Saturday, June 30, 2012

FA Cup final opposed Liverpool and Manchester United. It was more interesting duel, for Liverpool were the kings of England and Manchester United looked recovered and charging back to regain its leading place. Another 100 000-strong crowd furiously supporting their teams at Wembley, May 21st. Another tough, difficult game played to the last second.

Clemence, Neal, Jones, Smith, Kennedy, Hughes, Keegan, Case, Heighway, Johnson (Callaghan), McDermott faced Stepney, Nicholl, Albiston, McIllroy, B. Greenhoff, Buchan, Coppell, J. Greenhoff, Pearson, Macari, Hill (McCreery). Bob Paisley vs Tommy Docherty. Liverpool seemingly had the edge – they were in their prime when Manchester United appeared still unfinished, a team for the future, not quite the 'real thing' yet. But cup tournaments follow their own logic and in England names mean nothing. Person gave the lead to United in the 50th minute. Case equialized two minutes later. Then in the 55th minute Lou Macari shot, the ball arced over Clemence, ricocheted on Jimmy Greenhoff's chest and went into the net. No more goals were scored to the final whistle and Manchester United won the Cup.

The winning goal may have been a lucky one, but who cares when the ball ends in the net.
Lucky or not, the second goal led to Manchester United smiling with the Cup. Sorry, I am ManUnited fan and somehow never warmed to Liverpool, so to hell with cool objectivity: we won, what glorious moment!

To hell with objectivity from another quarter: six weeks after winning the FA Cup Tommy Docherty was sacked. Here he is smiling victorious... little he knew he had to take off the red shirt.

Here they are – Cup winners. Manchester United was coming back – not a bad squad, but rebuilding was not finished yet. At least the direction was right and a trophy did not hurt at all. The only trophy for the whole decade...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Champions are champions, but cups counted much in England. The League Cup final was an unusual thrill: Aston Villa and Everton were the finalists. Was Aston Villa to repeat its 1975 success? Or Everton was to lift the coveted trophy? 100 000 fans came to Wembley on March 12, 1977. Nobody prevailed – the match ended 0-0. Replay on March 16 at Hillsborough resolved nothing as well: Kenyon gave the lead to Aston Villa in overtime, but Latchford equalized and that was that: 1-1. Third match was played at Old Trafford on April 13th. It went to overtime too, but at last one team managed to win – Aston Villa scored 3 goals (Little – 2, and Nicholl) to Everton's two (Latchford and Lyons). The sheer drama cancels any questions about the quality of the game: three matches, every one going to overtime, until one team managed to win by single goal difference. Unique final, no second thoughts about it.

One should pity Everton – to lose after three tie games in overtime is really bad luck. Undeserved. But winner can be only one team...

And the fortunate winners. Keeping their spirit high, fighting to the end, and lifting the Cup. For a team practically without stars it was fantastic success: obviously, they were going in the right direction to resurrection. Ron Saunders was quietly, but persistently bringing the old club to the level of its glorious past. League Cup winners and winning promotion to 1st Division in 1975; surviving their first top flight season in 1976 and now winning the League Cup again and climbing up the league table as well. Villa had only two high caliber players – Andy Gray and Chris Nicholl – and yet it was improving team. The good spell was not to end – Aston Villa was destined for really great time, although the squad hardly suggested so.

