Saturday, March 3, 2012

The sorry state of Italian football was further displayed at the Cup tournament. Unlikely clubs reached the final and although it is ever exciting to see unfamiliar faces and small boys challenging giants, the inability of the so-called giants to eliminate small fry is perhaps more informative: it was not heroic small clubs fighting their way, but rather weak and clueless ‘giants’, no longer distinct from anybody else. Napoli and Verona met at the final.
Back then, saying ‘Verona’ was clear enough – today clarification is needed: it was Hellas Verona, not Chievo Verona, currently playing Serie A. Hellas were known only as name, one of the ‘also run’ clubs in Italian premier football. It was ‘known’ as one of the least exciting Italian clubs, which speaks volumes for the class of the team, since there was no exciting football in Italy to begin with. No need to say Hellas Verona never won anything in their history – 1975-76 was their best season ever. True, they fought for survival in the league, as usual – finishing 11th, but only a point above relegated Ascoli (14th). They excelled in the Cup – eliminating Torino and Inter on the road to the final. Lowly Hellas eliminated the season’s champions! How heroic!
Heroic, indeed! This was not a squad of noticeable players. Reaching the final was fantastic, but… the lack of class showed exactly when mattered most: they lost 0-4.
Napoly triumphed with the Cup.
When it comes to Napoli, the shadow Maradona’s period casts practically obliterates everything else. True, until the arrival of Maradona Napoli hardly anything to boast about, but meager success is usually well remembered just because it is rare… until 1975-76 Napoli managed to win the Italian Cup once, in 1961-62, and that was the grand total of trophies collected. Normally, one of the middle of the road Italian clubs, on the modest side. But ambitions grew in the 1970s and eventually the club acquired some star players, topped by the sensational transfer of Beppe Savoldi, with the ambition to win something at last. Results improved, yet, hopes never really materialized… Napoli failed to become one of the ‘big boys’; came short of winning a championship; and appeared to be better situated then usual just because Italian football was in crisis. In the European club tournaments Napoli was especially unremarkable – even during the years of Italian mediocrity, Napoli managed to present itself more mediocre than other clubs. Anyway, those were relatively strong years for Napoli and their crown performance was the Cup final in 1976 – they comfortably won 4-0 and got their second Cup.
Cup at last! Standing, from left: Pogliana, Bruscolotti, Carmignani, Burgnich, La Palma, Orlandini
Front row: Braglia, Esposito, Savoldi, Juliano, Massa.
Hellas Verona may have been particularly weak opponet, but still this team deserves remembering! Savoldi, Juliano, and Burgnich. May be Beppe was not worth the money spent for him, but still he was one of the brightest Italian strikers in the 1970s. Juliano was may be unlucky – caught between two different generations and playing styles, he did not play a lot for the Italian national team, but was very well respected player nevertheless. As for Burgnich, he was a big star – constant part of the Italian national team of the 1960s, and iron defender. By mid-70s he was getting dangerously old, but still was reliable. A single Cup may be not much, but it was fine triumph for stars playing for relatively small club. Of course, this squad is no match for Maradona and company, but they were second – and last – to win anything for Napoli before Maradona arrived.
Anyhow, 1975-76 season was more or less beggars’ banquet. Which is fun, no matter how good or bad local football is.