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.