Monday, October 24, 2011


1975 was so bleak, one couldn’t wait 1976 to begin – it was not possible to be worse and future in football is always full of hopes. And the new year materialized them: European Championship, Olympic games, the Intercontinental Coup was played again, new exciting teams emerged. By 1976 total football was no longer something played by few and desired by many – it was the established brand of football. However, it evolved in a unforeseen way: becoming tougher and increasingly lacking imagination. There was embedded contradiction in total football – ideally, it was to be a game in which everyone was capable to play at any position. Curiously, the most creative position – the playmaker (or the dispatcher, or the conductor – different names were used) – suffered from it. Soviet commentators – strangely, for the Soviets were late comers struggling to adapt to total football – proclaimed the end of the playmaker: it was outdated and slowing the game, since traditionally every ball was to go to him in order of developing attack. The new football required whoever had the ball to be able to act as a playmaker of the moment. Sounded good, yet, the observation was made after shallow Soviet performance and in the same article the absence of typical playmaker (Muntyan, in the particular case) was lamented. Was the playmaker obsolete or was he still important? Sure, teams full of stars were able to use them as passers – Holland with Neeskens and van Hanegem; West Germany with Overath, Netzer, Breitner, Hoeness. Yet, it was Cruyff and Beckenbauer who generally ‘made the flow of the game’. Especially Cruyff, who by 1976 was playing far back, hardly on the tip of the attack, but rather in midfield – as a traditional playmaker, in other words. It was hardly automatic – it depended on available players and those lacking skills and vision were able just to run endlessly. Which was becoming the modified brand of total football, endorsed by the West Germans and, increasingly, by the Dutch. Anyway, the year was fun and the crowing moment was the European Championship finals.
It was the 5th continental championship and the last in ‘traditional’ format: qualifying round-robin groups, followed by 2-legged ¼ finals of direct elimination, and 1-leg ½ finals and finals, played in one country. The host of the finals was to qualify, though – no direct participation of the organizers, who were not even organizers yet – it was a host country, decided pretty much after the ¼ finals were played. Yugoslavia hosted the finals – two cities were involved: Belgrade and Zagreb, with the final played in Belgrade at the Crvena zvezda stadium, commonly known as ‘Mala (Small) Maracana’.
It was much more interesting tournament than the one in 1972, although there was no clearly supreme team as West Germany was four years ago. The finals stand unique: not a single match was decided in regular time. The four games run into overtime and penalty shoot-out, which speaks volumes for the level of competition. For the fans, it was great delight – and also big agony, for the drama was huge and tense.
Everything else paled, compared to the European Championship, but still there was plenty of excitement – Saint Etienne and Anderlecht enlarged the number of great playing clubs. And, increasingly, Liverpool was becoming truly great. Italy showed signs of recovery as well. A good year, crowned by the European Championship.