Monday, June 25, 2012

No matter how good or bad was 1976-77 English season, it was remarkable. Liverpool clinched the title by a point. Liverpool became the club with most titles in 1976, but in 1977 they set new record: it was there 10th title. The first English club with 2-digit number! Liverpool was the most successful English club, but this season was the real elevation of Liverpool into superclub – they also wan the European Champions Cup. In a way, finally they were ripe for real success, recognized, and firmly on the road of becoming a dynasty. Liverpool came into maturity and until 1990 they were to rule both in England and Europe. 1977 was there break through, for so far they kind of underestimated: solid and respected team, but not really famous. Liverpool came back to First Division in 1962. After that, it was steady climb, solid performance, and success: 4 times champions (1964, 1966, 1973, 1976), 2 FA Cups (1965 and 1974), twice FA Cup losing finalists. Internationally, they won the UEFA Cup twice as well (1973 and 1976) and back in 1966 lost the Cup Winners Cup final to Borussia (Dortmund). Impressive numbers, but... UEFA Cup was largely an English domain, so no big news Liverpool got it. At home there was always other teams to talk about: Tottenahm Hotspur at the beginning of the 1960s, then Manchester United, Leeds United. Even Manchester City at one point. Same with players – the greatest stars were always elsewhere. Liverpool was hardly related to the great English World Cup win in 1966: only three Liverpudians were in the squad – Ian Callaghan, Gerry Byrne, and Roger Hunt. Only Hunt was a starter; the other two did not appear even for a minute. Somehow stars and favorites were always other players and clubs, leaving Liverpool behind. Thus, it was a bit unexpected when they 'suddenly' became the most titled English club in 1976. They were really noticed in 1977 – 10 titles never happened before in England and some even though such numbers impossible.

Since Liverpool were always in the shade, only a few realized how different than the other English clubs Liverpool operated. On the surface it was the record of steadiness: since they came returned to First Division, their worst table position was 1962-63, there first season, when they finished 8th. Once they finished 7th, but after that (1964-65) they were always among the top 5 teams. No other club was among the title contenders for so long without any break. There was never a crisis, but constant march ahead, constant improvement. The secret laid in the clubs' philosophy: great teams usually are built by great managers, but as soon as there is a failure, the manager was replaced with another big name from somewhere else. In Liverpool it was different: when Shankly retired his assistant for many years Bob Paisley became manager. His assistant became Joe Fagan – and when Paisley retired, Fagan took the reins. In a sharp contrast, the retirement of Matt Busby led Manchester United to relegation. When Don Revie left Leeds United, the team immediately faded and took the slippery slope. Reliable coaches, learning from each other, and continuing essentially one and the same concept is fine, but what is it? Liverpool were hardly innovative club and their brand of football, judged by 1977 in relation to total football, was conservative step back. And their brand of attacking, energetic football hardly changed with time: essentially, in 1977 they played the same ind of football they played, say, in1972. There was something else of import: the policy of building and maintaining strong team, which was remarkably unsentimental. The example for contrast was Leeds United, for the climb to glory of both clubs started at the same time. Don Revie built a great team and then just kept it. That was the typical English way – Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, all faced deep crisis when the team aged and had to be replaced entirely. All of them lingered and procrastinated, unable to find heart to get rid of old and loved megastars, until they found themselves relegated to 2nd Division. Liverpool acted differently, even ruthlessly, when compared to traditional Englsih practices: no sentiments at all, but constant search for young talent, which as soon as shows better ability than revered stars become starters and the veterans were either benched or sold. Hunt and St. John were gone for so long, that hardly anybody associated them with Liverpool. Lloyd was gone. Lindsay, a national team player just 2 years ago, was clearly going to the bench by 1977. The days of John Toshack, arguably the biggest star of Liverpool at the beginning of the early 1970s, were obviously numbered. And so was Tommy Smith, the iron right full back and, along with Ian Callaghan, the last survivors of the team winning promotion to First Division in 1962. Another club would play such fellow as Smith, but not Liverpool – Paisley already introduced younger player. The never ending shaping and reshaping of the team was quite shrewd as well: when other clubs went for big names, especially when panicking, Liverpool preferred young unknowns and reliable, but not exactly big stars from other clubs – thus, Keegan arrived and by 1977 Liverpool had megastar for the first time. Ray Kennedy was bought from Arsenal – well known player, but no more when he joined Liverpool. With the red shirt he became a star. Jumping a bit ahead, even the 'big buys' of Liverpool – Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish – were hardly the most impressive transfer in England and, more importantly, both really flourished in Liverpool, just like Ray Kennedy. It was building better and better team, never stopping, and never bowing to famous names. Results were very good so far, but excellency was just starting.

