Wednesday, February 29, 2012

If France was showing signs of positive change, Italy remained stagnant. 1975-76 was yet another unexciting season. The Italians so far were utterly unable to grasp, let alone adapt to, total football. Juventus was the most promising team and also the strongest, yet, even this is questionable: seemingly, Juve were superior and supposed to dominate easily the domestic scene. But no… they finished 2nd. It was quite alarming, for the next two in the final table were same old, same old Milan and Inter. Unlike Juventus, the clubs from Milano seemed paralyzed – they still depended on Mazzola, Fascetti, and Rivera, the once upon a time mighty superstars, who were getting older and older. And they were prime examples of 1960s football, which at the end shaped both Milan and Inter in mid-70. The Milanese were not even real contenders anymore, yet they were still at the top of the table. Worse, there was no other club emerging with strong and modern squad, challenging the status quo. Worst – no young bright stars were in sight… The unusual champions of the years before – Caglairi and Lazio – proved to be freakish accidents, emphasizing the state of crisis more than anything – the won mostly because the grand clubs were weak, and neither lasted for long. Lazio quickly returned to its normal mid-table position (they finished dangerously close to relegation in 1975-76 – 13th) and Cagliari… the champions of 1970 were dead last in 1975-76 and Second Division bound. Meantime Napoli made an effort to challenge status quo – they got Savoldi for a record transfer fee and also had a few other strong players – but nothing really happened: Napoli managed to elevate itself a bit, but coveted championship title was still beyond their reach. 1975-76 proved to be their most successful season during the 1970s, yet, they finished behind the struggling Milan and Inter. Torino FC finsished first. Naturally, it was great year for the long suffering club: their previous title dated 1949! The years of the ill-fated ‘grand Torino’ squad. The most recent trophy was the Italian Cup, won in 1971. By numbers, the club still ranked high with its 6 titles, but it was clear for years that it was a club of ancient success. At the end, this affected even the derby with arch-rivals Juventus: it was important in token, not in reality, for it had only moral and local significance by now, deciding nothing important. Winning its 7th title seemed like revival, like opening of new era. Beating hated Juventus by two points, finishing with best attack and best defense in the league, and with impressive record of home games: 14 wins and one tie. Superb. Away matches were not that great – the team seemingly depended on the old Italian habit to play for a point. Eight ot total 15 away games were tied, but who cares when the title is secured. Champions at last! Top, from left: Castellini, C. Sala, Zaccarelli, Graziani, Mozzini, Santin
Front row : Pecci, Salvadori, Pulici, P. Sala, Gorin
How good were the champions? Well, Luigi Radice eventually became very well respected coach, but hardly capable of building a dynasty. He depended on minimal squad – the above eleven were practically his whole team: they played practically every game. Mozzini ended with least – 25 out of total 30 matches. The reserves rarely stepped on grass - only 6 more players appeared during the season, and only one of them – Gorin II – played in more than 5 matches. He had 12 appearances. Yes, it was stable, well oiled starting team, but evidently with limited resources. A single injury of a starter and collapse was imminent. As for the starters… Claudio and Patrizio Sala, Pulici, Zaccarelli, and Graziani all played for the Italian national team. Yet, hardly any became big star – Paolo Pulici is the best example: he was Italian top goal scorer in 1972-73, 1974-75, and 1975-76. He was in the Italian squad at two World Cups (1974 and 1978). But he largely sat on the reserves bench… anybody recognizing his name today? Only Francesco Graziani became relatively big – and World Champion with Italy in 1982, but by that time he was no longer playing for Torino. The champions were strikingly without superstar – Cagliari and Lazio at least had one each when winning the Italian championship. Torino had none – only a group of ‘second bests’. Which immediately prophesized the future: Torino was unlikely to stay on top. (The future mercilessly confirmed predictions: after 1976 and up to today Torino won nothing.) So, enjoy the moment and cherish the memory.
Italy was still in the dark. Torino was hardly bringing positive change, but managed to edge Juventus – the most up to date Italian team.
Second, instead of first. ‘The Old Lady’ looked fantastic – to the point there was no place for one Paolo Rossi! (Rossi was loaned to Como because of that). Invinsible… on paper.
Milan, a place behind Juventus – clearly outdated by now.
Nereo Rocco still coaching, with Trapattoni staring to learn the craft. But what kind of art can be learned from the catenaccio’s arch-priest? The past governed Milan – Rivera, Anquilletti, Bigon, Albertosi, Chiarugi… Milan was more representative of the Italian football at the time than Juventus. No wonder Torino – closer to Milan rather than Juventus in style – won the championship.

Monday, February 27, 2012

So, what was really bright in France to suggest turning point and better future? Practically, only Nantes and Saint Etienne. Nantes was slowly changing its squad, replacing aging and middle of the road players with promising youngsters. The transition was smooth and Nantes stayed among the best French clubs – they finished 4th in 1975-76. Bottom, from left: Bargas, Amisse, Michel, Triantafilos, Gadocha.
Second row: Bertrand-Demanes, Bossis, Rio, Osman, Van Starelen, Rampillon.
Not a bad team at all and if Triantafilos and Gadocha were perhaps a bit of disappointement, Bossis, Amisse, and Rio were already starters. As a whole, may be the second best squad in France.
