Monday, March 5, 2012

Italy continued to struggle, but may be Spain was improving? It was supposed to be so since the lifting of embargo on foreign players. Well, the aura of Spansih rich sharks, swallowing international talent was present… not supported by results. Spanish clubs continued to fail in Europe. The national team was no better. Big money bring big players was mostly a myth, for contrary to popular opinion few top stars were brought to Spain – the myth was based largely on Crujff, Neeskens, Netzer, and Breitner. In reality, Spanish clubs shopped largely in South America and not necessarily the most famous. There were no English and Italian players in Spain, for instance. Very few Germans and Dutch stars. Even the usual European suppliers – Yugoslavia and Sweden – were barely represented. Spanish clubs showed lack of vision: younger talent was practically undetected – the prime example is Platini, who was already noted around Europe and should have been a focus of interest. Young and cheap (he still played for lowly Nancy – a bargain to buy), no Spanish club wanted him. The whole Spanish attitude seemed wrong: total football was not employed and there was no building for the future – Spanish football appeared stuck in the 1950s and early 1960s: a star player plus hard working rest of the team was considered enough. But even stars were trickling in numbers: the big 1975 transfers were only two. One was Johnny Rep, joining Valencia. Looked like ambitious attempt of the club to challenge Real and Barcelona… but if the length of hair was still an indication of greatness, the sight of short-cropped Rep was rather ominous. Valencia, with the biggest buy of 1975: no longer long haired Johhny Rep at the far left of first row. Salif Keita was still in the team – collecting grievances against the club and its supporters, and quite over the hill… The new Dutch superstar scored 14 goals in his first season, helping Valencia to… not the title, but 10th place!
The second big transfer was not a player at all, but a coach… Rinus Michels was sacked for failing to duplicate the title of 1974, and was replaced by Hennes Weissweiler. By now, the German was considered the leading coach in the world – he built the fantastic Borussia (Moenchengladbach) and its peculiar brand of of almost reckless attacking football. What the Barcelona brass was thinking? Michels failed to convert Barcelona into total football, actually conforming to the usual gritty Spanish style. How Weissweiler would be different? Observers were immediately critical: they pointed out that Weissweiler and Cruyff are ill-matched and clash of egos was imminent. They pointed out that the style favoured by Weissweiler was entirely alien the a team schooled by Michels and particularly to the Dutch stars of Barcelona. German coach and Dutch players seemed a combustive mix after the 1974 World Cup final.
The protagonist appeared quite benevolent and optimistic at first – at least in public.
It was somewhat cautionary and cool, but positive nevertheless: Weissweiler said he was not going to change the ‘Dutch’ style of Michels. Cruyff was a bit more obscure: ‘I think I am in my best form again.’ Both were confident that Barcelona will win the title. PR was fine… Perfect picture of friendship: Bertie Fogts visiting former fows Cruyff and Neeskens and former coach Weissweiler. All smiles, Fogts and Cruyff next to each other – perfect photo. Fogts praised the ‘new’ Barcelona: according to him, Barcelona was playing football previously undreamed of. Right…
Except, the picture brought vile thoughts as well: may be Barcelona was needing Bertie Fogts and not Dutch stars?