Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Up and down. Many candidates, but Hamburger SV was clearly rising – winning the West German Cup in 1976, followed by European triumph in 1977, and immediately making the biggest transfer in Europe: getting Kevin Keegan from Liverpool. The team was not refined yet, great coach was still needed, but the club gave all indications of becoming major force.

The beginning – winning the West German Cup in 1976. The best achievements were still in the future, but the climb started.

As for going down – the prime candidates were the national teams of England and USSR. Terrible decade for both nations, experiencing constant failures. All started in 1972, when England played its last great football, but had the bad luck to face mighty West Germany at its peak in the ¼ finals of the European championship. The Soviets reached the final of the competition, only to be utterly destroyed by the same Germans. Nothing after that for each country – USSR lost two Olympic Games; missed the 1974 World Cup; was eliminated early by a 'friendly' nation in the 1976 European Championship. And failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup. England had the same implausible record, save for the Olympics, which did not count for them anyway. In my view England was in worse shape, largely because it had plenty of new talent – it was not only Keegan – which surprisingly failed and failed. Somehow England was incapable of building a winning team, and the reason was mentality. England refused to see the fundamental changes of modern football and continued to play its own game, essentially 'kick and run'. Flat line of defense in times of the libero (it is astonishing to remember when England played with libero – in 1990! When almost nobody used it anymore.) , easily penetrated by speedy strikers, playing at the edge of offside. Bypassing midfield in times when it was thought the most important part of game, still using the simple side runs, ending with a cross in the small penalty area. Sophisticated defenses had no problem with such concept. England still tended to use false wingers – a great innovation in... 1966! England was fast, spirited, fighting to end, but predictable and ineffective against serious opposition. England had no sophisticated and creative playmaker, controlling the tempo and organizing surprising attacks. The only players, considered 'European' in England were Allan Hudson and Frank Worthington, who were hardly ever used, let alone used meaningfully. True, both were boozers, their uneven performance moved them to smaller clubs, they were moody unpredictable pranksters, but still nobody in England was willing to try building a squad around them. Were they a possible remedy is hard to say – Worthington was highly praised (especially in retrospect) in England, but the little outsiders saw of him was less than unimpressive. England clearly missed modern developments of the game and inevitably declined – to the point of permanency. It was and is astonishing: the country with arguably the best club football unable to make a really strong and interesting national team. The failure to qualify to the 1974 World Cup was shocking, but soon dismissed as accidental. By 1977 it was no longer even shocking, so no attempt of conceptual, deep and fundamental change was made. There were always convenient excuses for not touching the sick roots of English football.