Monday, June 30, 2014

And a real retirement – Giacinto Facchetti. Low key, almost unnoticed. 1977-78 season ended, Inter won the Italian Cup and Facchetti retired. There was no fuss – but Facchetti was almost forgotten for years. The news were about others, yet he was not only playing, but on high level. His last match for Italy was in 1977 – months before he exited the game. A forgotten legend.
Born in 1942, Facchetti debuted for Inter (Milano) in 1960, only 18-years old. He played for no other club – one of the last 'old-fashioned' stars loyal to his club. For Inter he appeared in 476 championship matches, scoring 59 goals. His time was really the 1960s, when 'Grande Inter' ruled the football world: 4 Italian titles ( 1962-63, 1964-65, 1965-66, 1970-71), 2 European Champions Cups (1963-64, 1964-65), 2 Intercontinental Cups (1964 and 1965). Two lost European Champions Cup finals – 1966-67 and 1971-72. Impressive and successful to the end – he quit after Inter won the Italian Cup in 1977-78. Facchetti ended his illustrious club career as a winner. At 36, he was obviously not the same players as in the 1960s – he played only 18 matches during his last season – but still finished with a trophy.
No less impressive was his record with the Italian national team – he debuted for Italy in 1963, at 21 years of age, and his last match was almost coinciding with his retirement – in 1977. He played a total of 94 matches for Italy – an all-time record at the time, bested by very few in the following years (Zoff, Paolo Maldini, Cannavaro). He scored only 3 goals, but captained Italy in 70 matches!

Facchetti played at 3 World Cup finals (1966, 1970, 1974), ending with silver medal in 1970, but his greatest moment with the national team was in 1968, when Italy won the European championship.
Impressive statistics, but numbers don't tell the whole story – Facchetti was hailed for years as a revolutionary player, one of those changing the game and the roles. He is considered – especially in the 1960s – the first modern full back: still a model in the 1970s, more desired than achieved, but in the 1970s the heroes were those who followed in Facchetti's steps – Krol and Breitner, for instance – the full backs, who constantly participated in the attacks and scored goals. Back in the early 1960s this was unheard of. There were occasional forays on the wings, a rare goal scored by a defender, but most of the time defenders did not cross the middle line and watched their strikers from deep back. Facchetti changed that, although for the most of the decade he was pretty much the only full back consistently going into attacks. An unusual full back, though – Facchetti was 1.91 m and tall players were either centre-forwards or central defenders. As a junior Fachetti was exactly centre-forward - it was the great Helenio Herrera, who changed that, moving him back in defense and it was still strange move, for young Facchetti was placed as left full-back, a position not for tall players. But Herrera obviously saw the attacking skills of the youngster and made the right decision: catenaccio, also Herrera's invention, reduced the number of strikers to two and they were most likely to operate in the centre, not on the flanks. Hence, there was often vast empty zone on the sides to be explored – the new role for a full-back, doubling as a winger. Facchetti was, if not the first to do so, the most effective and impressive. He surprised the opposition, adding more strength to Inter's attack, and scored lots of goals.
A typical and familiar picture of Facchetti from the 1960s – another goal scored by the left full-back. But it was not only the novelty of striking back liner – Facchetti was impeccable defender, one of the very best in the world. A skilful player, who did not depend on rough tackles and intimidation, but on elegant outplaying the opposition. Italian defenders have a reputation for uncompromising, often brutal treatment. In 18 years of competitive football Facchetti was sent off only once – for sarcastically applauding the referee. No wonder he was loved and respected everywhere.
But the football changed in the early 1970s and the heroes suddenly were different. Facchetti was one of the revolutionaries in the 1960s, but still he was considered part of the dreadful defensive football introduced by Herrera and picked up by whole Italian football. With the introduction of total football, everything focused on those who practiced it. The new modern defender was no more Facchetti, but players who really just played like him – perhaps they went a step ahead, no longer restricted to the wings, but still Vogts, Suurbier, Krol, Breitner, and so on, did essentially what Facchetti did – helping the strikers, then quickly returning back to do their defensive job. A lot of running, excellent physical condition. Perhaps the end of Facchetti was in 1972, when Inter lost the European Champions Cup final to Ajax, the gods of total football: this day was the death of catenaccio – not as practice, but as a fashionable model. The final blow came in 1974, when Italy was clearly and hopelessly old-fashioned, ridiculous, and quickly eliminated. Facchetti, unfortunately, played in both 1972 and 1974... thus, immediately associated with catenaccio and no longer mentioned as a leading star. He was getting old, but it was not the age – it was the Italian style of football, which relegated him back to the gone 1960s, a historic fossil, mentioned in past tense. Perhaps this was one of the reasons his retirement went practically unnoticed – few thought he was still playing anyway. For most he was a 1960s icon, long gone... but he finished his career as a winner! Ending with a trophy and perhaps more importantly with a trophy he never won before – this was the only Italian Cup won by Inter during Facchetti's long career! Of course, he was never forgotten in Milano – a legend of Inter, a shiny example of loyalty and class, he continued to work for the club until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2006. The club honoured him by retiring his playing number 3 and the city named a square after him. One of the all-time greatest players.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The retirement of Cruijff:

