Monday, July 22, 2013

And after the World Cup was over – the aftermath. Time for analysis and conclusions. The widespread outrage of the military rule of Argentina did not bring practical results:
Nobody boycotted the finals. The fears of mass protests at the stadiums, kidnapping, or other forms of political terrorism did not materialized either. Not the concerns about Argentine ability to provide security for visitors. Call it a victory of peaceful sport... call it cowardly hypocrisy of states and individuals... but the fact remains: the world chose football over politics. Even those directly involved in the struggle. There still are people refusing to show General Videla and Daniel Passarella together, yet these people did not refuse to watch the tournament.
Fact is fact – here they are, General and team captain, but who is handing the Cup to whom?

No matter what, Argentina was happy:
Delirious fan kissing the grass.
And the giant letters of triumph.

Contrary to military hopes, the finals did not improve the international reputation of the Junta. Did not make it more acceptable at home. Later gruesome stories of interrupted interrogations surfaced – torturers and victims watching the games together, cheering for Argentina, even hugging each other... until game was over, and back to 'business'. So much for big politics here.

On the level of football politics the obvious was a turn into commercialization. Money was becoming the number one question – the profit of the game. Thus, TV, merchandize, gate receipts were the most important – and also becoming controlling the game. Already there was violation of football tradition – with Italy placed among the top countries in the name of bigger gates. The following scandal took out Italy entirely from the pools and the country was permitted to chose her own round-robin group. TV schedules pressured the Dutch to hurry with taking off the plaster cast from Rene van de Kerkhof's hand at the final. Argentina was pushed gently ahead to the point of becoming 'fixed' champion for many. But money was not the whole conflict: Holland and Brazil criticized the state of the stadiums' pitches – too hard because of the poor condition and gradual disappearance of the grass. Nobody seemed to realize that the finals were not in the middle of the summer, but in the middle of South American winter – June corresponded to January. No wonder the surface was tough and difficult to maintain. But there was no way to schedule World Cup finals only in the Northern hemisphere. No way to move the finals to another time of the year when played in the Southern hemisphere either – finding time for the World Cup was difficult anyway, because of the domestic championships and international tournaments. No country, no continental federation was giving up ground. And the frictions between clubs and national teams were increasing: clubs refusing to free players for national team duties was nothing new, but with more players playing abroad the conflicts were bound to intensify and become uglier. Long national team camps were clearly becoming a thing of the past – Holland was already setting unhappy precedent: the national team hardly had any time to prepare itself for the finals. And it showed. Along with all that went requirements for security, facilities, infrastructure, transportation, accommodations. In terms of security measures, Argentina was perhaps the precursor of the current situation – a World Cup heavy on security checks, restrictions, searches, with military involvement on top of heavy Police presence. A host of World Cup was no longer judged by availability of large stadiums, but practically by everything. A lot was required to be build – finals were becoming vast operation with en enormous investments. And since investments had to have lucrative returns, hosting a World Cup became big political fight, involving scheming, bribing, etc. The stakes suddenly became very high and the game itself took secondary place.

As for the game itself, conclusions were a bit perplexing. Unlike the 1974 World Cup, the motto was not about 'lessons to be learned'. As a whole, 1978 brought no innovations – it was concluded that the time of revolution in football was over and the game was taking the road of evolution. A different , not so obvious to viewers, road, but also enriching the game, was the general argument. And it was mostly true argument: from today's standpoint, the last major football revolution happened in 1974. From that time up to now nothing radical happened – only small adjustments and tactical tinkering in the frame of total football. It was immediately observed in 1978 that the general level of the teams was higher – the division between those playing total football and the rest was vast back in 1974. In 1978 there was no finalists clearly weak and outdated. The most obvious improvement was at the bottom – the usual outsiders from Africa and Asia were no longer punching bags, but dangerous opponents. There was no real outsider in 1978 and all teams were competent. Winning games and advancing became tougher. Only Mexico collapsed – but it was sudden collapse, not a normal weak outsider playing at its normal weak level. Other teams were pleasant discoveries: Iran, Tunisia, Austria, Peru, France, Italy. Everybody was sorry to see France eliminated early. These were teams on the rise and expected to play important role in international football soon. The words of the Peruvian coach before the finals resonated true after the finals: there were no more outsiders. Every match was important, requiring full concentration. It did not matter who the opposition was.

On the negative side was the top layer of world football: the quality there was seen lower. No exciting and dominating teams, as in 1974 and earlier. Much more was expected from the top teams and they kind of disappointed. The top teams struggled, their performance was inconsistent, their football was not exciting, their teams seemed not ready, and had to be shaped during the championship. Spain was nonentity. West Germany and Poland were not even a shadow of their 1974 level. Holland was a pale approximation of the great team they were. Brazil was hardly better. Key players did not shine, some had to be replaced. And hardly any new stars emerged. At the end it was very difficult to chose the best players of 1978 - four different 'best eleven' follow, illustrating the problem:

France Press: Hellstrom (Sweden), Sara (Austria), Russmann (West Germany), Amaral (Brazil), Tarantini (Argentina), Neeskens (Holland), Kempes (Argentina), Dirceu (Brazil), Causio (Italy), Rossi (Italy), Six (France).

DPA: Hellstrom (Sweden), Nelinho (Brazil), Oscar (Brazil), Passarella (Argentina), Cabrini (Italy), Ardiles (Argentina), Neeskens (Holland), Kempes (Argentina), Bertoni (Argentina), Luque (Argentina), Krankl (Austria).

Associated Press: Leao (Brazil), Vogts (West Germany), Krol (Holland), Amaral (Brazil), Haan (Holland), Nawalka (Poland), Batista (Brazil), Causio (Italy), Rensenbrink (Holland), Rossi (Italy), Kempes (Argentina).

UPI: Fillol (Argentina), Vogts (West Germany), Amaral (Brazil), Oscar (Brazil), Krol (Holland), Ardiles (Argentina), Dirceu (Brazil), Kempes (Argentina), Rensenbrink (Holland), Rossi (Italy), Bettega (Italy).

At first glance – no consensus. Only Kempes appeared in every list. No concentrated group of players from any team. Few players from the new world champions, few from the silver medalists. Not a single Brazilian among the strikers – but heavy Brazilian presence in the defensive line. Not at all typical. Very difficult to find outstanding players at some posts. Practically every chosen player could be replaced by another. Players from teams not reaching the big and small finals included – two of them belonging to teams eliminated in the opening stage. Back in 1974 the picture was entirely different: the big names were undisputed. The biggest difficulty was to do some justice to equally shining players and decide who deserved to be chosen best: say, Breitner or Krol. Now, in 1978, it was so different – trying to find someone less inconsistent and perhaps with more than one good match, so to fill up positions. Even Kempes was not overwhelming star: he was included in different positions, as if placed where there was no candidate at all.