As for Saint Etienne, 1975-76 was arguably their finest season ever. Third title in a row; 9th altogether – a French record! What could be better? Robert Herbin never stopped shaping his squad and by now it was polished to perfection. Curkovic was unchangeable and solid between the goalposts. Janvion, Lopez, Piazza, and Farison were one of the best defensive lines in Europe. Janvion and Piazza particularly. Batheney, Larque, and Synaeghel were fine midfield, and Rocheteau, Patrick Revelli and Saramagna in attack. A dream team… with a bunch of ‘reserves’, who – every one of them – played for France at one or another time: Herve Revelli, Repellini, Merchadier, Santini. And young unknown talented players like Larios. St. Etienne played a close approximation of total football, just a bit more conservative than the ‘classic’ Ajax, but with Janvion and especially Piazza operating on the whole pitch. The Argentine made mighty foreys in attack and scored goals as well, yet, was quick in returning to defensive duties. Larque was elegant, creative playmaker with wonderful vision and tailor-made passes. And there was Rocheteau in attack – only 21 years old and already a big star. As a whole, Saint Etienne played technical attacking football, increadibly beautiful to watch, for it was inventive football. It was not a rough team and although there was some iron by now, physical destruction of the opponent was never part of their game. Outplaying was and since most of the squad was 25 years old or younger, it was still a team for the future – young, yet, vastly experienced. Unfortunately, there were crucial weaknesses as well, perhaps not detectable in domestic championships, but visible when the ‘green boys’ were put to the real test of greatness: European club tournaments. Tactically, the team was not very rich and played attacking game in every occasion, even when it was not working. They also kind of ‘expired’ in the last minutes of a match: not that much physically, but mentally. Looked like they run out of willpower and it was crucial deficiency when meeting German clubs. The last problem was attack itself: Rocheteau and Patrick Revelli were great and dangerous, almost unstoppable, yet a liability – both had the tendency of missing the right moment to shoot and score. It was just a tiny moment – one more move, one more touch of the ball, one more step, and the opportunity was gone… and both were constantly making this extra touch, extra step, extra move. The end result was plenty of missed opportunities, blocked shots, and lack of goals. A big limitation, really, for Italian, German, Spanish teams were quick in defense and also never missed a chance to score. It may have been one opportunity in the whole match, but the opposition was scoring, when the French had 15 chances and blew them up all. But even with such limitations Saint Etienne were fantastically good and one of the top teams at the time in Europe. Most importantly, fans loved to watch their wonderful brand of football. Alas, there was no justice… the three best St. Etienne players never got the fame they deserved: Curkovic and Piazza were not called to play for, respectfully, Yugoslavia and Argentina, and Jean-Michel Larque was sandwiched between Michel, Jean-Marc Guillou, and the young Platini and played measly 14 games for France between 1969 and 1976. Lacking enough exposure, the three never became mega-stars. A pity… they deserved to be.
But never mind – in 1975-76 Saint Etienne were almost at the top of the world and certainly at the very top of their form and talent. And with them the change of French football really started, and so far brought some fruits – the harvest was to come a few years later.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nice, Bordeaux, Reims – the faces of the old French football, the faces of either decline, or stagnation… the Cup final added two more: Olympique Marseille and Olympique Lyon met at the final. Lyon continued to be truly a Cup club – even in the season when they came dangerously close to relegation, they were strong in the Cup tournament, reaching the final for 3rd time since 1970. Bottom, from left: Chiesa, Mailard, Ferrigno, Mariot.
Standing: Garrigues, Chemier, Lanthier, Jodar, Valette, Domenech, Baldassara.
Compared to the Cup winners in 1973, this team look weaker – Lyon was going through generational change. Chiesa, Jodar, and their captain Domenech maintained the quality of the team, but it was more about attitudes than anything else at play here: good team, but hardly one to win a championship. Raymond Domenech – remember the coach of the 2010 French World Cup team? – represents the typical approach of ‘big’ French clubs: aging stars belonging more to the 1960s than to the 1970s were preferred.
Lyon lost the final 0-2 and Marseille won their 9th Cup. Good for them. Cup winners! Standing from left: Tresor, Victor Zvunka, Bracci, Baulier, Charrier, Bulgues.
Front row: Boubacar, Albaladejo, Yazalde, Bereta, Emon.
Not a bad squad? Iron duo in defence – Bracci and Tresor. Lethal attack – Bereta, Emon, Yazalde. Really? Instead of building a dynasty, as it looked like at the beginning of the 70s, Marseille struggled to keep postion among the top French teams. Big transfers were the hope, yet, they were more the key for the failure than anything: Marseille seemed stuck in the past – big names were bought one after the other, but those were fading stars. Some were outright disasters – Jairzinho and Paulo Cesar Lima. They were gone after a year, but who replaced them? Hector Yazalde. Yes, he was the best goalscorer in Europe. Yes, Bereta and Emon were French stars. But Yazalde failed to score for Marseille and Bereta, Emon, and Bracci were former French national players already. The squad appeared mighty on paper, but not on the field. With the exception of Marius Tresor none was player for the future. Marseille and Nice, and Lyon to a point, represented old attitudes and the results were negative. Luckily, Marseille won the Cup… they did not know the next trophy will come in 1989… dark years laid ahead.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The ‘stagnated’ clubs perhaps lacked managerial vision: reliable players were recruited, but hardly great, and almost never promising youngsters, but more of aging stars, already having reached the maximum of their potential. Like Bordeaux:

Bottom, from left: ?, J. Gallice, Goubet, Jeandupeux, Holmstroem.
Top: Bergeroo, Largouet, Meynieu, Camus, Arribas, A. Gallice.
Solid names, but even those who eventually played for France – J. Gallice and Bergeroo – were second fiddle. The foreign stars – the Swiss Jeandupeux and the Swede Holmstroem – rather kept the club in mid-table, not making it a title contender. Solidity itself was not enough: Sochaux finished 3rd in 1976. Front, from left: Posca, Rust, Djaadaoui, Wasmer, Courbis, Dufour.
