Monday, December 30, 2013

The conclusion of the French 1977-78 championship:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Above those threatened with relegation was the vast comfort zone of the mid-table clubs. Comfort for some, distress for others. Some were rising, others went the opposite direction. Paris SG so far was unable to materialize its ambitious project – the club spent money, bought players year and year out, but so far they were no more than mid-table club. This year they finished 11th , not a surprise. Bordeaux and Lyon, endangered by relegation and only dreaming of the 'comfort zone', presented opposite cases: Bordeaux finished low, but they already started their new team.

On the surface, it was a rag-tag team, combining rising players like Giresse and Bergeroo, dependable foreigners like the German Gernot Rohr and the Swisse star Jeandupeux, and various 'hit and miss' players of little note. The club was still searching and trying to find the right formula – they added the well respected Cameroonian Jean-Pierre Tokoto, formerly of Paris SG, loaned for the spring half of the season Spanish striker, Alfredo Megido Sanchez, from Real Betis. No results yet, but the seeds of the great team of the early 1980s were planted.

Lyon was the opposite case – their solid team of the first half of the 1970s inevitably aged, key players were retiring one after another, but the club missed the right moment for rebuilding and was hit hard as a result. A new team was practically started in 1977 and the jump-start was rather lame.

This is the squad with which Lyon finished the 1976-77 – pretty much the same team struggled in 1977-78, memorable largely for their unusual red kit. Domenech departed for Strasbourg, the rest were at hand. Aime Jacquet was hired to coach them – 36 years old, at the beginning of his illustrious career, and, at the time, a big risk. Young, inexperienced coach is always closely scrutinized and found at fault... but, on the other hand, the choice was right: building a new team needed a coach with fresh ideas. Whatever these ideas were, the new recruits were hardly the kind of players to carry them on. The 30-years old Yugoslavian defender Rajko Aleksic was good, but neither a big star, nor in his prime. He played for Yugoslavia in the very distant 1968, during the successful European Championship campaign of his country. He played a total of 2 games and was never called again. Hardly the player able to propel Lyon to glory. The other recruit came from Strasbourg – there is confusion about him, for some sources tell he came to Lyon in 1977, others say 1978 – in order of invigorating the midfield. The name is Giora Spiegel. A 30-years old Israeli of modest abilities. It was not really a start of a new team, rather the cleaning of the stable was not finished yet.

The third club to drop significantly down was Saint Etienne. Surprisingly, they finished 7th. Not a factor in the championship, although the team still won 18 of their 38 fixtures. They lost 14,though. A crisis? It was inevitable – the great squad of Robert Herbin was old as a squad. Same players for years, hardly going to become stronger if the future, very familiar to every other club in France, may be tired. Herbin made small, well thought changes, but the team reached its peak in 1975 and it was time for radical change. The problem was classical – individually, the players were old, save for a few, they were well tuned to each other, there was no reason to touch a winning team with reserves, who had played for France. No reason, as long as they were winning... but they were not winning, the signal was clear, and it was just a matter of coach's vision and bravery.

Not a team of losers... the very problem! The policy of carefully made small changes exemplified by Zimako – a squad like that perhaps had no room for anything radical, just a new player now and then. Almost automatically one dismisses the very thought of replacements – replace who? Only Farison was at retiring age... But... Merchadier and Repellini reached their peak a few years back and by 1977-78 were more or less reserves. Rocheteau, P. Revelli, and Santini were missing scoring opportunities for years and everybody knew it. It was high time for something larger than inclusion of one new player because somebody retired. It is debatable whether rebuilding had to begin an year or too earlier, but now the signs of decline were sharp. There was no time for waiting, hesitating, giving one more chance – it was now or never. It was painfully sad to see these players gone, but there was no other option, if the club wanted to stay on top. Lyon was scary reminder of what procrastination leads to.

Three clubs went the opposite direction – Strasbourg, Monaco, and Bastia. Ascending fast. Which one was the most surprising is difficult to distinguish. The first two no long ago played in the second division. Bastia was no stranger to second level football and when playing in first division was unimpressive squad, living dangerously near the relegation zone. But they made the biggest French transfer in the summer of 1977, getting one of the top world stars Johnny Rep from Spanish Valencia. His impact was immediately felt as if the not-so bad team was spurred.

Descent team even without Rep – Ognjen Petrovic, Larios, Guesdon, Orlanducci, Vezir – but with the added class of the Dutch forward, Bastia experienced perhaps their greatest ever season. They reached the final of the UEFA Cup and climbed to 5th place in France. Not a title contenders, but coming close. One of the nicest surprises of the season. The only question was about the future – were they able to keep their best players and preserve good form? Or were they to be one-time wonder.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The French First Division - relegation zone:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Interesting season in France – her football on the rise, competitive and attractive game, interesting players. Not the strongest championship in Europe, but certainly better than most. Large second division, divided into two groups of 18 teams each. The groups were not exactly constant – division was more or less geographical, but almost every year some clubs were moved from one groups to the other. The number varied for no obvious reason, but this provided some suspense – the new clubs in every group were often much more than the usual promoted and relegated newcomers. Three clubs were relegated to third level. The champions were promoted and the second placed competed for the third promotional spot. With so many clubs in second division, the better known names had some advantage, but various smaller clubs existed more or less comfortably untroubled by neither ambition, nor fear of relegation. Dunkerque was one of those:

They finished 4th in Group B without aiming at promotion. Not challenging the more ambitious, just occupying the comfort zone.