Ten times champions in full glory: top row, from left: Joey Jones, John Toshack, David Fairclough, Ray Clemence, Phil Thompson, Phil Neal.

Middle row: Joe Fagan - coach, Alec Lindsey, Jimmy Case, Ray Kennedy, David Johnson, Roy Evans (2nd trainer), Ronnie Moran (chief trainer)

Sitting: Steve Heighway, Ian Callaghan, Tommy Smith, Bob Paisley (Manager), Emlyn Hughes, Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott.

By 1977 nothing like 1966: 8 regular English national team players. Ian Callaghan, getting second wind, was recalled to the national team after a long pause. Well, after 1966. Tommy Smith managed to get a single cap in 1971. Toshack and Heighway played for Wales and Eyre. Clemence – Neal, Hughes, Thompson, Case – Kennedy, Callaghan, McDermott – Keegan, Toshack, Heighway: what a squad! With Smith, Lindsay, Fairclough, and new hopefuls Johnson and Jones at the bench. No need to change anything... the replacements were already here for those coming to retirement. Right? Wrong... it was Liverpool. Keegan just became the best European player – who would be crazy to get rid of the biggest international star? Liverpool. They sold him to Hamburger SV right after winning the 10th title. Without a blink. Selling Cruyff was really the end of great Ajax – selling Keegan was nothing for Liverpool: they were yet to win and dominate, and brake records.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The grueling English season ended badly for three clubs: Sunderland, Stoke City, and Tottenham Hotspur. They finished at the bottom of the table and relegated. Well, one of the best qualities of the English game was precisely in that: no one, big or small, was safe. Glory went hand in hand with peril and often it was impossible to trace a pattern of real decline – a team may have been champion one season and bottom last the next. Yet, there were patterns – Sunderland was a likely candidate for relegation, for the club moved between 1st and 2nd Divisions most of the time. Unsettled, not quite strong and consistent, Sunderland were the usual suspects and generally battled for survival when in 1st Division. No surprise here – they finished 18th and went down.

To a point, Stoke City were no big surprise either: they were modest midtable club, lacking core of great players. Their biggest star was the goalkeeper – Gordon Banks at the beginning of the 70s, eventually replaced by Peter Shilton. How long a goalie can keep a club afloat? It was not that Stoke City did not fight – they finished with only 4 points less than the 13th placed Birmingham City, but in the fierce race for survival these 4 points were the whole difference between life and death.

And after 14 years playing with fire in 1st Division Stoke City moved down. Peter Shilton was going down.... well, not him, as it happened.

At the very bottom finished Tottenham Hotspur. Only few years back the Spurs looked great, winning UEFA Cups. Most of the players were still in the team and perhaps precisely that was the reason for the decline: it was typical English problem during the 70s, although not uniquely English or spesiphic characteristic of this decade. It is classic problem: how to replace a team of great stars, who inevitably aged? Hesitation leads to decline. The English clubs were particularly bad at replacing squads getting old – Manchester United suffered from that and went down, but by 1976-77 there were more following the disastrous example: Leeds United, Manchester City, the Spurs, West Ham United, Chelsea. On paper, they looked fine, but results were increasingly meager. Someone retires and familiar reserve, not very young by now, becomes a starter – but reserves were not going to sufficiently replace the outgoing stars and eventually big crush happens, requiring total makeover. Time was needed to build new efficient team – Manchester United was good example – but there was no guarantee – Chelsea went into a long painful slump. The Spurs evidently came to the point of no return, the crush occurred, they were down, big names and all. The only question was for the future – were they to follow Manchester United's path or Chelsea's? The Spurs had to find the answer in the 2nd Division.

Dead last: sitting from left:Naylor, Coates,Stead, Perrymann, Pratt, Conn, Neighbour, McAllister.

