Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bad, bad, bad... who was good, then? 6 clubs fought for the bronze medals, at the end 4 points divided the 3rd from the 8th placed. Eintracht (Frankfurt) finished 8th with 36 points – worse goal-diffrence placed them lower than 1. FC Kaiserslautern, also with 36 points. Given the players in the squad, Eintracht should have been higher: Grabowski, Hoelzenbein, Korbel, Stepanovic, Trinklein, Nickel, Wenzel. Add the promising former East Germans Pahl and Nachtweih. Not so long ago Eintracht was seen becoming the third great German club, but by now the expectations faded. It was still strong team, but it was sensed that the squad already reached its peak and decline was about to start. Eintracht was running on inertia – and still among the best. At the bottom of the best, though... For the fans and the club bosses, the season was disappointment and there was somebody to pay for it: the coach. Gyula Lorant was swapped for Dettmar Cramer in the winter break; Cramer was fired at the end of he season. Unfortunately, the downhill roll may be started a year or two ago and there was no stop to it. No stop, because it was very slow, hardly noticeable. Nothing at all, when compared to the major slump of Hamburger SV and the collapse of Bayern.

1. FC Kaiserslautern finished 7th – typical for the unpredictable club. The squad was not much of an indication, for Kaiserslautern was equally capable of finishing very high or very low. Yet, it was not a bad team:

Hellstrom, Geye, Wendt still solid, steadily rising Toppmoller, promising Groh, who eventually became a part of much more famous squad, and young great talent at the beginning of his career – Has-Peter Briegel. Interesting squad, but perhaps the most important name was their coach – Erich Ribbeck. Still young coach making his way up, already noticed, a coach for the future.

MSV Duisburg finished 6th – the club was still enjoying their strong years. Not candidates for top places, but regularly finishing in the upper half of the table. Solid performance, based on experience. Relatively modest squad, depending on the solid left full back Dietz, soon to captain the national team, aging, but reliable Austrian Kurt Jara, moving to midfield by now, and the good striker Worm, who was tried in the national time for awhile. Modest team really, perhaps overperforming a bit, but deserving its place. No surprise.

The contenders for third place were no surprise either – Fortuna (Dusseldorf) had no great squad, but carefully made on, which performed steadily for few years already and still rising. The team was quietly adding good players – they already had Zewe, Seel, the young talent Allofs, got the Austrian national team midfielder Hickersberger. There were hopes that may be Fortuna was to become another great German club, but so far it was not the case. To a point, the team did not reach its peak, still rising, not ready to really run for the title. They were 1 point short of third place.

Hertha got the bronze. Shaky in the past, the West Berliners somewhat stabilized their performance and enjoyed strong few years. They appeared still at building stage, nobody really considered them potential greats, but if they continued on the same road for a few more years – may be. Not presently, though. 1977-78 looked like true beginning of serious project: the coach Klotzer came from Hamburger SV; Nigbur was between the goalposts, Beer in attack was still in the national team, solid third-stringers (on nation-wide level) Granitza, Sidka, Kliemann, Gersdorff, the reliable Danish player Rasmussen. A new Danish striker came in the summer of 1977 – Jorgen Kristensen from Feyenoord (Rotterdam). Hertha delivered one more solid season and clinched 3rd place with 40 points.

For Hertha third place was great success. It was not a surprise, though – Hertha was expected to play well and finish in the upper parts of the table. What they were not considered of was a run for the title – and they did not.

The big surprise came from VfB Stuttgart. They were promoted from second division in 1976-77. It looked like Stuttgart would be just happy to back in the Bundesliga, concerned with escaping relegation – they were insignificant for many years, eventually relegated. Instead of fighting for survival, Stuttgart stunned with very strong performance. They finished 5th with 17 wins, 5 ties, and 12 losses. Their defense was second best this year, allowing 40 goals – only Fortuna (Dusseldorf) did better, 36 goals. Stuttgart scored well, although not very high – 58 goals. Eight clubs, including miserable Bayern scored more. It was excellent season, especially for the long suffering club's fans.

Not only the team played well, but more importantly it was entirely different squad from any other in the Bundesliga. Strong performance usually depended on a group of more or less famous players – famous for some time already. Stuttgart had some of the kind – the Austrian national team player Hattenberger, the former Yugoslavian national team player Holcer, Ottmar Hitzfeld to some extend, Hadewicz, who played for Bayern not long ago, one of the many unable to establish themselves in the great club strikers. So far, nothing special – the usual bunch of veterans nearing the end and players unable to make it elsewhere: the making of a team perhaps capable of staying just above relegation. But the experienced bunch was not exactly moving and shaking Stuttgart – there was another group doing that and it was a nice skeleton of young and rising stars: the goalkeeper Roleder, the central defender Forster, midfielder Hansi Muller, and two strikers – Dieter Hoeness and Ohlicher. Yound, eager, talented, rising fast, and playing at all key positions. Some were already noticed: Forster and H. Muller. Hoeness and Ohlicher came to note this year. Roleder never became great, but a stable and reliable goalkeeper. Karl-Heinz Forster was only 19 years old, debuting in the Bundesliga after only one professionals season, in which he was instrumental for Stuttgart's promotion, playing in every match and scoring 5 goals. He did better than his older brother Bernd, who failed to impress Bayern (8 matches in two seasons, 1974-76) and ended relegated with Saarbrucken this very season. The younger brother of Uli Hoeness, Dieter, was with Stuttgart since 1975, which meant playing second division football so far. Now he had very good season in the Bundesliga and impressed observers – ironically, at the time when Uli was practically finishing his career. Dieter made impact fairly late – at 24 – especially when compared to his brother, who was European champion at 20 and World champion at 22 , but the strong, forceful centre-forward was clearly coming up. Hansi Muller, only 20 years of age, was brilliant in midfield and climbing up the ladder of the national teams - he already played for the amateur formation, was member of the B-team, and before the season ended was invited to the Bundesteam and played in all games of Germany at the 1978 World Cup. These players were the motor for the strong year Stuttgart enjoyed. Specialists were careful, however, and reacted with reservations – given the recent history of Stuttgart, most likely the club would climb down to its familiar low position the next year. May be it was just enthusiastic season – after all, the new leaders were just too young and inexperienced, the veterans were getting too old, and the rest were run of the mill. But it was not so: Stuttgart had young skeleton to build around formidable team. They had the players who really shaped the next years of German football. In retrospect, Stuttgart became one of the best German teams in the 1980s. The climb to to the top was steady and really started in 1977-78. They came back strong and determined to stay strong. It was just a beginning of exciting decade for Stuttgart.