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.