Standing: Jones, Armstrong, Walford, Daines, Burkinshaw – manager, Jennings, Young, Hoddle, Osgood.

Keith Burkinshaw failed in his season with the Spurs. Glen Hoddle, 19-years old, was to experience 2nd Division well before European fame and glory. Poor Pat Jennings...

Up the scale life was brighter: West Bromwich Albion finished 7th, starting a spell of strong years. Aston Villa was getting stronger too, ending at 4th place and scoring the most goals in the league – 76.

Ipswich Town continued their shrewd, consistent improvement - 3rd place this year, only 1 point behind the champions and losing silver medals on goal difference. Ipswich was bettered by Manchester City, who finished second. Their best position since the champion title in 1968. A sweet revenge on their enemy Manchester United, who were 'only' third placed a year earlier.

Tony Book, City's legend from just a few years back, was the manager and everything looked just great: young manager tightly connected with the club seemingly successful. A revival? Escaping the fate of Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur? At the moment, it appeared to be just that... from the distance of time it was an illusion. The core of the team was still made of veterans Tony Book played with – Colin Bell, Joe Corrigan, Mike Doyle, Gary Owen, Tommy Booth, Glyn Pardoe. Getting old and therefore no better than before. None interested the manager of the English national team anymore. To them were added players with solid reputations: Brian Kidd and Joe Royle. Alas, they were similar to the veterans: experienced, but no longer getting better, just aging. Younger additions – Dave Watson, Dennis Tueart, and Asa Hartford – promised much more, for they were at the peak of their careers. But... with the possible exception of Watson, they were not to be leaders like Colin Bell. Not of the same caliber, particularly Tueart. Peter Barnes was the greatest young hope, only to fade away in the next few seasons. Impressive squad only on paper and not one to carry on for long: retirement and moving to USA and West Germany (Watson) happened to be the near future. In a way, it was the last spurt of greatness for the Citizens, masking for the moment the real story – decline. If the boys were five years younger... but they were not. At least they 'died' in style.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Second Division ended with familiar names on top. Wolverhampton Wanderers claimed 1st place.

As if to prove that they were down only by freak accident, the Wolves returned to top flight just a year after suffering relegation. Chelsea grabbed second place, returning to 1st Division a bit slower than the Wolves – after two seasons down.

Going up, but it was not really a winning squad – Chelsea already entered their long dark years, and this success was a bit misleading.

Third finished a club, which attracted little interest: Nottingham Forest.

Apart from Brian Clough, so far Forest was hardly impressive squad. Good they were returning from exile since 1972, but not exactly the team to shake 1st Division. Yet, since Clough was coaching them, they were expected to be fighters. No more. No more at the end of 1976-77 season. What possibly can be expected from a team barely clinching the last promotional spot. So far, it was not the unknown Viv Anderson, but John O'Hare defining the team: Clough was dragging him with himself, but no matter how valuable he was for Clough, O'Hare was hardly a star.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In 3rd Division Mansfield Town finished first, but the next clubs in the final table were more interesting:

Brighton & Hove Albion finished second, three points behind the champions.

Not exactly a team to brag about, but these boys were to go even higher and soon.

Third was Crystal Palace, quite shaky club, which not so long ago, in 1972, was proud member of 1st Division. The steep decline eventually halted and now the Londoners were lifting up their heads again. Not so brightly yet – they finished 3rd, enough for promotion.
Their climb was not to end just with this promotion, but unlike Brighton & Hove, not to mention Mansfield, Crystal Palace had already two persons who were soon to play major roles not only in English football: one young left full-back named Kenny Sansom and another young man – their manager Terri Venables. Just wait a few more years.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

England. To a point, lagging behind Germany. Structurally, conceptually, and financially. England was slow to change its ways – tactical innovations did not happen; money were getting alarmingly short; stadiums were getting increasingly old and shabby; there was no vision for training kids new kind of game. All of that was becoming clear only when compared to the West Germans – most of Europe, including Italy and Spain, was in similar conditions, so it was not painfully obvious that English football was ill prepared for the future. The alarm came from another source: rapidly increasing violence among fans. So far there was no concept what to do with the phenomenon, so it just grew. There was even fascination with that, especially outside the British Isles – it was not long before the violent fan culture spread everywhere. Yet, English football preserved its competitive edge and continued to keep its entertaining standards. Which probably contributed to the painfully slow realization of the need for fundamental changes.