Standing: Soler, Pintenat, Renaut, Pfertzel, Guttierez.
Unlikely club to finish that high and with a squad even less impressive than Bordeaux and Reims : only Rust and Soler meritted something and this ‘something’ was similar to the case of Gallice and Bergeroo – second string national team players, most often invited as reserve players. Yet, a team like Sochaux was capable of equal or better performance than Lyon, Bordeaux, and Reims. True, Sochaux was not to stay among the top clubs for more than an year, but seemingly there was always a team like Sochaux to push behind the ‘respectable’ clubs. Unfortunately, this was not a sign of improvement of French football… and club finishing with silver in 1976 was not representing positive change either.
OGC Nice finished 2nd. Of course, Nice tried their best to win the championship. As a squad, they appeared to be strong contender full of stars – Adams, Molitor, Baratelli, Guillou, Katalinski (the Yugoslav star was perhaps at his best form in this period). But… Nice was steadily declining since the end of the 1960s and no matter who played for them – or may be precisely because of who was playing for them – this season was the swan song of once upon a time very dangerous and succeful club. Since 1975-76 happened to remain the last strong season of OGC Nice, let see them one more time before they plummet to insignificance: Without their usual striped shirts, but with Musemic – the second Yugoslavian in the squad this year. Looking good? Mmmm… may be. Looking good for the last time would be truer – definitely not a team of the future, but of the past.

Monday, February 20, 2012

‘Stagnation’ is perhaps the best description for three clubs somewhat expected to perform better – at least their names justified expectations: Lyon, Bordeaux, and Reims. Olympique (Lyon) was constantly among the best clubs of France, and the most likely team to become major force. But it was not happening, and even looked like Lyon exhausted itself before achieving anything: this season finished dangerously near relegation zone – 16th, with only 2 points more than Monaco. Girondins de Bordeaux were different story: during the 70s the club settled as typical mid-table club. Nothing special. As for Stade Reims, their glory years were ancient memory – the club gradually faded during the 1960s. But they finished surprisingly high in 1976 – 5th. May be Reims were coming back to life? Bottom, from left: Lech, Bianchi, Vergnes, Simon, Ravier.
Second row: Krawczyk, Masclaux, Dubouie, Aubour, Laraignee, Brucato.
The squad itself hardly brought great enthusiasm – except Lech, a former French national player, nothing much… Team for the future Reims were not, and their strong season could be attributed to the man, who cut his hair, compensating the reduction with growing a beard, but always sitting on the ball during photo sessions: Carlos Bianchi. It could be said that Reims finished so high thanks to the Argentine alone – Bianchi ended the best scorer of the season with impressive 34 goals! It was his second award after 1974 and Bianchi was to stay best French goalscorer for 4 years straight. It was also Argentinian monopoly – Delio Onnis (Monaco) was the best in 1975 and until 1983 there was no other better goalscorer in France, only Bianchi and Onnis. If the list of top scorers was suggestive for the state of French football, the picture was rather pessimistic: from 1970 to 1987 foreigners scored most goals. The only Frenchman to grace the list was Patrice Garande (Auxerre), who shared the honour with Onnis in 1984. The Argentinian monopoly was almost interrupted in 1980, when the German Erwin Kostedde (Laval) tied Onnis on top. But no matter how great Carlos Bianchi was, he was not enough to keep Reims among the best teams: in fact, Reims was going downhill.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Better, worse – evaluations are questionable. Very likely the 1975-76 season was the turning point for the French football – the dreadful years of insignificance, if not decline, ended. The tide turned for better. But positive changes do not bring immediate results. Besides, if someone is climbing up, there is another sliding down, which makes overall estimation shaky. On one hand, the mid-70 were the years of reforms, introduced with the hope of revitalize football. USSR, Scotland, Austria, Switzerland were the best known examples, but France introduced changes as well: the major concerns were low scores, stiff tactics, and increasingly smaller gates. The French approach was giving an extra point to a team winning by more 3 or more goals difference in the First Division (introduced in 1973-74) and in the Second Division – an extra point for every win by 2 goals difference. Was the new scheme helping or not is perhaps debatable, but there was no big fuss in France at the time: scoring was not exactly affected by the encouragement – Metz, 6th placed at the finals table, produced the best record of 72 goals. This is less than 2 goals per game average. As for extra points, the best number was 7, achieved by three clubs – Nice, Metz, and Nancy. Note, that the champions of the year did not lead in scoring and big wins, but had the best defense. Best, but kind of leaky… 39 goals allowed in 38 matches. Numbers alone hardly suggest general improvement. On the other hand, there was young generation of exciting players coming into maturity and a French club played at the European Champions Cup final. Sounds good… but some familiar clubs were either struggling or outright declining and there was no new name establishing itself as a major force.
At the bottom of the table finished clubs supporting critical views: Monaco, Strasbourg, and Avignon were relegated.
Avignon finished last in their first season in First Division. There is no surprise seeing absolute beginners going down immediately, but at the same time it was clear that Second Division was not producing teams able to handle top flight, let alone shaking the status quo.
Bottom, from left: Leroy, Jean, Castellan, Chazaretta, Pech.
Top: Hoffmann, Gilles, Joly, Palermini, Herbet, Louis.
The aging Argentine star Chazaretta, brought in 1975 especially to add class to the team, was not enough… and Avignon sunk back to Second Division, never to emerge again.
Strasbourg finished 19th and Monaco – 18th. Different story, although not a positive one – well known and respected clubs both, but given to wide and wild amplitudes. Unpredictable, at best… one year among the contenders and struggling to avoid relegation the next. Both clubs were joining Second Division for the second time since 1970. Strasbourg, infamously 19th: Bottom, from left: Lehmann, Wagner, Tonnel, Gemmrich, Dugueperoux.