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

European player of the year:

Monday, June 23, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Malta at last. Hardly any real changes at the bottom of the football world. Two relatively unusual clubs won promotions from Second Division.
Qormi FC, formed in 1961 from the amalgamation of Qormi Youngsters and Qormi United, was small club even by Malta standards. They debuted in First Division in 1967-68 and so far played a total of five seasons, quickly relegated back to second league football. Their 6th attempt to establish themselves in top flight was coming, but most likely it was not to be different than the earlier ones.
The other promoted club was a newcomer.
Founded in 1950, Ghaxaq FC was unheard of club belonging to the village with the same name in South-Eastern Malta. Their biggest success so far was exactly this promotion. As for surviving in first division, it was unlikely, yet, a great moment for the tiny club.
The bottom of the 10-club first division was occupied by real outsiders: the combined record of both clubs in the relegation zone was still lower than the 8th placed St. George's.
Birkirkara earned 8 points this season and finished 9th. Hardly a surprise – the club was really weak before 21st century.
Vittoriosa Stars, hailing from the town of Birgu, was one of the oldest Maltese clubs – founded in 1906 – but with checkered history. Winners they were not. Second division is more likelier place for them than top league. Their season was pure misery – they won a single match and tied two... 4 points. Birkirkara finished with 8, and St. George's at 8th place was a real giant with 13 points... The name of the last team in the league sounded as a cruel joke.
Not much excitement up the table. More or less, two club competed for the title.
Sliema Wanderes finished 3rd with 24 points, but they were not really participating in the race for the title. Rather, bronze was their aim, besting Floriana by a point and Hamrun Spartans by two. The rest of the league was far behind.
Hibernians (Paola) won 11 matches, tied 4, and lost 3. With 26 points, they were well above the bulk of the league and competed for the first place. But they lost it and had to be satisfied with silver.

Maltese players were practically unknown outside the island, but perhaps Muscat rings some bells... local heroes often mean nothing abroad.
Hibernians were strong, but Valletta FC were stronger. 12 victories, 4 ties, and only twice they lost. They were best in all departments: scored the most goals in the league by far – 44 (Hibernians with second best strikers, still scored under 40 – 39 goals). Their defense was supreme: only 6 goals they allowed in the 18 matches of the season. Floriana had the second best defense – 13 goals. At the end, Valletta finished 2 points ahead of Hibernians: their lead does not correspond to the overwhelming numbers they made, but in a tiny league it was not really possible to build large lead.
Once again champions – their 8th title. And it was not all.
Valletta FC reached the Cup final. The other finalist was Floriana. They had rather weak season - 4th in the league – and winning the Cup was important for one of the most successful Maltese clubs.

Floriana had enough 'argument' – a whole bunch of players with very well known names in Malta – Micallef, Farrugia, Sultana, Xuereb, some of them really clans, for they produced top players for many generations. The boys fought hard, but lost the final 2-3.
The dramatic final was won by Valletta FC and they finished with a double. From a distance – nothing surprising: whatever foreigners knew about Maltese football, was Valletta FC, for they were regular champions and participants in the European club tournaments in the 1970s. The most famous Maltese club... to their 8th title, they added 5th cup.

