Monday, August 5, 2013

Mexico had new champion and quite an interesting one as well. UANL is abbreviation of Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon. One of the intriguingly Mexican professional clubs belonging to Universities. This one – to the University of the Northern state Nuevo Leon and located in Monterrey. The club was young back in 1978: founded in 1960 and actually debuting in First Division in the 1974-75 season. More or less, the real history of the club started when their stadium Estadio Universitario built - 1967. Until 1974 they played in the Second Division, but after winning promotion things changed rapidly. UANL won the ill-fated Mexican Cup in 1976 – the tournament already lost importance and popularity, but it was a national trophy and UANL's victory clearly stated ambition. And in 1978 the national championship was won – in only 4 top division seasons!

The victory was particularly sweet, for the local rivals – CF Monterrey, much older club and long first division history, never won a title. Perhaps the title really invigorated the rivalry: by 1978 'derbies' were already inflated and imagined by the media – thus, UANL is supposed to be a bitter rival of the biggest University club in Mexico – UNAM from Mexico City. And perhaps of the other Univerisity-based clubs. But the real derby is with CF Monterrey: neither the club, nor the fans of the older club were able to ignore the newcomers and now UANL – CD Monterrey is the great 'derby of the North'.

Of course, confusion exists: UANL or Tigres? Both names are used, but 'Tigres' is not just a popular nickname of the club: it was incorporated into the whole name of the club. The name had old origin: years before the soccer club was established, the University had very strong American football team, which got feline nickname – although not 'tigers'. When the soccer club was found, the feline nickname was 'upgraded' and attached to the official name of the club.

Once in First Division, the Tigers did not stop, but immediately started enforcing their squad. Various well-known players came, some stayed, others did not last, but really the team was getting stronger and was coached well. Arpad Fekete, a Hungarian coach, who worked in Mexico for many years and had great reputation, coached them in 1976-77. An Uruguayan coach was hired to replace Fekete – Carlos Miloc.

Carlos Miloc Pelachi, photographed in recent years. He became a legend and not only of UANL, for he worked for many years in the country, eventually becoming Mexican citizen. Of course, Miloc won the first title in the history of UANL, but there was much more following the first success. Miloc was 56-years old in 1978.

Just like the coach, the great players of UANL are primarily Mexican legends. More or less, the champion squad was based on 5 players, two Mexicans and three foreign-born. The Argentine-born Osvaldo Batocletti captained the champions.

Batocletti unsuccessfully tackled by Atlas (Guadalajara) player. Batocletti was already 28 years old – the oldest star of UANL – and well established in Mexican football. He arrived in 1974 and also took Mexican citizenship. Solid, inspirational, and dependable player.

Jose Pilar Reyes was perhaps the best Mexican goalkeeper of that time.

Reyes was only 23-years old, already a national team player, and if not the best Mexican keeper, at least among the top three. Mexican goalies tended to make fantastic mistakes, especially when going out of the goal-line and trying to clear cross-balls. Reyes was solid in the air, certainly bringing calm confidence to his defenders.

Tomas Boy was already the rapidly rising star in midfield. He arrived in Monterrey in 1975. In 1978 he was only 24-years old and nation-wide star.

Boy is one of the all-time greats of Mexico. An excellent playmaker and dangerous finisher, he was a staple of the national team for many years. His talent so far was sufficient for a title – he debuted with the national team jersey in 1979 – but there was no doubt that he was going to be only better.

Another 24-years old was lethal in attack – Geronimo Barbadillo, the right winger of the champions.

It was no fun playing against Barbadillo, as the picture shows. The Peruvian import arrived along with Arpad Fekete in 1976 and unlike the coach, stayed for years with UANL. The chemistry between him and Boy was great, making the Tigres' attack lethal. Barbadillo debuted for the national team Peru in 1972 and won the South American championship with Peru in 1975. Curiously, Barbadillo played only 20 matches stretched in about 13 years for Peru, but in Mexico he was a big star. And perhaps the biggest ever of UANL – today, in honour of the winger, his number 7 is retired. The only other retired number is 12 – the 'number' of the fans, the 'twelve player' of the club.

And the fifth big name was also foreign – the attacking midfielder Mantegazza arrived in 1977.

Unlike the other stars, Walter Daniel Mantegazza is quite obscure. Very little information about him can be found. Like Miloc, he was Uruguayan and very likely the coach brought him to UANL. Mantegazza played for Nacional (Montevideo) before moving to Mexico – which apparently happened in 1974. To UANL he came from Leon. Mantegazza was the only 'tiger' with World Cup experience – he played for Uruguay in 1974. However, he never established himself in the national team and looks like he was never called after 1974. Understandably so – given the awful performance of Uruguay at the 1974 World Cup. Also understandably he left no lasting memories and sunk into obscurity. He was 26 years old in 1978. His contribution to the victory is hard to judge: he was a regular starter, scored some important goals, no doubt had some class, but... he is only briefly mentioned in the history of UANL and lasted only one season.

The most obvious quality of the key 'tigers' is their age: all were quite young, with many years ahead of them. Yet, experienced players too. They were great base for a strong squad not only for this season, but for the years ahead. UANL apparently had wise policy: instead of bunch of old stars, as the normal practice of newcomers usually was and is, the club preferred to gather young talent, which was to grow in the future, providing excellent back-bone for years to come. Miloc was also a great discovery – he and the players apparently suited each other. UANL was there to stay, to be successful. First title, but it was not to be accidental one.

Yet, it was strange to see only one Tigre at the World Cup finals. Mantegazza had no chance because Uruguay did not reach the finals, but the rest? Batocletti perhaps was ignored for he was only naturalized Mexican – he had no chance to play for Argentina: too much and stronger competition. Barbadillo was not called to play for Peru, although he had great season. Perhaps because Peru had enough strikers. Perhaps something in his character... hard to say, but Barbadillo was rarely called to the national team. Tomas Boy was not in the Mexican squad either – and this is perhaps the greater mystery: he was already one of the best Mexican players. Unlike Barbadillo, Boy was to be constant national team player for years – but not in 1978. Perhaps the reason was competition: Leonardo Cuellar was the greatest midfielder at the time and Boy was redundant. Jose Pilar Reyes, the goalie, was the single UANL player at the World Cup finals – very strange, for champion teams usually are massively included in national teams. May be Tigres were still considered luckier than classier. May be the team depended mostly on the stars, three of which were not Mexican. May be this, may be that, but the fact remains – there was only one tiger in Argentina. Which spared them the disgrace... the collapse of Mexico and the scandalous behaviour of Peru against the future world champions.

Just as well – in 1978 it was only glory for Barbadillo and Boy. Picture of pride and triumph.