Monday, January 9, 2012

Changes in Hungary, but when it came to changes USSR had no equal: every season introduced new reform, only to be changed next year. 1976 was to have not one championship, but two separate ones – spring and fall ones, each with its own national champion. It was wild scheme, tailored to suit the national team. The national team? Well, Dynamo (Kiev) was made the ‘base’ of the national team officially, so in a way team USSR was to compete in the domestic league – a curious notion, bringing weird questions: if Kiev loses, is it a lousy national team? Or is it simply a case of unimportant ‘training’ of the national squad – but then what about Kiev fans? Are they to accept that their club is to play second fiddle by order? The roots of the experiment were international football – sheer climatic reasons dictate domestic season: spring-fall instead of European fall-spring. Thus, Soviet specialists grumbled for years that their players are in good form at the wrong time and therefore unable to achieve anything internationally. The 1976 was tailored to the needs of international games, both of the national team (which had to play ¼ finals – and hopefully more – for the European Championship and at the Olympic Games in the summer), Dinamo Kiev (participating in the European Champions Cup), and eventually other clubs. The last part an attempt to go in step with the rest of Europe – so far Soviet clubs of the year before qualified for European tournaments, according to the final table in late November. There was no telling in what shape such teams would be next year in September, when they were to launch their European campaign. So the spring champion of 1976 was to play in the UEFA Cup the same year and the fall champion was to be the Soviet participant in the next year Champions Cup – an experiment, which, if successful, may lead to some new general scheme, however difficult, for full restructuring of Soviet season was impossible. There was no way to move only First Division to fall-spring season – unless make it exclusive closed league: the general problem was relegations and promotions. And for 1976 nobody was to be relegated at the end of the spring season (when the Second Division was just in mid-season), but clubs were to go up and down at the end of the fall season (when Second Division was also finishing). The whole scheme seemed disjointed at best and with no apparent benefits. At the end of the year it was clear that there were no benefits whatsoever and the experiment was abandoned as every other from the last few years.
As a general observation, 1976 was a disappointment: the national team (Dinamo Kiev) underperformed, mildly said, at both European Championship and the Olympics. In the European Chmapions Cup same Dinamo Kiev was good only to reach ¼ finals and did not play at all – instead of the bright attacking football, capturing attention in 1975, the team of Lobanovsky returned to the old defensive Soviet style, with solitary striker – Blokhin. Domestically, Dinamo was even worse. At home, the massive failure was attributed to too many games and tournaments – hardly a plausible excuse, for Soviet players were still playing less matches than the leading West European players. Abroad, the bleak performance fueled new speculations of doping in 1975, for Dinamo players were more than a shadow of themselves, close to their usual performance before 1975. Whatever the reason was, Dinamo failed in 1976 on every level.
Particularly telling was their record in the spring championship: 5 wins, 5 ties, 5 losses, 14 – 12 goal difference, 15 points and mid-table 8th place. Note that Dinamo (Minsk), one of the finally relegated teams, was 9th in the spring just because of worse goal difference than Kiev. But they scored more goals than mighty Cup Winners Cup winners and practically the national team of USSR! In the fall, without international duties, Kiev played a bit better and finished 2nd with 18 points (6-6-3; 22-16). Not a great record either.
As a whole, the season was weird - the spring championship was hardly important for most of smaller clubs, for there was no fear of relegation. Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) was obviously in huge decline by now and finished last. Spartak (Moscow) was in trouble too – finishing 14th with meager record of 10 points. Torpedo (Moscow) was hardly better, ending 12th, however, with only a point less than Dinamo (Kiev). On top the picture was a bit more optimistic: Shakhter (Donetzk) was 5th, but with negative goal difference! Karpaty (Lvov) was 4th and Dinamo (Tbillisi) 3rd – goal difference decided who was to be 3rd and who – 5th. Ararat (Erevan) finished 2nd, a point above Dinamo (Tbillisi), and Dinamo (Moscow) was first – a surprise champion. Observers were lukewarm: it was noted that young coaches were pushing ahead – Akhalkatzi (Dinamo Tbillisi) and Markarov (Ararat), but some old hands were not to be dismissed – the return of Yust in Karpaty (Lvov) instantly improved the team. There was hardly some kind of new trend: Akhalkatzi essentially invigorated the traditional technical attacking brand of Georgian football. Eduard Markarov, a prolific striker and goal scorer just a year or two ago, now introduced… defense. His version of modern football was based on 5 defensemen, three central full-backs, which really a news in Erevan, formerly playing attacking game. As for Dinamo (Moscow)… lucky may be. The taste of victory was forgotten already – Dinamo hasn’t been champions since 1963! A revival? No… the ersatz 1976 spring title is – so far – the last for Dinamo.

Bottom, from left: G. Evryuzhikhin, A. Petrushin, O. Kramarenko, A. Shepel, A. Parov, A. Makhovikov, S. Nikulin, M. Gershkovich.
Top: I. I. Mozer – assistant coach, A. Bubnov, V. Pavlenko, V. Zenkov, A. Novikov, A. Yakubik, I. Gontar, O. Dolmatov, V. Losev, A. Kosmynin – team’s doctor, A. Maksimenkov, A. A. Sevidov – coach.
An old, experienced and revered coach and a squad, which can be best described as transitional – a few veterans, soon be out (Evryuzhikhin, Gershkovich, Yukubik) and a lot of promising, but inexperienced yet youngsters (Bubnov, Pavlenko, Losev, Nikulin, Parov). In 1976 Vadim Pavlenko was seen as the brightest hope – he soon faded, but others became stars, particularly Bubnov. From a distance, the squad is impressive – a good 11 players played for USSR at one or another time, but… no one became really great. Dolmatov and Maksimenkov already reached their limits and perhaps were the best description of the whole team: good, but not great and not able to improve. Strikers were already a problem: Shepel was brought exactly to improve the attack, but he failed just like he failed in Dinamo (Kiev). The champions ended with 17-8 goal difference. Strong defense, surely, but 17 goals scored in 15 matches tells that attack was not the forte of the team – 8 other teams scored the same or more goals, half the league!