Some league members were hardly known even at the time and disappeared from sight long ago. Big league was good for such tiny clubs – it was the highest achievement, possible only because of the structure. However, it was more than questionable how much the country's football benefits from large league full of small small clubs, often not able to sustain professional teams for long.

SR Saint Die was a typical example – they finished 11th in Group A. It was hard to pay attention to such clubs in real time, let alone remember and recall them after years. Two such clubs were relegated from Group A: SR Haguenau, 17th, and RC Fontainebleau, 18th. Both settled early on the bottom, far behind the 16th club – it happened to be Toulouse, which escaped relegation not because they had 9 points more than SR Haguenau, but because the second promotion to First Division was won by Group B. Toulouse ended 16th on goal-difference – 5 clubs finished with 30 points. Survival was on the mind of most clubs – three points divided the risky 16th place from the respectful 8th, taken by Avignon, recently playing in First Division.

Similar was the situation in Group B: AS Poissy (16th), US Noeux-les-Mines (17th), and Stade Malherbe Caen (18th) were relegated, but all of them gave up long ago. FC Limoges was securely sitting on 15th place with 5 points more than AS Poissy. Up to 6th place there was relative comfort without earning many points, yet, among the sedentary clubs was Stade Rennes, at 12th place, just relegated from First Division. Clubs like Rennes were perhaps more representative than the unknown little clubs: a rather large group of 'unsettled' clubs, moving up and down frequently. Unlike other countries, where the 'unsettled' are typically too strong for second division, but too weak for the first, the French clubs moved up and down differently: a club may finish high in the table one year, but suddenly perish the next. Then jump up again. Rennes played well only few years back, now it had difficulty competing with clubs like AS Poissy. At the same time recent members of second division were at the opposite end, deciding the French title. Yet, recently relegated clubs lived quite comfortably in second division – the competition was too weak to put them in real trouble. Dispersed in two groups, they had little competition and were inevitably bound to return to top flight. Thus, Group A gave the appearance of a race between three clubs, but SC Angers, just relegated, easily won.

Angers earned 49 points from 21 wins and 7 ties. They lost 6 games. Not exactly overwhelming winners, but it was enough – they finished 3 points ahead of the next pursuer.

Standingfrom left: Janin, Brulez, Heslot, Citron, Amersek.

Crouching : Brucato, Guillon, Felci, Augustin, Cassan, Gonfalone.

Angers slipped down, but were up again after a single season – they did not even change their squad, depending on two Yugoslavians – Vili Amersek, who came from Olimpija (Ljubljana) in 1976, and Miroslav Boskovic (not on the picture), who arrived from Partizan (belgrade) in 1975. Normally, Yugoslavian professionals were good and reliable, but those two were not exactly stars – yes, they helped Angers, but were getting old, and were not the kind of players able to elevate their club much higher. Angers was returning to top flight, but the possibility of coming back to second level was more than a possibility.

Second finished RCFC Besancon – three points behind Angers, but also three points ahead of 4th placed SC Toulon.

Now, for Besancon this was a success – unlike Angers, they were not regular first division club. Having a chance of going up was like a dream come true, but it was just a dream...

Standing from left: Bruder, Viscaino, Gazzola, Raymond, Bagnol, Traoré.

Crouching : Masson, Dralet, Sanchez, Bedouet, Martinez.

Anonimous, typically second-division squad, unable to really challenge Angers, let alone something stronger. At the end, Besancon did not get promotion, which was disappointing for their fans, but made FC Toulouse very happy: Besancon staying in the group meant only two clubs were relegated, not three. Besancon missed, Toulouse survived.

Group B was tougher: three clubs competed for promotion – Lille, relegated in 1976-77. and two Parisian clubs, eager to return to first division – Red Star and Paris FC. Four points divided success and failure at the end. Red Star failed – their relative weakness was largely in attack: they scored 58 goals during the season, but the competition scored over 70.

Lille Olympique triumphed at the end with 51 points. Best attack and second-best defense, 21 wins and only 4 losses. Going 'home' after one year in purgatory.

Unlike Angers, Lille tried to change their team – they recruited two new experienced foreigners: a curious player from Luxembourg, Gilbert Dussier, who was born in Zaire (Congo Kinshasa), and played already in West Germany and France. He came from Nancy and lasted only this year, moving to Belgium after the end of the season. Dussier hardly ever stayed longer then a season in the same club. The other one came from Antwerp (Belgium), but he was Yugoslavian – Zarko Olarevic. Unlike Dussier, the forward stayed, becoming a key player of Lille. Along with the re-enforcement some good players were at hand – Pleimelding, Simon, Dos Santos. Good enough professionals, a first division material. Lille looked stronger than Angers, perhaps the best of the promoted, but hardly capable of more than fighting for survival in the top league. Strong enough for winning second division.