Anyhow, lets begin from the bottom. Cambridge United won the 4th Division, moving up to 3rd for the next season.

4th level football hardly makes big news and therefore there is next to nothing to say about the players. No big stars here, past, present, or future ones. However, Cambridge started its climb this year and more than maintained a momentum, but, of course, nobody was really able to envision that. One thing should be mentioned, though: Cambridge was the club with best record among all professional English clubs: out of 46 seasonal games, they won 26 and lost only 7.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Cup tournament was a bit surprising: Borussia Moenchengladbach was eliminated in the first round. Bayern managed to reach ¼ by beating Bayern Amateurs at 1/8. However, the second team fought hard against the stars – the match ended 5-3 for the professionals. In the next stage Bayern lost. The ½ finalists were curious bunch: Bayer (Uerdingen) from Second Division; Rot-Weiss (Essen), hopelessly last in First Division; 1. FC Koln, who were not exactly winners in the last 6-7 years; and Hertha (West Berlin) – sporadic club, generally accustomed to midtable. None of the strong clubs reached so far. Bayer and Rot-Weiss had excellent runs, but went so far and no further. Koln and Hertha met at the final and were unable to produce a winner – 1-1 tie. In the replay 1. FC Koln clinched 1-0 victory and won the Cup.

Koln normally counted among the better German clubs, but this was their second Cup and first trophy since 1968. The 'Billy Goats' finally won something and it was great for venerable Wolfgang Overath to end his career on high note. Sadly, he was not a member of the winning team.

Koln were quite a solid team: Flohe, Cullmann, Dieter Muller, Zimermann, the Belgian striker van Gool, and solid second-stringers (on national scale) Konopka and Lohr. Schumacher was becoming promising keeper, finally improving after shaky previous years. Preben Elkjaer-Larsen was on the bench. The triumph was a result of the coach not so long ago fired by Barcelona (or Cruyff) – Hennes Weisweiler.

To be 'second' at Cup tournaments means practically nothing. Hertha reached the final, managed to get a replay, and lost at the end by a single goal. Misery.

Here they are, the finalists. The Berliners were kind of doomed to second place. Yet, those were their best years in the 1970s. Alas, without final success.

At the end, when one look at the 1976-77 season something old, familiar, and unchanging was immediately detectable: Udo Lattek and Hennes Weisweiler. Rivals and leaders, and constant winners. Lattek won with Bayern and now with Borussia. Weisweiler won with Borussia and now with Koln. Their noble fight was not over yet and one thing was certain: these two really shaped the German football of the 1970s. On the other hand, it was becoming boring – year after year Lattek and Weisweiler... Meantime other legends were coming to end: Beckenbauer played his last season for Bayern and also retired from the national team. Season over, he went to New York and joined Pele after 427 games and 60 goals for Bayern, and 103 caps and 14 goals for West Germany. Wolfgang Overath retired at the end of the season as well – ending with 409 matches and 84 goals for one and only club, 1. FC Koln. Overath also played 81 matches for West Germany, scoring 17 goals, but he retired from the national team right after winning the World Cup in 1974. Now it was entirely over for him. Looked like Beckenbauer played his last match in Germany too, but – no. The Kaiser had quite a few years ahead of him, contrary to sad expectations. No matter, it was an and of an era - Overath was a staple since 1962. Beckenbauer – since 1964. In a way, these two WERE the Bundesliga. And now – gone. Time for new heroes (may be). Or may be old ones?