Top: Dropsy, Specht, Zamojski, Spiegel, Deutschmann, Erlacher.
May be not much of a team, yet, having players like Gemmrich and Specht, who suggested something better than relegation. Hard to imagine goalkeeper going to play Second Division to become national team player, but… it will come soon. Back, left to right: Petit, Chauveau, Pleimelding, Vanucci, Feuillerat, Burkle
Front: Dalger, Guignedoux, Onnis, Pastoriza, Lechantre
Does it look like Second Division team? With well known players like Pleimelding, Vanucci, Petit; national team prospects – Chauveau; national team regular – Dalger; and two Argentine stars – Onnis and Pastoriza. Delio Onnis was the top goalscorer of France in 1975 – and now going to Second!
Monaco and Starsbourg are interesting case: both clubs were to be French champions very, very soon. Impossible to imagine in the summer of 1976, when the best prediction one would have made was that Monaco and Strasbourg were most likely joining the ranks of the clubs in limbo, constantly moving between First and Second Division. The freshly promoted clubs were typical of those: Rennes, Angers, and, to a point, Laval. Too strong for Second; too weak for First… Rennes and Angers were returning after short absence, but were not expected to be major improvement of the First Division. Their predicament was to struggle for survival; to play a season or two, and face relegation again. Looked like Monaco and Strasbourg were rapidly becoming similarly insignificant unsettled clubs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another big Belgian transfer in the summer of 1975 was also both lucky and unlucky: Paul van Himst, arguably the best ever Belgian player, quite Anderlecht and moved to the smaller neighbours RWD Molenbeek. It was logical move – van Himst was approaching the end of his playing days and was no longer up to the ambitions of Anderlecht. After so many years of loyalty, his departure was no big deal. RWD Molenbeek evidently benefited from the aging star – he brought class and preserved the unexpected strong position of the club: after winning the championship, RWD Molenbeek finished 3rd in 1975-76. Van Himst’s contribution was valuable, no doubt, but it was more than ironic that his former club, Anderlecht, achieved its biggest international success to date without him. Bad luck, one may argue… may be not so bad… well, for RWD Molenbeek it was fine surely.
Top, left to right: De Bree, Boskamp, Wissmann, Martens, Desanghere, Week, Lafont, Bjerre, Van Himst, Polleunis, Léonard
Bottom: Schouppe, Veenstra, Bloemberg, Koens, Nielsen, Wellens, Dumon, Teugels
Paul van Himst was still finishing strong with his new jersey, but what about his former colours? Anderlecht remained one of the two best Belgian clubs as ever. Finished second, 4 points behind the champions – for ambitious club, may be the season was not perfect. But Anderlecht confidently won the Belgian Cup, beating Lierse 4-0 at the final. The domestic Cup was followed by winning another, much more valuable Cup – the European Cup Winners Cup, about which – later. At the end, it was very successful season for Anderlecht and the championship silver was easily forgivable: the boys were strong!

Familiar Cup winners: Standing, from left: Lomme, Van Binst, Broos, Dockx, Ruiter, Thissen.
Bottom: Coeck, Ressel, Van der Elst, Rensenbrink, Vercauteren.
Well, without Van Himst, Anderlecht was going more Dutch: Hans Croon was coaching them this year, and he used 5 compatriots. The 6th foreign player was Dane – Torsten-Frank Andersen, who was generally a reserve. The imports from Holland were impressive, though: Rob Rensenbrink and Jan Ruiter were already old hands in Belgium and had splendid season. Rensenbrink was true mega-star ever since his fantastic performance at the 1974 World Cup. Ruiter got some recognition as well – he was included in the Dutch national team for the 1976 European Championship finals. Ruiter played only one match for Holland and in my opinion he deserved much more, but never mind. Ronny van Poucke was not famous and generally a reserve, but in the summer of 1975 two speacial players arrived – Peter Ressel and Arie Haan. Ressel rarely played for Dutch national team, but he came from Feyenoord, winning the UEFA Cup in 1974. Arie Haan of the great Ajax does not need any introduction. The new players brought quality and experience, making the new Anderlecht world class team. Add the Belgian national team regulars Van Binst, Broos, Dockx, and Thissen. And don’t forget the young sensations Coeck, Van der Elst and Vercauteren. So much talent… add aging Belgian player Erwin van den Daele and the young goalkeeper, who was to play for Belgium in the future, Jacky Munaron – it was difficult to get reserve spot in this squad, let alone regular place. Hans Croon was not exactly among the top coaches of the period, but he was Dutch, which already automatically ment ‘total football’. The style was well preserved South of Holland, with one of the original ‘priests’ – Haan – leading the ceremony. Rensenbrink was perhaps the bigger name by now, but Arie Haan deserves a special note: perhaps he was the best example of total football. However nominal, posts are preserved in total football – Haan was defensive midfielder in Ajax. In 1974 he played central defender for Holland. And now he was a playmaker. Changing positions was effortless for him and more – he excelled no matter what he was asked to play. This new role was not the final one either – Haan was still to play new positions in the future. Going Dutch, mastering total football – Anderlecht were in good health indeed. And, at least on the top of pyramid, Belgian football seemingly was getting better. Slightly better than Holland this year.

