Monday, August 6, 2012

Pessimism piled up by the obvious decline of the usual 'second stringers': Olimpija (Ljubljana) finished 12th. OFK Beograd, so bright three years ago, barely escaped relegation, finishing 15th. The leading clubs of Bosnia and Herzegovina sharply declined: Velez (Mostar), aiming at the very top an year back, slipped to 11th place. FK Sarajevo ended just a spot above relegation, 16h. No such luck for the 1972 champions Zeljeznicar (Sarajevo) – they were last, going down to second division with the 17th placed Napredak (Krusevac). Near the bottom, 14th just because of better goal difference, finished the 'Old Dame': Vojvodina (Novi Sad).

This is a squad from 1975-76, perhaps illustrating the difficulty of evaluating Yugoslavian football: Standing, from left: Novoselac, Svilar, Rutonski, Mokus, Vujkov, Trifunovic.

Crouching: Lerinc, Ivezic, Vucekovic, Pavkovic, Licinar.

Ivezic, their best player, moved to Sochaux (France) in the summer of 1976 and immediately the club slumped to the bottom of the league. Yet, it had good enough players around – Lerinc, Vujkov, Novoselac, and particularly Svilar. Ratko Svilar was already 26 years old and one of the best goalkeepers in Yugoslavia. He debuted for the national team in 1976. But the competition was stiff – and remained so: Svilar palyed measly 9 matches for Yugoslavia between 1976 and 1983. The rest is amusing novelty: Svilar played a bit in USA, on loan in 1978, and in 1980 he went abroad permanently , joining Royal Antwerp (Belgium). There he played 16 years, finally quitting in 1996. Amazingly long career – very few players were active at 46 years of age. But in 1976-77, at his prime, he was down the line for the national team and did not prevent Vojvodina from slipping down the table.

And speaking of slipping down: Hajduk (Split) ended in midtable, at 8th place. Crisis? Crvena zvezda went selling its team entirely after 1973 and lost three championships in a row – may be the Croatians were going this way? But they were different, modeled after Ajax, rather than Crvena zvezda. Hajduk did not have might and clout to recruit players from around the whole country like the Belgrade heavyweights. They depended on their own youth system and careful sales of stars when talented replacement was at hand. Nothing bad happened to them so far and at the beginning of the season they were still bursting with talent and obvious contenders for the title. Looks like trouble came because of the new coach: Tomislav Ivic went to Ajax and Josip Duvancic, unknown name, took the reigns. He was not the man for the job – the club underperformed and after the end of the season Duvancic was sacked. It happened to be just a single bad year, not a settling crisis.