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 Stubbornly English, Liverpool did not use libero and used outdated and unreliable defensive tactic – they played in line.Juventus gave the impression of attacking team, yet, it was just a variation of the traditional defensive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.