Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The transfer market was exciting enough, focusing on the big deals of course. The whole picture is too big for detailed full exposition, but four more transfers, hardly noticed at the time, must be mentioned. Three of them are similar, falling into the dark political oppositions of the time: they involved defectors from Eastern Europe. Two were East Germans. Back in the 1950s, before the Berlin Wall was built, there were many East German players going to West Germany. After the Wall was erected, the numbers dropped and there had not been any defectors since late 1960s. Until 1975, when two members of Under-21 DDR national team defected when the team went to Turkey for a match. The goalkeeper Jurgen Pahl, born 1956, and the central defender Nortbert Nachtweih, born 1957.

Both were suspended for a year, thus registered as newcomers after the suspension ended – that is, for the season 1977-78. Both were curiously together – originally playing for Chemie (Halle, DDR), and now – for Eintracht (Frankfurt). As for their suspension, it was the long established practice of FIFA/UEFA – one year, for breach of contract and illegal change of club. It was often the reason stopping East European players from defecting – one year is long time for relatively oldish player, but the East Germans were very young. Beside, they were immediately taken by Eintracht, paid and trained. Now it was time to finally play. The whole political issue was carefully avoided by international football bodies starting with defection of Ferenc Puskas and company in 1956. The Hungarian Federation immediately asked for banishment, stating exactly illegal move by the players, leaving their clubs without permission for money. Puskas argued political reasons, but the international bodies feared the threat of Communist countries leaving FIFA and UEFA in protest – political reasons were deemed irrelevant and what remained was just a breach of transfer regulations. And this practice remained intact – Communist Federations immediately protested any defection and FIFA/UEFA automatically suspended the defectors for one year, although it was laughable – Eastern Europeans were, on paper, amateurs, and what 'breach of contract' could be between amateur and club? The are all just for fun, right? Suspensions served well in the East, where different story was presented to the population: stupid, greedy traitors, lured by false promises for easy life, money, women, and drinks, jumped ship. And look at them now: unemployed, poor, nobody needs them. Not a word about suspension – the simple fact they were not playing sufficed for propaganda. Of course, measures were taken so such disgrace would not happen again. Punishments followed – in the case of players above, their club coach was punished. His career was practically ruined and as a result he himself started thinking of defection. He managed to do that, quite dramatically, a few years later – and also was suspended for one year by the rules. Pahl and Nachtweih were grateful guys, however – they not only rushed to visit his former coach after he arrived in West Germany, but helped him financially in his tough year of suspension. As for the players themsleves, Pahl has decent, yet, not exceptional career. Perhaps he is best remembered for amusing goal – when he tried to pass a ball by hand to a teammate, he lost the ball somehow and it ended in his own net. Nachtweih was different story – he became one of the best German defenders in the early 1980s, moved to Bayern, and was considered for the national team. Alas, his defection blocked his possible playing for West Germany – since he played for various youth national teams of DDR, he was ineligible for any other national team. Rules. And by rules, Pahl and Nachtweih debuted in 1977, yet, not exactly part of the transfer system.

The same kind of debut made another East European player – the Hungarian Jozsef Horvath, formerly Ujpesti Dosza and the Hungarian national team player.

Most defectors in the 1960s and 70s were Hungarians, but nowadays this is rarely mentioned in their biographies , so it is very difficult to consider every case – in the late 1960s Hungary allowed some oldish players to go to the West legally. Horvath was almost surely a defector – there is a gap in his career between 1975 when he was still playing for Ujpesti Dosza and 1977 when he introduced as a new player by Rot Weiss (Essen). But his story is different and more typical than the lucky story of the young East Germans: he was already 28 in 1977. After missing a year, he was not a great catch for big clubs and appeared in the Second Division. Where he had difficult adaptation, played only 14 matches during his only German season, and moved to USA in 1978, where he played in NASL and the indoor leagues.

Defectors were at least some news in the receiving country, but the last newcomer to the Bundesliga was not any, save the amusement value. 1. FC Koln toured Japan in the late summer and there hired one Yasuhiko Okudera, born in 1952. He somewhat impressed the Germans when Koln played against his club Furukawa Electric. Japan had no professional football – their old system cam be best described as semi-professional: big firms run clubs, the players were firm's employees, probably not doing much else than playing football, but still employed under other titles – workers, lower managerial stuff, clerks. Technically, amateurs. Obtaining Okudera was neither difficult, nor expensive for Koln – the only question was what for? May be at first there was not even that question, but the answer was quickly found during the season.

Yasuhiko Okudera celebrating a goal with his captain Flohe. Unthinkable and unbelievable... but Okudera quickly established himself as starter. In retrospect, he is called the first Asian player in Europe. This is incorrect, but hard to prove, for whoever played before Okudera was small fry in obscure championships, often even considered domestic, if coming from a colony. Further, Israel was still member of the Asian Federation by 1977, and Israeli players, however few, appeared as professionals in European leagues. First Asian Okudera was not, but the first Japanese player in Europe he is – and a legendary one too, for he not only debuted in Europe, but successfully in top league and top club. Okudera played almost 10 years in West Germany! Nobody would have imagined that in 1977, when he was a novelty, hired perhaps only for amusement and not expected to move away from the reserves bench. He even did not appear in the pre-season photo of 1.FC Koln made for Kicker magazine.

From the highest to the lowest, the summer transfers had it all, and the season was ready to begin.