Monday, February 13, 2012

If Dutch football slipped a bit, their Belgian neighbours somewhat improved. The improvement showed itself largely on international level, but when two teams of a single country reach European finals at the same time, it is hardly a freak accident. Like Holland, Belgium was traditionally unimpressive league, dominated by two clubs. Unlike Holland, Belgian football was plagued by financial instability. During the 70s some reforms and tightened rules were tried, the most visible from outside was the enlarged league – a curious move, for other countries in the same financial predicament went the opposite way (Scotland, Austria, and Switzerland reduced their top leagues). Thus, 19 teams played in the 1975-76 season, a weird number, not really making sense. When the dust settled, one thing was immediately obvious: the sharp decline of Standard (Liege) – they finished 8th. Signs of reshaping were detected in the first half of the 70s, but probably this season finally made permanent the new duopoly – no longer Anderelecht – Standard rivalry, but Anderlecht – FC Bruges. With time, Standard somewhat restored its leading position, but only as the third strongest Belgian club. On the other hand, FC Bruges was perhaps taken seriously at last as legitimate contender. They won the championship confidently, with comfortable 4-point difference. Anderlecht finished 2nd, but the champions outscored them by 16 goals: FC Bruges scored 81 goals to Anderlecht’s 65. Of course, the joy in the Bruges camp was huge – it was their 3rd title so far – but there was more to it. If their winning in 1973 was shrugged off as more or less one time wonder (what else could be since there were 53 years between first and second title), the 1976 victory showed consistency: FC Bruges arrived and were to stay on top.

Or may be not… their photo is fun and the kit is cool, but how serious can be a team looking like that? Sponsored by denim jeans manufacturer? Goofy, somehow… Or may be not so goofy… Standing, from left: Mathieu Bollen (assistant-coach), Birger Jensen, Daniel De Cubber, Georges Leekens, René Vandereycken, Eddie Krieger, Ulrik Le Fèvre , Hugo Pieters.
Sitting: Jos Volders, Fons Bastijns, Roger Van Gool, Norbert De Naeghel, Ernst Happel (coach), Julien Cools, Raoul Lambert, Konrad Holenstein, Dirk Sanders.
Ernst Happel, the Austrian coach, who led Feyenoord to the European Champions Cup in 1970, was at the helm. His reputation was not just solid, but still rising – the success with FC Bruges just moved Happel higher, and soon he will be among the few best coaches in the world. His team was impressive as well, although not based on terribly expensive stars. The best known player was Raoul Lambert, one of the top Belgian players at the time. The three foreign players were lesser known: the young Austrian full back Eddie Krieger and two Danes – the goalkeeper Birger Jensen and the winger Ulrik Le Fevre. Like Krieger, Jensen was very young; but unlike the Austrian, he was not a national player of his home country. Le Fevre was solid and well known professional, who came from Borussia (Moenchengladbach). International star he was not and by now he was already fading, but his vast experience was helpful. The rest of the team was not really known outside Belgium, but not for long: some reputations soared precisely this season – Georges Leekens, Rene Vandereycken, Fons Bastijns, Roger van Gool. FC Bruges was no joke.
The season was good for another, smaller, Belgian club as well: KSC Lokeren.
The ‘Tricolores’ had checkered history, more troubles than success, and their latest move fitted the tradition: in 1975 they acquired Wlodzimierz Lubanski. The biggest Polish star surely, but what a risk – the whole transfer was based on his heavy injury, preventing him from playing at the 1974 World Cup. In Poland Lubanski was considered uncurable… which was the whole reason for allowing him to play abroad. Looked like Lokeren got nothing… but the striker recovered and with his help Lokeren had one of their best seasons. They finished 4th, thanks to the ‘goner’. The ‘goofy’ deal suddenly turned out to be a golden egg. Standing, from left: Hogenboom, Verschuren, Somers, Evevaert, Suykerbuyk, Vekkeneers, Novak – coach, Van Lessen, Lubanski, Verheyen, Dalving, De Paepe.
Sitting: Hansen, Ingels, Puis, Derycker – president, Devrindt, De Koning, De Schrijver.
Well, Mr. Derycker has every right to be so big with a lucky strike like Lubanski’s transfer… Apart from the Polish star KSC Lokeren was not much: only Johan Devrindt was quality player – well established national player, who played at 1970 World Cup and the 1972 European Championship final round. However, he was aging. Eventually two other players acquired some fame as Belgian national players – Maurice De Schrijver and especially Rene Verheyen – but it was much later, in the 1980s. Sure, there were two more foreigners, but small caliber – the Danish striker Halfdan Hansen and the Dutch defender Jan De Koning. Derycker was getting fat from Wlodzimierz Lubanski and Johan Devrindt. Mostly from Lubanski, really – one man made a huge difference. It was clear that Lubanski was a player for bigger and better club, and may be the player was very unlucky. Who knows? Communist officials rarely made good transfers and the wellbeing of the players they sold was never a concern for them. But Lubanski was considered finished and just lucky to get professional contract. He was not really expected able to play again… Anyhow, Lubanski deserves admiration for his loyalty: his recovery propelled him among the stars once again and surely he had better options after the 1975-76 season – but he stayed with Lokeren, where it was painfully clear that nothing really big will happen.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Since PSV Eindhoven won a double thie year, the Dutch Cup finalists got lucky – they were to play in the Cup Winners Cup, a rare occasion for Roda JC.
The club from Kerkrade was small an unasuming: since mid-1950s, when ‘De Limburgers’ (then under different name) won the Dutch league, there was no even partial success. Cup final was big thing in Kerkrade, and the boys used the opportunity the best they can – and they almost did it, losing the final 0-1 in overtime. Perhaps the final was more telling about the relative strength of PSV Eindhoven… the ‘new Dutch miracle’ barely clinched victory over nobodies. As for Roda JC – nobody was seeing them as uo and coming, but the modest team deserved respect.