Paris FC finished second, missing direct promotion, but still having a chance.

Paris FC was relegated from First Divison in 1973 and finally were strong enough to try a return. If 'return' is the right word... for the young club with strange history, leading to scandals and a split, giving birth of Paris Saint Germain, probably lost even hatred for Paris SG, taking 'their' place among the best French clubs by now. Paris FC only hoped to establish themselves at top level and may be then they would think of some real development. So far, they failed in their first attempt. It was their second chance, which they did not miss – at the expense of Besancon. Going up... the club was hoping, but in vein. Hope was strong at the end of 1977-78 season.

Hope is one thing, reality quite another. Paris FC already was financially limited. Back in the summer of 1977 they recruited only one player. True, they had few – may be not very ambitious, but good enough – players, like the goalkeeper Charrier, B. Lech, Lhoste, Bourgeois. Nothing exceptional, so some additions were badly needed. But there was only one – Nebojsa Zlataric (not on the photo), taken from Marseille. The Yugoslavian striker was supposed to bring some class... whether he did is debatable: he was out after the season's end. Paris FC clinched promotion, but it was clear that they needed better players. At the end, Lille and Paris FC provided more interesting data about Yugoslavian export rules than French football: by 1977 the old rules regulating Yugoslavian export eroded to almost absurdity. Still national team players, the best Yugoslavs, that is, had to wait until reaching 28-years of age and were required to serve in the Army before getting permission to play abroad. But.. not everybody was subjected to the rules and lesser known players may be not at all. Olarevic (Lille), good, but not star player, was 27 and already played in Belgium. Zlataric was 24 when arrived in Paris, but he already played 2 years for Marseille. In fact, he played more in France than he did in Yugoslavia. Back home, Zlataric appeared in a single season with the jersey of small, hardly heard of lower tier club – Macva (Budva). Olarevic at least played for Vojvodina (Novi Sad) before moving abroad. Strange anyway, for when top players often had to wait for years, losing chances to play for great clubs as a result, little known players were easily moving to the West. Zlataric very likely did not even ask for permission, judging by his age. And he benefited by the strong reputation of Yugoslavian football – he was recruited by Marseille. Alas, he failed – either not so talented, as hoped, or lazy, or who knew what. At 24, he was stepping down, to second division. And he never became a big name player. Did not last in Paris FC either.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

First division. Clear outsiders at the bottom – two clubs with pathetic records. Only 4 wins each in a league generally playing attacking football. The outsiders were doomed early.

FC Boom finished last with 15 points. Nothing surprising – they rarely played at top level and when they did, the whole aim was escaping relegation. Hide and seek game, not lasting long.

KSV Cercle Brugge took the 17th place with 16 points. Normally, they were stable first-leagers, occasionally coming close to peril, but relegation was not exactly expected from them. Very poor season they played and had to accept the blow: safety was 8 points out of their reach at the end. Relegated clubs are pitied only by their own fans and nobody else, yet, it was a bit sad to see a city derby gone – Cercle Brugge was no longer a match for their neighbours, FC Brugge, but still a loss.

A large group of weak, but untroubled clubs, more or less waited for something better in the future – untroubled by fears of relegation, but having no squads for anything better than lounging in the lower half of the table. Five clubs, the lowest, KV Kortrijk, with 24 points, and highest, Charleroi, with 29 points at 12th place.

Another group occupied the real comfort zone between 11th and 5th place. SK Beveren was 5th with 40 points and KSV Waregem was 11th with 32 points. Rather equal clubs, not really able to do anything else than bumping into and edging each other. Such clubs exist anywhere and perhaps the Belgian 'bulk' was typical – clubs with few either fading or rising stars. Both suppliers and receivers of the top clubs.

KSV Waregem, 11th this season, was typical of this group: standing from left: DeMesmaeker, E. Denorme, A. Saelens, L. Millecamps, J. Dreesen, M. Millecamps.

First row: Giba, M. Devolder, R. Haleydt, H. Delesie, A. Koudizer.

Anonymous squads, having an occasional good player – Luc Millecamps, for instance. Talent was hard to keep, but Luc Millecamps became internationally famous playing for Waregem. For new recruits second division was the likelier source. Giba exemplifies that: he also played for KAA Gent and captained it, which brings the question of reliability of pictorial material: KAA Gent above is from 1977-78 – Zoltan Varga did not play anymore after this season. Waregem's photo is also labeled 1977-78... unless Giba changed clubs in mid-season, something rare and even unlikely at the time, one of the pictures is wrong.