All trophies to the strongest, right? More national team players here; more 'dynastic' names too – two guys named Farrugia... add two more playing for Floriana and one with Hibernians colours. Well, those playing for Valletta got all the trophies. The victories of Valletta FC appeared normal, traditional, unchanging... how wrong. Valletta FC were not even nearing the success of two other clubs: 8 titles and 5 clubs was really nothing compered to Floriana's 24 titles and 14 cups, and Sliema Wanderers' 21 titles and 15 cups. Valletta FC were clearly the best Maltese clubs in the 1970s and remained so, but their victories were relatively new and they had long way to go... in fact, the lead of the other two clubs was so massive, even now, in the second decade of 21st century, Valletta FC is behind.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

First signs of improvement in Iceland – few players appearing in foreign championship. Scotland, Denmark, it was not much yet. Icelandic players really built reputation in the 1980s – these were still tiny first steps. As a whole, Icelandic football was becoming sturdier, tougher, but still very easy to beat. As for domestic championship, they loved their football on the island and the small clubs playing in small leagues were at least not in peril similar to other small continental clubs. Ups and downs were frequent, of course – typical for fairly even amateur leagues.
KR Reykjavik won the second league. One of the most successful Icelandic clubs, they had some hard time, dropped to second level, but now were coming back. The oldest Icelandic club, founded in 1899, was not to stay down for long.
Second placed and also promoted were Haukar Hafnarfjördur.
Haukar were insignificant, compared to KR Reykjavik – moving up to first division was big achievement for them. Not bad anyway – just try to find their home town on a map... and Haukar was not the only club in Hafnarfjördur either. It is a miracle that a place like that can have a club at all – yet they had more than one. Haukar was found in 1931 and is much better known for its handball team, not for their football section. Sweet season – even in mild-mannered Iceland it was a matter of pride to better one's city rivals.
For Haukar went up and at the same time FH Hafnarfjördur finished 9th in first division with 10 points. Were they able to get a point more, a village derby would have been played in 1979, but no. FH were relegated. Having 3 points more than the last team was no consolation.
UB Kopavogur were dead last. They had one more victory than FH – 3 in total – but 7 points was the worst league record. One of clubs rarely playing top level football – more or less, naturally did not last long and went down.
Reykjavik, the capital city, was represented by 4 clubs in first division, and except Trottur, these were traditionally successful clubs – Fram, Vikingur, and Valur. Yet, it was not a race between the 'big boys' from the capital. Fram and Vikingur were weak this year; Trottur – just happy to escape relegation. In fact 8 of the 10 league members were not even close to the favourites – the bronze medalists, IB Keflavik finished 9 points behind the 2nd placed. Enourmous gap, considering that it was achieved after only 18 championship games.
It was not surprising to see IB Keflavik high in the table, but in reality they were their almost by default – just having a point more than others.
It looked like a two-team race, but it was not – the silver medalist were superior to the rest of the league, scored more goals than anybody else – 47, lost only 2 matches... and finished 6 points behind the champions. Not contenders at all – rather, staying alone: much stronger than the league and much weaker the real contenders.
IA Akranes got the silver, but may be it was just a bit weaker season. The club was one of the strongest Icelandic clubs in the 1970s and won the title in 1977.
Thus, only one club was left – Valur Reykjavik.

