Monday, March 4, 2013

Changes were more obvious in Europe than in South America: the great stars from the early 1970s were getting old and no longer the shakers and makers of European football. The stars of the 1960s did not count already for some time. New stars were elbowing the old, the question was how good they were. One thing was detectable – there was no player of the caliber of Cruyff or Beckenbauer among the younger stars. The memories of the great ones were still too fresh and when youngsters were compared, they inevitably failed. It was like 1975 again – back then Oleg Blokhin was voted player of the year, mostly because Beckenbaur and Cruyff appeared to be going downhill, and Blokhin was seen as the only new star. Back then he won by astonishing difference, leaving second placed Beckenbauer almost 80 points behind. However, there was no Blokhin after 1975... entirely different players competed for the award in 1977. There was hardly any difference between the top three – Michel Platini got 70 points, Kevin Keegan – 71, and the winner – 74. Fairly equal, which speaks of the qualities of the players, but also of their shortcomings. None was so overwhelming and exciting compared to Cruyff and Beckenbauer (who were still active, let be reminded). Success – rightly or wrongly – informs voting and all three were somewhat short in this department. Platini was handicapped more than the rest – playing for modest Nancy practically nullified his chances for winning the award: Nancy had no chance winning anything and Platini had no great teammates, able to utilize his talent and amplify it. In a sense, his finest time was still in the future, he was noticed, recognized, but still was more of a promising player, not a superstar. Kevin Keegan, a star since 1972, failed short too: on one hand, he was not as creative as Platini, more of a striker than a playmaker, so a consumer instead of creator. It boils down to this when, inevitably, Keegan is compared to Cruyff, Backenbauer, and Platini. He lacked finesse, he was a bit pedestrian... just a tiny something placed him lower than the trio mentioned. But his real handicap was not even his foul: Keegan had great season, culminated with winning the European Champions Cup. Then he moved to Hamburger SV – and lost with them the European Supercup. Unfortunately, UCC was played in the spring and the Supercup – at the end the year, when voting took place. Losing 0-6 to his former teammates was very fresh in the fickle journalistic minds. So another player got more votes at the end and he was even a bit strange choice: Allan Simonsen. The diminutive Danish dynamite was already noticed, of course. Fiery, skilful, fast winger, who scored a lot, and getting better and better.

Allan Simonsen – unlikely European Player of the Year. Simonsen won more than Platini, but less than Keegan in 1977. Playing for Denmark in those years hardly helped him – his recognition was came largely from playing for Borussia Moenchengladbach. Simonsen was pleasure to watch. He benefited by strong teammates. He was great professional, steady, fearless, dependable. He was lethal striker. He was also modest. But was he really great? Objectively, others were greater even in his time – Keegan and Platini certainly. Perhaps the best Danish player of the decade, but hardly best ever – I can name easily at least five Danes before and after Simonsen, who were at least at par with him, if not better. To a point, Simonsen was voted Player of the Year by chance: there was no overwhelming star and he simply got a few more points than his competitors. Voters obviously rejected the old venerated names – and rightly so, but here was nobody yet to step in the giant shoes of Cruyff and Beckenbauer. Uncertainty brought Simonsen to the top. Yet, it was well deserved award – Simonsen gave always his best, he had excellent season, it was not his fault that his generation was just a little less gifted than the previous one – he represented the current football, which demanded a type of player like him. Doubts and skepticism are one thing, but there is also another thing: it was delightful to see a player from unfancied country to win. Small, looking fragile, but what a heart Simonsen had!

Significant year: a new generation firmly established itself in Europe. It was a bit less convincing than the previous one.