Monday, October 7, 2013

West German football ruled – it was not only the competitive high scoring game performed by disciplined players, but the whole structure. There was no clearer recognition of German superiority than the move of the best European player to German club – such transfer never happened before. But there were also incresing signs of stagnation – German football was increasingly becoming robotic and dull. Fast, tactically sound, uncompromising, but somewhat dull. It showed on international stage, where both clubs and the national team lost their supremacy. The German training system was very efficient, but... there was visible gap between the older generation of 1972-74 and the new blood coming from the youth system. Still, it was the top league football in the world, especially in terms of governing, facilities, and financing. Apart from the general sense of stagnation, the season was very interesting, starting with the summer transfers. Old heroes disappeared – Overath retired, the player who practically was Mr. Bundesliga, for he played right from the starting year of the league. But even greater news was the transfer of Kaiser Franz, who went to Cosmos (New York). However, the transfer of Ulrich Stielike was perhaps the most significant: if Beckenbauer and Overath were the old guard, inevitably having to step down because of age, Stielike was the top young star, the future of German football, guaranteeing preservation of high class. True, Borussia (Moenchengladbach) was always short of money and had to sell stars, but the exit of Stielike was ominous – without him, there were hardly any youngsters worthy to step in the shoes of giants of the previous generation. Stielike went to Real (Madrid). One other exiting player should be mentioned too – Roland Sandberg quit after 4 years of playing for 1. FC Kaiserslautern.

Sandberg was much talked about in the first half of the 1970s, but hardly after 1975. The reason was constant injuries – and the player born in 1946 had to quit because of them. His retirement was not simply from the game, but full retirement: the Germans established unique institution around 1975: 'sports invalids', who, like any other handicapped people, were retired on pension. Sandberg was recognized as such sports invalid. Plausible institution, it seemed to be, but... Sandberg returned to his native Sweden and after one year started playing again, adding three more seasons and two more clubs (Kalmar FF and BK Hacken) to his CV. Strange somewhat, but then who is there to say pensioners have no right to play?

Players out, players in. Perhaps the biggest domestic transfer was made between Bayern and Schalke 04 – Bayern bought the Yugoslavian star midfielder Branko Oblak. The rest of the big transfers concerned imports. The most exciting was made by Hamburger SV – they got Kevin Keegan from Liverpool.

By right the top transfer in Europe, for Keegan was the top player of the top club. He was still to play with red shirt, for HSV were using the colour this year, but this was not all – it was full recognition of the superiority of the Bundesliga even in terms of money. English players used to play for foreign clubs, but not in German ones. German clubs bought foreigners regularly, yet, not top stars. Now it was clear that they were ready to spend lots of money, on one hand, and on the other – Germany became equal to Spain as desired destination for best footballers.

Hamburger SV did not stop with Keegan – they also bought Ivan Buljan from Hajduk (Split).

One of the best players not only in Yugoslavia since 1974, Buljan was top class indeed. Not as expensive as Keegan, but high quality. Versatile too – Buljan easily played full back or defensive midfielder. HSV were obviously aiming to get stronger after winning the Cup Winners Cup in the spring of 1977.

The next big transfer was made by unlikely club – Eintrancht (Braunschweig.

They got no other but Paul Breitner, no longer needed by Real (Madrid). Perhaps Breitner was not in great shape, at least by Madrid's point of view, but going to relatively small club was surprising. Seemingly, Braunschweig became ambitious, for they also added the Swedish national team player Hasse Borg to Breitner.

Another big transfer was made by Eintracht (Frankfurt) – they got Stepanovic from Crvena zvezda (Belgrade).

This was a transfer in the usual German pattern, like the one of Borg – German clubs preferred buying cheap players from Yugoslavia and Sweden. Dragoslav Stepanovic also fit the Yugoslavian pattern – he was born in 1948, that is, already 29 years old, as the Yugoslavian rules for export required. Required on paper, at least – Buljan was younger, but he was an 'exception'. Still, Stepanovic was big addition – he was always a reliable player, quickly adapted to German football, and became a key Eintracht player.