Dieter Muller (1. FC Koln) was the top goalscorer with 34 goals. Since the 1976 European finals he was expected to become superstar – may be was already? May be next year for sure? After all, he bested the 'real' Muller, Gerd, by 6 goals and managed to score the highest number since 1973. But the best player of the year was a veteran – Sepp Maier. There was still a lot in the old legs and hands, was the message. May be young guys should just give up their ambitions... anyhow, it was surprising and telling reward for the eternal goalkeeper: 65 balls ended in the net behind him! Imagine how much he saved, to end up with ONLY 65.

Sepp Maier going strong when his team was rapidly declining. Well deserved award for one of the best ever keepers.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Life at the bottom of Bundesliga was less exciting. Karlsruher SC lost tough battle against 4 other teams – Fortuna Dusseldorf, 1.FC Kaiserslautern, 1. FC Saarbrucken, and VfL Bochum – and ended 16th, in the relegation zone.

It was no great surprise – newcomers rarely survive for long. Karlsureh SC fought as much as they were able to, but no luck. Under them finished teams which were doomed for the most of the season.

Tennis Borussia (West Berlin) failed their second attempt to establish themselves among the best German clubs. Nothing really to be said about them. I like small clubs and usually support them, but reality has nothing to do with my preferences: TeBe had little money and therefore unable to build surviving team.

Rot-Weiss (Essen) finished last – and no surprise either.

Rot-Weiss normally existed in the lower half of the table and playing with fire can be done only so long. They were usual candidates for relegation and fulfilled the expectations this season. Horst Hrubesch sunk down, but still he was nobody. Frank Mill, who also got some fame in the 1980s, started his career by going to Second Division.

The bottom three were to be replaced in the next season by the winners of the two Second Bundesliga groups. The iconic FC Sankt Pauli (Hamburg) topped Nord group. Looked like Tennis Borussia was not going to be missed... In the South VfB Stuttgart finished first and returned to top flight, hopefully with lessons learned. The play-off between the second placed clubs promoted TSV 1860 Munchen. Another familiar name escaping purgatory. As a whole, the newcomers appeared to be stronger teams than the relegated. Well, by name only.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Below the first three finished Eintracht Frankfurt with 42 points and the best scoring record of the season – 86 goals. Frankfurt was still keeping their place among the best, still having plenty of great players, and still failing to become real winner. Their good years were not finished yet – unlike Schalke 04, Eintracht was evidently trying to maintain strong squad. Grabowski was getting old, but the team was still fit and shapely. Holzenbein scored a plenty.

Eintracht is worth mentioning for something quite different than their football: weird change of fashion started around 1975 and now was coming to full bloom. Idiotic kits, introduced at first in England and now rapidly crossing the English Chanel. Here is one example... what happened to the traditional red and black stripes?

Frankfurt were not even the biggest offenders – Hamburger SV played in pink and blue. Nothing against the pink, but... like Frankfurt, Hamburg departed from their traditional colours. Good enough for 6th place. Call me stubborn, but I didn't like and don't like such kits.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The best league of the World – the Bundesliga. There was no doubt about it, although the British soccer stars did not announce the verdict yet. Soon they will – and move to West Germany. 1976-77 was practically no news: tough, competitive, fast, attacking... typical German season. Apart from Bayern, the rest was healthy. Mighty Bayern was sick, though: they finished 7th , 7 points behind the champions. Forth best attack in the league, scoring 74 goals, but surprisingly leaky defense, allowing 65 goals! Only the relegated clubs had worse record. The diagnose was quite clear: aging stars. There was one more problem – Uli Hoeness. It was bad luck really: his old injury at the European Champions Cup final against Leeds United was permanent and eventually cut his career short. Bayern obviously had to build new team and the process started in the summer of 1977, when Kaiser Franz moved to Cosmos (New York). With Bayern out of the race, Borussia Moenchengladbach won their third title in a row. Once again they edged Bayern in total Bundesliga victories and if there was anybody to laugh out loud, it was Udo Lattek. Bayern fired him, didn't they? 7th place serves them right.

