tournament less further diminished excitement. At the end, it was weak year… low scoring – the best average was 1.82 goals per match, achieved by Velez (Mostar). Ties dominated the championship – only three, out of 18 participants, ended with less than 10 ties. The only really attack-oriented club was Hajduk (Split) – they finished with 20 wins. The next best was 16 wins in 34 games – hardly great: it is less than 50%!
Hajduk were champions and the only brightness this year. They require a more detailed story.
By itself, the victory of Hajduk was nothing unusual – its already 8th title for the clun, which is traditionally strong – they had been good in the first half of the century and continued to be strong in Communist Yugoslavia. Why? May be because they were from small provincial town – unlike the old clubs of Zagreb, they were not destroyed by the Communists. May be taught unimportant. The other reason was that Yugoslav football was not as carnivorous as in the ‘proper’ East Europe – Crvena zvezda and Partizan took a lot of provincial players, yet, never to the extend done elsewhere, where two or three central clubs dominated the whole country. Of course, Yugoslavia was blessed with plenty of good footballers and the Belgrade clubs had more than enough homegrown talent as well, so there was no great need to pillage everybody else all the time. Dynamo (Zagreb) did not pillage Hajduk either – may be they not even permitted to use the rest of Croatia as ‘farm clubs’ for fear of nationalism: Tito’s Yugoslavia severely suppressed local nationalism. In such environment Hajduk remained strong and the 1970s were their best decade. By then it was not only the luck of having talented players, but a system was developed, permitting the club to profit and to remain strong at the same time: its youth system was great, the aim was to produce and sell abroad great players, to invest the money in better facilities and again in the youth system, and the produce more young players of high caliber. The club carefully controlled the sales, so to maintain constantly strong squad – in fact, only one player left without club’s permission during the 1970s: Slavisa Zungul, who went to USA and played largely indoor football (Zungul became indoor soccer legend, nicknamed ‘Lord of All Indoors’, but was largely lost to the ‘big’ football after he went to USA in 1977. He ended with only 14 games for Yugoslavia and is hardly remembered in Europe today. Actually, he was banned by FIFA after Yugoslavian complaint, and would not play outdoor football in legitimate league. As for his talent, consider this: he left Hajduk at 23 years of age – and he scored 176 goals for his former club by that time! In about 5 seasons. But enough of him.)
Hajduk followed a concept similar to the practice of Ajax (Amsterdam): producing great players; selling them; investing the money into the youth system; developing new crop. It worked! The club was both winning and profiting – and 1975 brought one more title.
Tomislav Ivic was still coaching them and what a squad he had! 10 national players, quite young all of them. Branko Oblak was already sold to Schalke-04 and making strong impression in the Bundesliga, but Hajduk was not negatively affected by his departure: the club had great and competitive ‘long’ squad. Rizah Meskovic and Ivan Buljan were the next in line for playing abroad, and already they had ‘reserves’ like Katalinic (already a starter between the goalposts) and Dzoni (already with few games for the national team of Yugoslavia). Most of the players were homegrown – the club rarely took players from outside its own system, but whoever they took, they really flourished in Hajduk: Oblak, a Slovenian, and Meskovic, a Bosnian, were point in case. And the biggest thing about Hajduk was that they were fun to watch, playing open, fast, attacking football. Trully amazing club.