When lost Cup final is just about the greatest success in about 20 years, it is obvious the losers were small club. And there was really nothing to brag about Roda JC – they had only two players worth mentioning: Dick Advocaat (thanks to his current reputation as a coach!) and Dick Nanninga, who gained some fame during 1978 World Cup. In 1976 both players were not making waves and hardly known, which speaks more about Roda JC’s spirit this year and places more question marks on the possible greatness of PSV Eindhoven. Anyhow, such thoughts are relative only in large perspective – Cup tournament follow their own logic and are full of surprises. When the season was finished, Ajax and Feyenoord were empty-handed, literally playing second fiddle in Dutch football. Was a sign of long-term decline?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Holland was the football of the 1970s, right? So far, it looked like solidly so… all principal stars of total football were playing. Cruijff, Neeskens, Rep were the focus of attention, no concerns. Holland was the standard for everything in football, and may be because of that early signs of decline were not detected, or at least not comprehended. The negative side was eclipsed by the positive: Ajax struggled, already three years without a domestic title, and a pale shadow of itself. Feyenoord was aging dangerously (although Van Hanegem and company had surprisingly long careers and many years yet to play – bringing with that the obvious way to decline: impossibility to replace great stars with younger feet). One after another, the superstars were going to play abroad and hardly any great talent was stepping up to replace them. But Holland was still superior on international level, where the national team was fearsome. True, Cruijff and company failed to win the European Championship, finishing lower then at the 1974 World Cup, but nobody seriously taught them in decline – Holland was established power by now. And on club level – PSV Eindhoven was the third Dutch sensation, proving that the country’s football was may be getting stronger, not weaker. If not the last year, then this year; if not this year, then the next one – surely another European Cup was going to Holland really soon. It couldn’t otherwise: just like Ajax and Feyenoord, the new Dutch powerhouse was playing fast attacking football. It was not ‘classic’ total football, but… something taken to be a new variation of total football, which, when finally ripe, may be even more exciting than the original.
And it looked like PSV Eindhoven was fulfilling expectations fast – at home, it was traditionally tough battle with Feyenoord and Ajax, who finished second and third, Feyenoord one point behind the champions, and Ajax – 3 points behind. But the Phillips boys looked much better – scoring 89 goals, the most in the league, when allowing only 27 goals in their own net in 34 matches. Also the best league record. Seemingly, PSV Eindhoven was dedicated to more balanced football, than their German approximation Borussia (Moenchengladbach) – attack-minded, but keeping strong defense as well. Doubts about the real strength existed, however: the club was not that strong when playing the European cup tournaments. At home – it was not overwhelming victorious either: aging Feyenoord, and unsettled Ajax, in which Rinus Michels was back coaching, but by now only three players from the great original squad remained – Krol, Suurbier, and Hulshof – were not exactly outplayed and left behind in the dust. They appeared quite equal to the champions, which was not the case only a few years earlier with Ajax.
But PSV Eindhoven managed to win the Dutch Cup as well – a double and their best performance so far. Considering that PSV were champions in the distant 1963 for the last time before 1975, the double in 1976 strongly suggested confident dominance for the years to come.
As for the squad, it was practically the same as the year before (which hardly helps with the names – there are number of misspelled names above. British photo of the same time simply misspells different names. Above, the third from left, first row is not ‘Rraay’, but Adrie van Kraaij. Or van Kraay? Hmmm) Only Bjorn Nordqvist was no longer in the team – the 33-years old veteran returned to Sweden and IFK Goteborg. The new foreign recruit was typically Dutch deal: Nicholas Deacy was acquired from Hereford United. Ever heard of him? No matter – he was young (born 1953) and inexpensive. Yes, he played for the national team of Wales, but that’s about everything. However, the deal worked for both club and player, so no harm done. Other newcomers were defenders – Jan Poortvliet and Huub Stevens. Both eventually played for Holland, but perhaps are better known as coaches, Stevens in particular. As a whole, the Dutch champions were just at the right age – the team was mostly 25 or younger , yet already vastly experienced. The core consisted of national players, however, almost all played second fiddle in the Oranje selections. The exception were the van de Kerkhof twins – they were increasingly becoming key players in the Dutch national team, and surely pulled the strings in PSV.
At the moment, they were the bright future of Holland, making sure van Hanegem’s and Cruijff’s legacy will be continued. The twins were athletic, great runners, and fearless. The high-speed attacks of PSV depended on them. However, the brothers differed from the original Dutch superstars: fitness, determination, will power were perhaps on even higher order than those of previous players, but the new stars were more German than Dutch – they were more physical than technical, and their creativity left a lot to be desired. They dominated the field, but crushing opponents was not the same as outplaying them. Since they were still young, improvement was expected, and with them PSV Eindhoven was seen as the next ruler of European football. Soon, very soon… The life of twins: raising together, falling together – Rene and Willy (right) van de Kerkhof carried out of the pitch, injured in match against FC Amsterdam – Rene in the 8th minute of the first half, and Willy in the 8th minute of the second. May be their sameness was what prevented PSV Eindhoven of becoming a great team.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Portuguese football was ranked high in the 1970s by inertia rather than real strength: the 60s propelled the country’s football high and after that combination of memory and expectations for revival kept its reputation. Unfortunately, the 70s were rather dark years – by 1976 all old heroes were gone into retirement. There was hope that after the uncertain period – the first half of the 70s – of changing generations Portuguese football will get better with new stars. But the expectations failed and the reason for that may have been the general condition of local football: it never had vast numbers of talented players, but just a strong group of 20, may be 30, outstanding players, concentrated largely in Benfica and Sporting. No other club was capable of challenging the status quo so far, although there were some steady improvements (FC Porto) and declines (Belenenses). At the end, how good Portuguese football would be depended largely on how good Benfica would be… and by mid-70s the team looked very promising. Once again Benfica was on top in the 1975-76 season. Sitting, from left: Bento, Moinhos, Jordao, Nelinho, Diamantino.
