Monday, July 11, 2011

Good old Spain was never about Second Division football… let’s oblige. According to the hype, it was about the battles of giants and superstars.
Netzer and Cruyff – the symbols of Primera. Here they are friends… which runs contrary to the fierse reputation of Spanish football and contrary to the legendary hatred between Real and Barcelona.
Well, it was between Barcelona and Madrid – in the news. Dutch or German football? Before the season started it looked like Barcelona was going to rule. Rinus Michels coaching. Cruyff and Neeskens. Lethal. Real Madrid was up to the challenge, of course, but seen slightly less strong – Miljan Miljanic, fresh from good Yugoslavian performance at the World Cup, took the reigns. Netzer and Breitner. It was exciting to speculate on how former Communist guerilla (Miljanic) and current Maoist (Breitner) will get along with Francoist Santiago Bernabeu, but in purely football terms the odds were in Barcelona’s favour. Alas, speculation is one thing; reality – quite another. Michels, Cruyff, and Neeskens were the highest priests of total football, but Barcelona did not play total football – it was more attack oriented brand of the uncromising tough fighting played in Spain. The Dutch superstars fitted surprisingly well in this envirenmont of murderous tackles and full spectrum of dirty tricks, but there was already a change: Cruyff settled in midfield and wasn’t scoring much. To my mind player like Sotil was needed permanently in attack – to score and to open space for the Flying Dutcman – but with the arrival of Neeskens, the Peruvian was permanently benched as a superfluous foreigner. Of course, Neeskens was not bought to keep the bench warm and he played well, but still he found himself playing a bit more defensive role than his familiar attacking roaming. It was not the Dutch, but the Spaniards in Barcelona – as good as they were, they not fantastic. There were problems in attack… problems in defense… the very reasons Cruyff and Neeskens took firm midfield roles and playing in a way below their own potentials. Barcelona finished third…
Just a year ago it looked like the long suffering of Barcelona came at end and new era of endless titles arrived. In 1975 it was back to normal… Barca was not even real challengers, but good only for a bronze medal. Barcelona had to wait another 10 years before becoming again champions. For Cruyff – 1974 was the single year he won the championship of Spain. Very, very little for the best player in the world. And for completion of humiliation, Real Zaragoza finished second – a distant second: 12 points behind the champions. Barcelona was even more remote.