Familiar champions. Bonhof, Kleff, and Wimmer are missing here, but they were in the team, which was more than well balanced. Borussia seemingly handled replacement of aging players better than Bayern – Stielike was rapidly becoming major world-class star. So was becoming the little and fragile looking Dane Simonsen. Bonhof was no news since 1974 – he was a big star. No need even to mention players like Vogts and Heynckes – better mention young promising talent: Del'Haye, Kneib, Wohlers, Ringels. Stiff competition in the squad, but all that talent did not suffice for easy championship – Borussia won only by one point difference. Even the arch-rival in decline was no that far behind, lagging by 7 points. And something really disturbing – Borussia was eliminated at home in the very first Cup round. Somehow Borussia was less convincing this season, but champions they were anyhow. The myth of exciting attacking team, which does not care for defense for it will outscore any opponent was over: guided by Lattek, Borussia really won thanks to its tight defense. They did not score much, only 58 goals, but had the best defensive record in the league: 34 goals received. On average 1 goal per match – in German football such record was amazing.

Second place was decided by goal difference: Schalke 04 had better one than Eintracht Braunschweig , both clubs finishing with 43 points each.

High place for Schalke 04, no doubt, but not really a recovery. The club was still riding on the talent of their 1971-72 squad, its flight cut short by the bribing scandal. This second place was almost a last breath...

Eintracht's third place was quite a surprise, for Braunscheig were hardly ever in the top half of Bundesliga. They did not have famous names, a modest team really, but with great coach. Branko Zebec utilized his players in the best possible way – keenly aware of the development of the game, he emphasized collective, tight, physical, energetic football. And it worked.

Monday, June 4, 2012


About this year one thing: restoration. The heroes of revolutionary total football were coming to the end of their careers. Cruyff and Beckenbauer. The newly emerging heroes were kind of traditional. Keegan and Simonsen. There was slight geographic switch as well – from Holland and West Germany to England and Italy. Total football was still the ideal, but the new rulers of the game played something else. It looked like total football, but was just an approximation. At the time, the change was not clear, just detected. In truth, it is not all that clear even now: by 1977 total football continued to be dividing line – many a country, many a club were still struggling to catch up. Many seemingly adjusted well, but without really mastering the ideal. They adjusted to the tempo, to the covering of the whole field, to the constant pressure applied to the opponents, to the fitness requirements, to the attacking philosophy. Most teams employed the magic 'libero', the easy switching of players position when needed. Yet, it was not the football Ajax played, but something different. Not so exciting. Not so creative. And strange discrepancy appeared – there was no unquestionable star. There was no fascinating all-conquering team. No further innovations. Instead there was a battle between equals... the European Champions of 1976 did not reach the World Cup finals in 1978, they were kind of outrun by fit and energetic, yet, not classier opponents. So it went... strong club football did not translate into strong national team in some instances. Weak domestic championships were not automatically preventing a country of having capable national team. As long as a squad was capable of disciplined game and was fit enough to run speedily for 90 minutes it was likely to win.

In this situation something emerged, not all that clear yet, but it was a start of long dominance. Liverpool and Juventus. Respected and strong clubs, no doubt, but so far playing second fiddle at best in international football. Neither club was particularly innovative, both incorporating elements of total football into their traditional game without changing it radically. Liverpool played traditional attacking English football, adding more speed and increase participation of strikers in defense. Stubbornly English, Liverpool did not use libero and used outdated and unreliable defensive tactic – they played in line.Juventus gave the impression of attacking team, yet, it was just a variation of the traditional defensive Italian brand: furious covering of the whole field and quick attacks as soon as they got possession of the ball. True, Juventus used more strikers than conventional Italian teams and did not barricade themselves in front of their own net, but still defense was the first on their mind. Neither club had a player like Cruyff or Beckenbauer – they had well known stars and Kevin Keegan was voted best player in Europe, but... suffice to say he never dominated the game the was Cruyff and Beckenbauer did. Both clubs won their first serious international trophies in 1977. Both clubs shaped European football from 1977 to the end of the 1980s. Both clubs were remarkably non-radical.