Middle: Cabrita – assistant coach, Sheu, Nene, Eurico, Bastos Lopes, Baptista, Mata da Silva, Mario Wilson – coach.
Top: Henrique, Barros, Toni, Martins, Artur.
I remember liking this squad a lot and expecting it becoming a real European powerhouse at the time: it was the selection, of course, bringing such ideas. The squad was brimming with talent – it was difficult to find out who did not play for the Portuguse national team here. May be only Moinhos and Mata da Silva? Just may be… the rest not only played regularly for Portugal, but almost coincided as national players – take the goalkeepers: Henrique was the regular national team keeper just 2 years ago and now Bento was prime candidate for the national team jersey. Who was number one and who the back up in Benfica? Very competitive squad, by the look of it – may be Jordao came short of filling the giant shoes left by Eusebio, but may be Diamantino will remedy that? And such competitiveness was going all the way up to the coaching stuff itself – Cabrita, who already has been head coach of Benfica, was now mere assistant of Mario Wilson. This was a team of conquerors… Benfica lost only three matches in the league, scoring massive 94 goals in 30 games, and receiving measly 20. Impressive record… the next best scoring team ended with 30 goals less! Not to mention poor CUF, finishing last – they scored only 15 goals this season, almost 80 goals less than the champions. The Eagles were seemingly ready to fly again…
But were they? After all, Benfica was not dominating the rather weak Portuguese league: they finished only 2 points ahead of Boavista (Porto), a club not exactly known as a contender, and actually a small club… May be it was just easy to beat the likes of CUF, Uniao de Tomar, Leixoes…. Sporting (Lisbon) and FC Porto were apparently weak… Belenenses, already going downhill for years, finished third – 10 points behind the champions and their squad provides good counter-point for the relative strength of Benfica: By now, a rare success for Os Belenenses. This is line up from 1976-77 season, but essentially the squad was the same in 1975-76: top, left to right: Quaresma, Sambinha, Melo, Joao Cardoso, Isidro.
Bottom: Luis Horta, Amaral, Vasques, Jose Rocha, Alfredo, Esmoriz.
Hardly a squad able to compete with Benfica, the difference of class is obvious. And this was one of the better sides in Portugal – imagine the rest. And yet Benfica failed to dominate even such clubs: the champions were not able even to reach the Cup final! Vitoria (Guimares) and Boavista (Porto) competed for the Cup and Boavista won 2-1. It was wonderful for the club – the won the Cup in 1975 and now repeated their success! Boavista and Vitoria coming out to compete for the Portuguese Cup.
Once again, black and white checkered shirts triumphed. For Boavista, the best years of their history (so far) started – the team remained strong, at least in Portugal, to the early 1980s. Very bearded squad, but darlings really – Boavista played (from what I have seen) mellow, technical football. Nothing great, but enjoyable to watch. Having a soft spot for the underdog, I was happy for them and still like them. But in more realistsic terms, Boavista was hardly the bright future of Portuguese football – revival did not come in the 70s. Not only the new stars were not on the level of those from the 60s, but they often went to play abroad – mostly lured by Spanish clubs. It was difficult to compensate the drain of talent – Portuguese clubs rarely had money for big foreign stars. It was difficult to keep them too – the Argentine goal-scoring machine Hector Yazalde already moved to Olympique (Marseille). The only big foreign name by 1976 was the Peruvian great Tefilo Cubillas. Cubillas in attack for FC Porto.
For the player, it was obvious step up on the European ladder, for he arrived from Switzerland. In terms of money, the transfer was not that great, speaking of the iconomic capacity of Portuguse football – no club was really able to buy major star or to compete with Spanish, French, and German clubs. At the end, Portugal was not able to achive revival in the 1970s neither by domestic players, nor by imports. The expectations were placed on Benfica, but it was FC Porto eventually to bring significant and improving change – so far, there was no sign of it, largely because FC Porto operated quietly. Acquiring Cubillas was an early step really.
As for Benfica… it suffices to say that Mario Wilson coached them only this season.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Crvena zvezda won nothing this year… and Dinamo (Zagreb) mirrored Zvezda: they finished 3rd in the championship and reached the Cup final. Which they lost… it was all Croatian final and the local derby was won by Hajduk (Split). Yet, more accurately, Dinamo mirrored rather the fate of Partizan (Belgrade), not Zvezda’s – just like the ‘Gravediggers’, ‘Modri’ (the Blues) were in long decline, playing second fiddle during the first half of the 70s not only to the Belgrade clubs, but to their Croatian rivals Hajduk too. And just like Partizan they hardly had memorable squad for a long time – therefore, third place and Cup final were somewhat of a success… well, the fans would disagree: what kind of success is finishing third, a good 5 points behind Hajduk? On the brighter side, the Blues were 4 points ahead of Crvena zvezda… and lost the Cup final in overtime 0-1. Bad year? Not so bad one? Almost good… the losing Cup finalists: first row, left to right: Bonic (?), Janjanin, Kranjcar, Vabec, Senzen.
Middle row: Jovicevic, Bedi, ?, Bobinac, Brucic.
Third row: Stincic, Bogdan, Kuze, Miljkovic, Blaskovic, Vlak.