Perhaps the Belgian league was just too large for a small country with small pool of talent – 14 out of 18 first league clubs were entirely out of the race for the title. But it was exciting race – normally, two or three clubs really competed. This years they were four and the race was tight to the very end. And this was the big optimistic change. Anderlecht and FC Brugge were in top form, successful in Europe, and a fair match of the biggest European clubs. Standard (Liege) spent most of the 1970s in decline, but now had a new bright team and was back in the race. And K. Lierse SK, usually a modest club, had a splendid season. These four clubs left the rest in league far behind – the 5th placed was 7 points behind the 4th – but the difference between the champions and the 4th was only 4 points. The quartet played attacking and high-scoring football. The highest number of wins in the rest of the league was 15 – the lowest of the top 4 had 20. The lowest number of goals scored of the top four was 69 – the highest in the rest of the league was 59. Surely, these four clubs outclassed the rest, but in the same time they appeared very up to date clubs, playing open football, not scheming and fearing anybody. Pleasure to watch.

Lierse finished 4th with 47 points. Certainly their squad was short on big talent and may be enthusiasm carried them that far, but it was not a bad team at all.

Unlike most Belgian clubs, Lierse did not depended heavily on foreigners. They had only one – the Portuguese forward Raul Aguas. The real strength was young Belgian talent – Janssens, Leo De Smet, Walter Ceulemans, his younger – only 20-years old – brother Jan Ceulemans and even younger Erwin Vandenbergh (or Van den Bergh), born in 1959. A teenager practically. These group obviously inspired their rather modest teammates and was enough to challenge the big clubs. And, if Lierse was able to keep their stars and add a few more, they had great chance to become really remarkable. The future depended on money and planning, but Lierse was already significant sign of change in Belgian football – a new vintage of excellent players was emerging and already making an impact.

Standard finished with bronze – they ended with 2 points more than Lierse, a point short of second place, and two points short of the title. Historically, this was hardly remarkable year for Standard, but it was a great sign of recovery. The 1970s were bad years for the club – it suffered from long decline, was late to rebuild the aging squad with which they entered the decade, and lost their position as one of the two best Belgian clubs. Given the weakness of the rest of the league, Standard never sunk low, but struggled and not a factor in championship race. This year was entirely different and most importantly – the new young team was shaped and it was clear that these boys were to be going up and up.

Gerets, Renquin, Preud'Homme – the world was yet to hear about them, but these were staple names in the 1980s. The difficult name of the goalkeeper was to trouble fans and journalists until 1996! Obvious talent – Michel Preud'Homme was just 18 in 1977-78 season, who benched the well known Belgian national team keeper Christian Piot. At 30, the best age for goalkeepers, Piot had to give way to a mere teenager – this speak loudly of the qualities of the youngsters in Standard. Eric Gerets already captained the team – another recognition of young quality. But it was not all – Standard was well rounded and had quite a long reliable bench. Still, it was mainly young team – the 22-years old Siguirvinsson from Iceland was also to be very well known in the 1980s. The 24-years old West German striker Harald Nickel was also making a name for himself – he was the top scorer of the season with 22 goals. Like his Belgian teammates and Siguirvinsson he was soon to be asked to play for West Germany – he did not last, unfortunately, unlike his teammates, but still moved from Standard to better contracts in the Bundesliga. These were the great hopes for the future, young talented players already making the skeleton of Standard. They were complimented by competent and experienced bunch – the 28-years old Austrian national team striker Alfred Riedl, who was the best scorer of Belgium in 1974-75; the 31-years old West German Helmuth Graf; Christian Piot, still a prime choice for the Belgian national team; the Yugoslavian Josip Keckes; and the Hungarian defector Yuli Veee (real name Gyula Visneye), who already was statistical nightmare – listed as Hungarian, Belgian, and US American, not to mention the problem with his two names, one of which a whimsical confusion. And not to mention where he really played, for he shuffled between Europe and North America and was found in different clubs in the same year, depending on the month. Lastly, Standard had a very good coach – Robert Waseige – thus, entirely matching Anderlecht and FC Brugge. It was clear Standard was just coming back, was rising, and was to stay and compete for the title for a long time.

Anderlecht finished with silver, thanks to their 50 points. One point better than Standard, one point behind FC Brugge. Anderlecht was flying high – excellent team, carefully adjusted every year, great coach – Raymond Goetals – and great stars.

To go player by player would be redundant – Anderelecht were famous. It was also the year of their second Cup Winners Cup. May be playing both domestic championship and the strenuous final rounds of an European tournament was too much and they had to sacrifice the league title? Hardly a strong argument – FC Brugge was in exactly the same situation. The national team of Holland perhaps had a reason to grumble for not having star players and coach on time for World Cup preparations, but Anderlecht had enough experience and depth to fight for he title along with competing in Europe. It was a 'Dutch team' – Arie Haan, Nico De Bree, Johnny Dusbaba, Rob Rensenbrink, Ronny van Poucke – but the Belgian part was not at all to be dismissed as mere helpers: half of the regular Belgian national team. Add the Dane Benny Nielsen and the Congolese (or Zairean, for his home country was still called Zaire) Jean-Claude Bouvy for 'spice'. Strong, well balanced squad, in its prime. One of the most exciting to watch teams of the time, one of the very top in Europe. To beat them was a privilege. To beat them was not a matter a luck, but a matter of real class.