The new old heroes – Emelyn Hughes and Bertie Vogts shake hands before the European Champions Cup final. Neither was a 'radical' player, but both were solid. Neither was a megastar.
At the end Hughes got the Cup. Liverpool 'arrived' and, unknown then, was to stay. 'So long, total football', in a way.

Apart from that, 1977 was largely preoccupied with the qualification rounds for the 1978 World Cup. Curious ups and downs there, as ever, but also, as ever, not that great hype. The big excitement was saved for the next year.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

One goes out, another comes in. The one who debuted in 1976 does not need any introduction. He is still in the news. It is useless even to add anything about him, for he is Diego Maradona. Even back in 1976 he was not exactly unknown – Argentina already not only heard of him, but saw him. The Europeans heard of Maradona almost as soon as he played his first official match – the mood was a bit skeptical at first. On one hand, South Americans tend to exaggerate – hearing about ‘new Pele’ every year made Europeans not very receptive. On the other hand, young talent came out every year and most of them did not really live up to expectations. Modern football was becoming difficult for youngsters – it required physicality as well as psychological maturity and the days of 17-years old Peles were seemingly over. So Maradona was most likely to be some exotica, destined to burn out almost immediately.

Retrospectively, there are some ironies about Maradona:
He was born in the impoverished district Villa Fiorito of Buenos Aires and grew up in this house. Hardly a tourist spot… what a pilgrimage going to see it today (if it exists) make? The guy with the golden earring – and this shack! But, true to football legendary tradition, the greatest players come from places like this one – so nothing unusual. Naturally, small Diego was not that much into school, but a ball was everything. And he was spotted, and trained, and strated playing for one of the boys teams in the system of Argentinos Juniors – Cebollitas.

With Cebollitas Diego went not only 136 matches unbeaten, but started making a name for himself: children teams outside North America, where the so-called ‘soccer moms’ make something of a crowd, do not attract public, but because of Diego Cebollitas got regular – and increasing in numbers – fans. From there more unusual fame came – Diego’s skills were impressive and he was invited to entertain the crowds with keepy-uppy and other tricks during the break of real professional matches. He was paid a bit, which was much needed money in Villa Fiorito. There the 12 years old was spotted by television people and invited – with his ball, of course – to one of the prestigious TV shows ‘Sabados Circularos’.
So Diego became a TV star… which was very suspect, for prodigies like him have been many. There are some today as well. It is predictable pattern – most of them never become football players, let alone famous ones: they are amusing entertainers for awhile, until the public gets tired of them. They are good at playing tricks with a ball, but not that good at playing the game of football. Luckily, Diego was different and opted to play the game – different, but probably also lucky to be part of Argentinos Juniors system. A bigger club most likely would have kept him in the juniors for years. Argentinos Juniors were smaller, not having big names, not very successful, and desperate for some positive change. Diego was not only making positive impression to the first team stuff – he was included in the team and on October 20, 1976 the coach Montes called the guy still 10 days short of sixteen and told him ‘Go and do what you do best’.

Maradona did exactly that – displayed some fine handling of the ball and tricked the first defender coming his way. And because of that the guy on the left is kind of remembered today – his name is Cabrera. As for Diego, he enchanted the crowd on the stands.

The next ‘first’ came 20 days later, on November 14. Playing against San Lorenzo (La Plata), Maradona scored his first official league goal – top photo. He liked scoring and decided to repeat it (bottom photo). Almost instantly his name reached Europe. And after that… after that there is much, much more, but that was all in 1976. And with this the year comes to a close.