Not surprising at all to see them at the top – the club already won 15 titles. They were consistently strong – the first title was won in 1930, their last – in 1976. Valur won championships in every decade and perhaps the 1950s were their weakest, for they won only once, in 1956. There was drought between 1967 and 1976, but clearly it was over. Valur did not lose a single match this season. A single tie prevented them from finishing with perfect record of straight wins. Their defense was impenetrable – only 8 balls crossed their goal-line. Their strikers were second-best in the league – only IA Akranes scored more, but not much more: 47 to Valur's 45. Absolutely dominant champions. Such supremacy suggests a double...
Valur reached the Cup final, where they faced the second best this year, IA Akranes. Given the supremacy in the league, the final was not to be big deal. Perhaps... IA Akranes had their own ambitions and pride, they won 1-0. No double for Valur, but what a success for IA: they won their very first Cup!
Historic vintage for IA Akranes, but the names are a bit of a mystery... Sitting, from left: K. Thordarsson, Stefansson, Hakonarsson (?), Sveinsson, Gudjonsson, G. Thordarson, Olafsson, Einarsson (?), Sigurdsson (?), Hardarsson (?).
Standing: Valtisson (?) - administrator, Alfredsson, Halgrimsson (?), Akselsson, Petursson, Thorbjornsson, Engilbertsson (?), Bjornsson, Gundlandsson (?), Halldorsson, Kirbie (?) - coach.
Some national team players here, some familiar names – but one cannot be sure, for Icelandic names are quite the same – Petursson, Gudjonsson, Thordarson, so many have such names and were some of present here becoming well known professionals in Europe, or not, cannot be easily established. But no matter – IA Akranes more than compensated for not having been contenders this year: first ever Cup is a great achievement.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

Wales, an anomaly not only on the British isles – ancient clubs, one of the earliest official tournaments in the world – the Welsh Cup was played in 1877-78 for the first time – and no championship. The Cup itself was organized differently than anywhere else – English clubs were also allowed to participate and won it on five occasions, but we are not talking here of Manchester United, Arsenal, or Liverpool, but of small clubs playing in lower divisions or outside the professional leagues. Thus, the authority of Cup was not very commanding. Welsh football was really based on 4 teams – the national team and the three professional clubs playing in the English leagues. Yet, Wales was represented in the Cup Winners Cup by their current winner – and, lacking a championship of its own, not represented in any other European club tournament. Given the peculiar circumstances, it was logical that the professional clubs would dominate the Cup and among them Cardiff City was the best known and the highest ranking – they were currently in Second Division, Wrexham – in Third, and Swansea City in Forth. Wisdom tells that Cardiff City were practically without competition, but 'wisdom' in football is dubious thing.
Cardiff City were historically the best Welsh club with some considerable success. Presently, they were down on their luck – they finished 19th in the English Second Division, barely escaping relegation by a point – but still were the highest placed Welsh club. Yes, they were in decline for some time and the other two professional clubs were rising – Wrexham won the Third Division this year and Swansea City was third in Forth, thus earning a promotion to Second – but Cardiff was the obvious choice. Alas, reality was different – they did not reach the final. Nor Swansea City which already started perhaps the best period of existence, leading them to First Division in few years.
Wrexham reached the final and the other finalist was Bangor City. Ancient club, founded in 1876, distinguished by two 'firsts': they won the inaugural season of the Welsh Cup and also in first edition of the UEFA Europa League (this, however, happened much later than the year presented here).
Bangor City also played in the very first Welsh championship in 1922 – yes, there was Welsh championship, but it was amateur or semi-professional, and not representing the Welsh Federation internationally, mat be because the top clubs played in the much better English leagues. And not only that: there had been various Welsh leagues – Bangor City was founding member of 7 such leagues before the 20th century ended. Which one was 'the league' was impossible to tell again pretty much to the end of the century. Anyhow, Bangor City, semi-professional at best, reached the final and had a good chance of winning the Cup for a forth time. The last time they won it was 1962 and the last time they played at the final was in 1973.
But it was not to be – Bangor City lost both legs of the final – 1-2 and 0-1 – not by much, almost equal to the rising professionals against them, but 'almost' brings no satisfaction. Wrexham won.
Wrexham won the Cup, as they did so many times during their long history. Their crest says 1873, but the club was founded even earlier – in 1854. One of the oldest clubs in the world and the oldest in Wales. Their Welsh names is Clwb Pêl-droed Wrecsam – it is much safer to stick to Bangor City, it seems. Long history, but the club is not famous – just one small professional club, normally playing in the lower English divisions. They excelled in the Welsh Cup, though and won it more than anybody else. The current victory was not easy, but still a victory.

A very good year for Wrexham – champions of the Englsih Second Division, earning promotion to higher league, winning the Welsh Cup.