FC Brugge had it and clinched the title at the end of the exciting race between three great clubs and three great coaches. Lierse was tough opposition too, only not all that famous, so the success of FC Brugge has to be really appreciated – Ernst Hapel was pressured by the Dutch federation to start training Holland for the World Cup. Meantime, FC Brugge had two tournaments to win – the European Champions Cup and the Belgian championship. They lost the European cup, but not in disgrace, and still outfoxed the domestic enemies. It was dramatic victory by a point – Anderlecht had much better goal-difference and equal points were to leave FC Brugge second. The champion's defense left much to be desired – they allowed 48 goals in the 34 season's matches, the worst record among the title contenders. Anderlecht allowed exactly ½ less – only 24. Eleven clubs had equal or better defensive record than the champions – telling only that FC Brugge was shaky in its own half. But they had the best scoring record in the league – 73 goals. An anomaly, when compared to their European performance, clearly marked by tough defense and almost Italian approach: defensive football, waiting for occasional counter-attack. They scored little and hardly allowed any goals in their net. May be that was all because of Hapel – his team had two faces, depending on the opposition. Credit to the great tactician, but the players were to be credited too – for understanding and executing very different tactics, changing from one to the other in a single weak. Worthy champions of wonderful and dramatic race. And more – it was their third consecutive title. Belgium was theirs.

Standing from left: Jensen, Bastijns, Volders, De Cubber, Leekens, Vandereycken.

Crouching: Soerensen, Cools, Lambert, Sanders, Courant.

Another team no needing much introduction, but deserving perhaps one more look:

Lovely Puma kit – their home blue and away white. The huge strange numbers of the sponsor's name, looking more like uniform element than advertizement. In the battle of kit makers, Puma topped Adidas in Belgium. As for the team, just like Anderlecht, FC Brugge continued to shape its squad, thus making one more interesting opposition – if Anderlecht were Dutch, FC Brugge were Danish: to Jensen and Le Fevre (who departed in 1977, but captained FC Brugge the previous two years) one more was added – Soerensen. The Danes were not as famous as the Dutch, but they bested them three years in a row. Of course they were not alone – big group of Belgian national team players: Lambert, Bastijns, Cools, Leekens, Volders, Van der Eycken; the defector from Hungary and former national team player of the same country Ku; the Austrian national team player Krieger, going to the World Cup finals soon; the English striker Davies; the former Holland-Under 21 goalkeeper Barth. Coached by Hapel, FC Brugge firmly established itself in Europe and Belgium.

Monday, December 16, 2013

More about the Belgian II Division at:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Barcelona still saved the season, setting a new record as a cup winner. It was tit for tat – Real won their 18th title and Barcelona - 18th cup. A consolation, but still second best. Second best, but still something to be proud of -especially because the final was played in Madrid, right on Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The home stadium of the arch-enemy, which was out of the race. It was interesting final for other reasons, though. UD Las Palmas was the other finalist.

No doubt, it was great for the islanders to reach the final. They hoped to win it too and it would have been great for seasoned players like Carnevalli and Brindisi. But the two Argentine stars were no match for the much classier Catalunian squad, led by Cruyff. Barcelona won 3-1.

Brave Las Palmas, reaching the final, but just like in the championship, they ended empty-handed. Good team, good coach, but a relatively small club – this was the best they could do. Munoz, though, was to coach the Spanish national team thanks to his work with Las Palmas.

Barcelona triumphed at the enemy's den. It was the last hurray for Cruyff.

Familiar Barcelona squad, betraying nothing of dark dealings. The flying Dutch captained his team to a record win of the trophy. Confident victory. So far – so good. Lost championship, however... with Cruyff, Barcelona won one title back in 1973-74. With the other great Dutchman, Neeskens – nothing. Cruyff was at the end of his contract and hinting retirement. The question was much debated, but in terms of Holland's national team and the World Cup finals. At the end of the season Cruyff announced his retirement in his typically veiled manner: he was true to his old word announced at the end of the 1974 World Cup, that he was going to retire in 1978. But he nevertheless added that he 'is semi-retiring'. Hard to tell what he really meant – at 31, he was still good for active professional football. Yet, he was out of it, in his own words. And it was his own decision, perplexing as it was. He was loved by Barcelona's fans, there was no known conflict with the club – both the player and the club acted as they were happy with each other, it was only the that the star did not want to play the game anymore. Respectful goodby... sadly, nothing was to be done about it. In the fall of 1978 Cruyff played his testimonial match and there his words of 'semi-retirement' suddenly took another meaning: Cruyff played only for two clubs – Ajax and Barcelona. Barcelona, his last club, where he was a god, did not participate – it was a match between Ajax and Bayern. True, the time was bad, right in the middle of fall domestic and international tournaments, but Barcelona was entirely absent from the testimonial. It was strange... and most likely the whole retirement-semi-retirement story was different, but hidden from the general public. It was more than likely, that Cruyff wanted to stay in Barcelona, perhaps not only expecting a new contract, but a bigger one. It was also clear that Barca needed a new, different squad. Cruyff, often antagonizing, may have been out of favour – he left open the possibility, but Barca was not interested. He was out, may be he miscalculated the situation. May be so, but the sad reality was not in favour – Barcelona really needed rebuilding and new stars. Cruyff, and Michels as well, had to go. For one of the greatest players in football history it was noble ending: he finished his days in Barcelona with a trophy.

