Wednesday, September 7, 2011

As ever, the ‘real thing’ was the European Champions Cup and there was little alarm at first – it started ‘naturally’, that is, the expected winners were winning. It was kind of boring beginning, although the fun was to start at later stage. Or so was thought. There was a little personal disappointment: my Levski was paired with Ujpesti Dosza at the first round. Since hope never dies, the atrocious spring season of Levski was to be put aside and better game was surely to be played at the beginning of the new season. The Hungarians were seen as beatable… until they arrived in Sofia and destroyed clueless Levski. Grieve aside, Ujpesti Dosza looked pretty impressive – mobile, fast, confident, playing total football most of the time.
Ujpesti Dosza: top, left to right: Adam Rothermel, Jeno Kellner, Laszlo Fekete, Laszlo Fazekas, Antal Dunai, Ferenc Bene, Laszlo Nagy, Karoly Szigeti.
Sitting: Endre Kolar, Laszlo Harsanyi, Andras Toth, Endre Dunai, Jozsef Horvath, Sandor Zambo, Peter Juhasz.
Entirely different team from hopeless Ferencvaros seen against Dinamo Kiev in the spring of 1975. The Lilacs were the right combination of experience and youth, they had no weak position, and even their reserves were strong. In the fall of 1974 Ujpesti Dosza looked very promising: after the great World Cup, football apparently continued to develop in the right way and here was evidence - more and more teams were embracing total football. Which was a promise for competitive fun… not to materialize. The Hungarians were eliminated quickly at the 1/8 finals, losing both legs to Leeds United. The whole tournament continued in this predictable way – the favourites progressing, no surprises, and nothing really new emerging. It was rather routine process, in which something else eventually was noticed: the favourites were winning, but not confidently. They struggled. And struggled not that much because of worthy opposition, but because there was something wrong with them. By the ¼ final stage it was painful: Ararat (Erevan, USSR), Ruch (Chorzow, Poland), and Atvidabergs FF (Sweden) reached it, but by the lucky chance of drawing lesser opponents – none of the three was a revelation. They were promptly eliminated, yet, the mighty favourites going ahead did not impress. Bayern even lost the second leg to Ararat 0-1. The final four were easily assessed and after the first ½ final leg it was not a prediction, but a certainty:
Beckenbauer vs Cruijff. Not because Bayern and Barcelona were great – both clubs had mediocre season so far – but because there was nobody else and at the end the best players in the world were the whole difference. Bayern extracted 0-0 tie visiting Saint Etienne (France) and Barcelona managed 1-2 loss visiting Leeds United. The second legs were no brainer…
In a way, the snowy pitch at St. Etienne symbolized the season: tough and gritty, without smiles and happiness. The Germans had to use even Muller in defense, but Maier, Beckenbaure, Schwarzenbeck, and – yes, laughable defender Muller – were able to survive the assaults of Herve Revelli and company. The same was envisioned in the other ½ final as well.
Bayern won 2-0 in Munich, but Cruijff and his Spanish tugs met their match in Barcelona… Leeds United, highly versed in tuggish and tough fighting managed 1-1 and went to play the final. What a collapse in a less than an year time… managed by the creator of total football and having two of the archpriests of the style – Cruijff and Neeskens – Barcelona showed classic boring Spanish football and was gone. No better in the domestic championship either… which was the case of Bayern and Leeds as well. The finalists were midtable clubs…