Like Partizan, Dinamo had only one national player – Drago Vabec. Unlike Bjekovic (Partizan) – Vabec was a regular in the national team this year. The relatively good performance of the club may have been caused by opportunity, similar to Partizan’s – the lack of national team players was advantegous in the domestic tournaments. And yet unlike Partizan, Dinamo’s squad was more promising – eventually some (still too young in 1975-76) players became national team members. Kranjcar in particular. So far, only Vabec was a star and he was not enough for bringing trophies to Zagreb.
The Cup went to Split. 1970s were truly Hajduk’s years and the club rightly deserved its nickname ‘Majstori s mora’ – ‘Masters from the sea’. Hajduk finished second in the championship, one point behind Partizan, but with best defensive record – least goals allowed (22) and least losses – only 4. The Cup final was also tough, but this time Hajduk won over local archrivals Dinamo (Zagreb). Of all ‘grand’ Yugoslavian clubs Hajduk was the oldest – founded in 1911 – and preserving its original name. It was also a big club from a small town – Split was… well, provincial by all means. But unlike any other club, it was perfectly organized: Hajduk developed excellent youth system, constantly producing great players, and had the best transfer policy as well – it was shrowd enough to provide healphy income for the club without compromising the quality of the team. Players were sold abroad for good money, but only when replacement was available. The only revolt against the policy came from Zungul, already a star in 1975-76, who run away from the club without permission, but that happened later. For now – 5th Cup collected and everybody happy.
Another strong season for Hajduk and the best Yugoslavian squad as well. Unlike Crvena zvezda, no crisis occurred when stars went abroad or retired – Muzinic, Dzoni, Jerkovic, Buljan, Peruzovic, Surjak were still young and the the backbone of the national team already. Zungul was making a name for himself fast as well – and played for the national team. And Boljat and Katalinic were pushing ahead too. The future was bright. The present was to be envied – a model club. No wonder the boys from Split were not tempted to go to Zagreb and Belgrade.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Yugoslavia continued to maintain the strongest East European championship. Measures cannot be precise, yet, the Yugoslavian domestic football was at least a notch stronger than most countries on the continent. Partizan (Belgrade) won the title – another difficult to measure aspect. On one hand, Partizan is traditionally one of the strongest clubs in the country, the arch-rival of Crvena zvezda. On the other hand, the best years of the club were obviously in the distant past – Partizan won their last title in 1964. After 1970 even the rivalry kind of changed – the Belgrade axis was replaced by Serbia vs Croatia axis: Crvena zvezda vs Hajduk (Split). The reasons were unclear, but Partizan somewhat lost ground – they hardly had a squad as strong as those of Crvena zvezda and Hajduk for years and 1975-76 season was no exception. Hard to put a finger on anything, but it was obvious that Partizan was unable to recruit the best players. One reason was the feroucious rivalry with Crvena zvezda: to this very day the number of players who played for both clubs is tiny. But it was similar in Croatia as well – Hajduk players rarely moved to Dinamo (Zagreb) and viceversa. Strong hatred for the opposition cancels exchange. The result was a change of status quo – Partizan and Dynamo played second fiddle for years. To a point, the success of the ‘gravediggers’ (depending on sympathy or lack of it, the nickname of Partizan means adoration or contempt) was heroic and truly joyous for the long-suffering fanship. A title at last. It was not a confident win by any means – Partizan clinched first place one point better than second-placed Hajduk. May be outside factors made the victory possible – Hajduk and Crvena zvezda had too many players in the national team and preoccupation with the European Championship weakened them on the home front. Crvena zvezda was also going through change of generations – old players were steadily going abroad after 1974 and new team was not ready yet (they finished 4th). May be Partizan won by an accident, but the ‘gravediggers’ used the opportunity, fought for the title and grabbed it. Their 7th title – by numbers alone, the Army club was still the main rival of Crvena zvezda. Champions at last: standing from left: Kozic, Tomic, Arsenovic, Djordjevic, Djurovic, Ivancevic.
First row: Bjekovic, Zavisic, Todorovic, Vukotic, Kunovac.
Not a bad team, but mostly second-tier players. At the time, only Nenad Bjekovic was included in the national team and not as a regular starter – between 1968 and 1976 he played only 22 matches for Yugoslavia, scoring 6 goals. Bjekovic was mostly a domestic star and he was the top goalscorer of the season with 24 goals. His goals undoubtly helped Partizan – the champions ended with most wins and most goals scored – but still he was not considered good enough to play for Yugoslavia in the European campaign. Well, there was plenty of talent in Yugoslavia… which may be makes Partizan’s victory more important: they overcome strong opposition, somewhat against the odds. Even so, not a really great team… may be really helped by Crvena zvezda’s predicament.
As noted earlier, Crvena zvezda was going through generational change – from the great team of only two years back just a few remained: the Petrovic brothers, Krivokuca, and Acimovic. Bogicevic and former OFK Beograd defender Stepanovic were also around, but they, Acimovic, Krivokuca, and Ognjen Petrovic were due to move to foreign clubs. The replacement were talented, and unlike Partizan’s squad, were to become national team regulars, almost every one of them, but so far were too young and unsettled. Crvena zvezda was shaky and not a contender – they finished 4th, a place they rarely ended at, so it was a disaster year in a way. Top, from left: Ognjen Petrovic, Jelikic, Krivokuca, Keri, Muslin, Baralic.
Bottom: Vladimir Petrovic, Filipovic, Savic, Acimovic, Stamenkovic.
May be a disaster by the club’s standards, but unlike the champions two players were stars in the national team – Ognjen and Vladimir Petrovic. As for the rest – they were just in need of little time, for this is practically the team reaching the UEFA Cup final in 1979. Unlike Partizan, Crvena zvezda was able to recruit better talent. Ocasional slip, then… which is never an excuse for fanatical supporters.