There was one more thing about the squad: a strange black player, called Bio. By sight, a third foreigner... but Bio was listed as Spaniard. Still worth a note, for there were hardly any black Spanish players at the time. Even if he was a genuine Spaniard, still Barca had too many foreigners in the squad above: Rafael Zuviria was an Argentine. So, oriundi again... with two Dutch players, may be Bio, like Zuviria, was also with Spanish blood? No. He was naturalized Spaniard. The 26-years old striker with real name Williams Silvio Modesto Verisimo was Brazilian by birth. Bio had no Brazilian fame and came to play in Europe very young – at first he played in Portugal, then moved to the Spanish second division club Terrasa. Maried Spanish woman and became Spanish citizen by marriage. Barcelona took him from Terrasa, but most likely in mid-season, for he was not listed at all as Barcelona player in 1977-78. But he played at the cup final, in April 1978. Obviously, Barcelona counted on him for the future, but... Bio played a total of 9 matches for Barca and that in 1978-79 season. Scored 3 goals, not a bad percentage, but that was all. A curiousity really, not a new star. For him, winning the cup in April 1978 was to be the highest career achievement. For Barcelona – just a small episode.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More about Spain over there:

Monday, December 9, 2013

First division, the real drama, the real excitement, the real winners, if only on Spanish scale. Same old, same old, in other words – Barcelona against Real Madrid. But it was never just that. Difficult league, where scoring was not high – only one club scored 2 goals per game average – but unlike Italy, there was worship of the single point in Spain, and everybody fought for a win, not for a tie. At the end, only three clubs finished with with 10 or more ties – Hercules (Alikante) with 10 and Las Palmas and Burgos, 11 ties each. There was no club with 50% or more of their games tied, like in Italy and USSR. Winning was everything, yet, it was largely winning home games. As for outsiders, there was one - the debutant Cadiz CF.

A rather typical story – a modest club, finally reaching top division, but not having enough resources to recruit strong players. Lasting a single year at the bottom of the table practically from the start of the championship and existing more or less as a point donor to the other clubs. Cadiz CF fought the best they could, but were clearly outclassed. They were the only club with less than 10 wins this season. Their strikers were second worst with 30 goals – only Racing Santander scored less goals. Their defense was also the worst – Cadiz received 69 goals. The finished last. May be the only thing needed to be said about them is a reminder of the fashion trends in the decade – the bell-bottoms of their coach above. Even then it was weird to see middle-aged men dressed in youth fashion, but the trend was already accepted by the mainstream culture. Even in conservative Spain. Yet, it looked and look weird. Such were the days, though. Fashion did not help Cadiz a bit.

Not did anybody else. Elche and Real Betis joined Cadiz.

Ten foreigners were unable to save Elche from relegation. They fought to the end, but lost the battle for survival – ended with 27 points, 5 more than Cadiz, but still three points behind the nearest escapee. For Elche a whole period ended this year – their perhaps most successful period, stretching from 1959 to 1978. Elche never won anything, but played constantly in the first division and back in the 1960s were among the strongest clubs, finishing among the best 8. But the club was gradually slipping down in the 1970s, reaching the sad and fearful stage of small clubs concerned only with escaping relegation. The inevitable happened this year.

Above them competition was vicious. All teams from the 10th placed down (if not even from the 5th placed down) spent the season running away from the spectre of Second Division. Six points divided Atletico Madrid at the 5th final place from the relegated 16th, but the bitter struggle was between the clubs spread from 10th to 16th place. Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad at the end finished 10th and 11th with 33 points each. Burgos and Racing Santader ended just bellow them with 31 points. Three clubs finished with 30 points each. Two survived – Espanol (Barcelona) and Hercules (Alikante). The third did not. What was the decisive factor? Hard to tell, for there was no particular consistency in the rules deciding the places of clubs with equal points: up the table, goal-difference was seemingly the factor. So it appears, looking at the goal-difference Valencia (4th) and Sporting Gijon (5th). But only between these two clubs appears so – all other clubs with equal points were seemingly positioned not by goal-difference, but on the accumulated results of their head to head matches. Real Betis had rather good goal-difference – certainly better one than not only Hercules' and Espanol's, but better than a total of 9 clubs: 51:52. Did not matter.

