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.