16th and relegated... Real Betis won the Spanish Cup in 1976-77 and were relegated the next season. Strange, yet not so strange – after all, Real Zaragoza were relegated not very long after winning the cup. Looked like a curse for smaller clubs – winning the cup exhausting them to death. Real Betis did not look all that on paper, but in reality Gerrie Muhren and Atilla Ladinsky were fading rapidly. Both were mostly reserves this season. The club hardly had strong core players and they went down. Sadly, with their relegation the number of local derbies in the league were reduced to two cities – Madrid and Barcelona. May be the fans of Sevilla FC were happy to see their neighbours down and out, but still it was sad to see a local derby gone to the dogs. Real Betis may have been unlucky, but such is football. Others were lucky:

Rayo Vallecano finished 19th, which may be considered a success for the modest club from Madrid. Playing in first division was a success, indeed – with neighbours like Real and Atletico, a chance of another club attracting fans and money was next to impossible. Once upon a time there were few clubs competing more or less on equal footing in Madrid, but by the 1970s the two giants dwarfed whatever other clubs existed. It is even questionable whether Real and Atletico considered the matches against Rayo Vallecano as a derby. Cleraly, the smaller club was unable to compete with the big clubs, but still it was great to have them in the league. Madrid was the only Spanish city with three first-division clubs, at least for the moment. Rayo Vallecano could not even dream of winning anything or even building relatively strong squad. Playing in Primera Division was their success.

Standing, from left: Alcazar, Anero, Uceda, Nieto, Tanco, Rial

First rwo: Francisco, Landaburu, Salazar, Fermin, Alvanito.

Not a single recognizable player here, if those are the right names. And if the names correspond to players' positions on the picture... but lovely kit. And something else about their kit – small Spanish clubs used the 'orthodox' production of Adidas and Puma. The big clubs – no. These were still early years for the new kits, advertizing more the maker than the club, in Spain. The change was coming with clubs like Rayo Vallecano, the small fry.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Second Division Spain at

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Spain was news and no news – some of the fears and expectations faded away already. With them – the hype. Back in 1973, the big fear was rich Spanish clubs quickly buying the greatest world stars and establishing dominance on club level. By 1977 it was no longer the case – no Spanish club won anything. The most they did was playing two European finals, which they lost, but most importantly, the finalists were not Real Madrid and Barcelona. Not a single Spanish club was a trend setter in the 1970s. Nor was the Spanish national team, which continued to struggle. At last, Spain was going to the World Cup finals – for the first time since 1966 – but it was not an exciting team. The big transfers, depleting other countries from the best talent, became rare. By 1977, Spain was hardly the preferred destination for the best players – Germany was more attractive, at least for the Europeans. Spanish clubs made impressive transfers still, but the not many – Real Madrid bought Uli Stielike in 1977, but that was all. It was interesting pattern, somewhat confirming the fears: Real bought once again a high-profile player from Borussia Moenchengladbach, the third already, after Netzer and Henning Jensen. Add Breitner, and the picture was complete – Real chose Germans, products of the most advanced football system in the world (Jensen was Danish, but became a star while playing in the Bundesliga). Barcelona preferred Dutch school, but no new transfer was made since 1974 – Cruyff and Neeskens were in the club and Rinus Michels returned to coach. Big names were playing Spain, but most of them arrived years ago – 1974 was more or less the benchmark. Ayala, Luis Pereira, and Leivinha in Atletico Madrid, Mario Kempes in Valencia... pretty much, that was the whole list of great stars. Old hands by now and, unfortunately, most of them already reached their peak and were no longer the same. Cruyff was hinting retirement. Netzer already retired. Breitner was gone. Only Mario Kempes was still going up. As for Stielike, going to Real Madird playing cruel joke on him – he missed the 1978 World Cup, thanks to funny decision of the West German Federation to include only German-based players in the national team. Funny, because Uli Stielike was the only candidate (Beckenbauer moved to USA, but he did not want to play for the national team anymore – and his decision was known well before his relocation) – it was counter-productive rule, judging by the pitiful German performance in Argentina. Back in Spain Stielike was strong, but... most of the 'stars' flocking to Spain were hardly known players, predominantly from Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

The advantages were obvious: skilful South Americans, Spanish speaking, cheap, and easy to naturalize. Cheap, because the exodus of troubled countries under heavy-handed dictatorships was massive – for both political and economic reasons. The political part benefited Spanish clubs – it was easy to naturalize exiles, especially when the old 'oriundi' rule was unchanged. Whoever wanted to look deeply quickly found a cypher: Spanish rules allowed for 2 foreign players on the field. Yet, most clubs had plenty of foreigners and more than 2 were often fielded. Real Madird had 5 in 1977-78 – Stielike (b. 1954), Jensen (b. 1949), Enrique Wolff (Argentina, b. 1949, defender, played at 1974 World Cup), Roberto Martinez (Argentina, b. 1946, forward), and Carlos Guerini (Argentina, b. 1949, forward). Stielike, Jensen, Wolff, and Roberto Martinez were often on the pitch at the same time. Barcelona had one player more than the arch-rivals: Cruyff (b. 1947), Neeskens (b.1951), Heredia (Argentina, b. 1952, midfielder), Rafael Zuviria (Argentina, b. 1951, forward), Alfredo Amarillo (Uruguay, b. 1953, defender), and at the end of the season a Brazilian striker was added – Bio (full name: Williams Silvio Modesto Verisimo, b. 1953). Bio came not from abroad, but for the second-division club Terrasa, where he played for awhile, after playing in Portugal before. And Cruyff, Neeskens, and Heredia were almost always together on the pitch. No problem adding Bio too... why? At least his case was clear – he married Spanish woman and naturalized on the strength of marriage. So he was Spanish citizen. Spanish clubs kept more foreigners than allowed from the very moment the ban on foreigners was lifted – it was 'wise' to have reserves in case the prime stars were injured, out of form, or suspended. The extras stayed unhappily on the bench most of the time... the Peruvian star Hugo Sotil was the biggest, and somewhat tragic, example. But oriundi had no problems playing – and just how many, on what criteria, and when they were considered 'oriundi', was something never discussed – at least outside Spain. Well, 'Wolff' is hardly Spanish name, but enough Spanish blood was 'found' in the former Argentinian national team defender to become 'oriundo' and play along with Stielike and Jensen, who, together, exhausted the limit of foreigners.

Yet, the big clubs were not the biggest offenders – the small fry excelled. Real Zaragoza proudly pictured their four strikers from South America:

From left, three Paraguayans, Felipe Ocampos, Carlos 'Loko' Diarte, Saturnino 'Nino' Arrua, and the Argentine Adolfo Soto. Because of them, the team was cunningly nicknamed 'Los Zaraguyaos' and thanks to them Real Zaragoza won the Spanish Cup in 1974. The big '-guayan' group confused the issue – Soto is often thought Paraguayan, but the ending is right – along with these four the Uruguayan defender (World Cup 1974) Juan Blanco (b. 1946) also played. By 1977 the group was cut down – Diarte moved to Valencia for the new season and only Blanco and Arrua (b. 1949) remained. From the 'Zaraguayos' – yes – but in general two more Paraguayans were at hand in midfield: Celso Mendieta (b. 1949) and Jorge Insfran (b. 1950). And Real Zaragoza was, in a sense, modest consumer of South American feet – Elche had 10 foreigners in 1977-78. Six Argentines, 2 Paraguyans, an Uruguayan, and one 'exotic' player from Honduras. Just because Honduras is unlikely producer of classy players – and even more so in the 1970s – his name: Gilberto Yearwood, a defender born in 1956. From the whole group the only known name is the midfielder Marcelo Trobbiani (b. 1955) – he came in 1976 from the successful Boca Juniors vintage winning left and right this year. Almost a whole team of foreigners did not help Elche a bit, but this is so far first division. How many foreigners played in the lower division would be anybody's guess. Birthdates are given here, because most of the foreigners were not very young – let say, mature players, often working already for years in Spain. This was alarming: Spanish clubs did not buy current foreign stars, but preferred the same players they got in the first rush of open doors – 1973-74. Which was not exactly a formula for improvement of the game – the bulk of oldish and not at all famous Argentines and Paraguayans were no longer trend-setters, if they were ever. Thus, Spanish football remained pretty much what had been about 10 years ago – tough, physical, and hopelessly out of touch with modern football. No wonder the Spanish clubs had zero international success.

Apart from rather inflated hype over summer transfers and unrealized foreign fears that the Spanish will rob yet another nation of her stars, there was another news – the Spanish federation introduced a new league in place of Third Division. Third Division remained , under the same name, but between it and the Second Division now a 2-group league was inserted – Segunda Division B, or Second Division B. It was made of freshly relegated second division clubs plus the highest positioned third division clubs. All together about 40 clubs, previously playing 3rd level football anyway. Hard to tell what was the reason – may be financial, for everywhere in the world there is a problem at some point of the structure – professional clubs mingling with semi-professional and outright amateur. West Germany organized her second division precisely to put together the remaining professional clubs outside the Bundesliga and thus to elevate the general level of the game. Anyway, Spain started their new league. Nothing fancy there... just for curiosity sake, a picture:

Levante was hardly heard of club back in the 1970s and third level was their usual hunting grounds. As for the players down in Segunda Division B... let say that the photo is wrong. This is Levante of 1978-79 - Lorant (full name Julio Cesar Lorant Vazquez), an Uruguyan defender, played for Elche in 1977-78, freshly acquired from Sevilla. He joined Levante in 1978, but since the club finished in mid-table and remained in the new league, the photo is relatively right. If only to illustrate the unsolvable mysteries of the 'oriundi' – Lorant is just a little reminder that they were everywhere in Spain.