Saturday, November 29, 2014

The events in the Second Division perhaps were enjoyed at the bottom of First Division – Valenciennes survived. They finished 18th on better goal-difference. If only two clubs were relegated this season, then they were saved by the rules ; if originally three clubs were going down, then Gueugnon's inability to join the top league saved Valenciennes. Lucky boys no matter the reason.
Standing, from left : Bas, Laitem, Wrazy, Fugalgi, Metsu, Kourichi.
Crouching : Jacques, Vézir, Milla, Piette, Hazam.
Not a team worth another look, except for a small note : the former Polish national player Wrazy is here plus a little known at the time Cameroonian, who became famous many, many years later – Roger Milla. Nothing suggesting legendary status in 1978-79, though... if there was a bit of dancing, it was just because relegation was avoided. Hardly the making of a legend. As for Jan Wrazy, born 1943 in Lvov (Ukraine today), his best days were over long time ago – his last match for Poland was in 1972. The veteran was good enough for the lowly French club, though – he played five years for Valenciennes.
FC Paris were the unlucky club – they finished behind Valenciennes on worse goal-diference and took 19th place in the final table. Relegation...
Standing, from left : Justier, Eo, Huck, Beltramini, Lachi, Bensoussan.
First row : Amorfini, Zlataric, Lech, Mariot, Smereki.
This was perhaps the last effort of FC Paris to keep place among the top French clubs – the administrative troubles lead to the split into two clubs at the beginning of the 1970s. Paris Saint Germain were fine, but FC Paris had no chance. They tried... but small club in a city not exactly crazy about football did not have bright future. Lech was not enough to keep FC Paris in the premier league, Zlataric was an empty promise... tough luck at the end... and FC Paris sealed its fate : to play minor rôle in French football, mostly in third and second division.
The absolute outsider this season was Stade Reims. It was not unusual a club with name and reputation to go down in France, but the downfall was quite interesting anyhow : the great days of Reims ended long ago – practically from the early 1960s the club was declining. By the beginning of the 1970s they were no favorites at all, but one of the mid-table clubs. However slow, the decline continued steadily, finally ending with relegation. Not only Reims finished last, but hopelessly last – they won only 3 matches this season and earned a total of 17 points. FC Paris and Valenciennes finished with 28...
Standing: Buisset, Michelberger, Masclaux, Durand, Garceran, Laudu.
Santamaria, Perignon, Polaniok, Gérard, Mathou.
The squad is a testimony of the state of Reims – not a single player of real quality.
The German Franz Michelberger, although young hardly ever played top league football – apart from this singular season in France, he achieved a grand total of 4 Bundesliga matches, all for Bayern (Munich), between 1974 and 1976. The Argentine Jose Santiago Santamaria was a bit better – he arrived in 1974, when he was only 22 years old, and scored quite a lot of goals for Reims – 52 in 170 matches for the club – but he was not a leading player on larger scale. The relegation was enough for him and he returned to Argentina after the end the season. Unlike Michelberger, 'El Cucurucho' achieved some fame after leaving France – he played a bit for Argentina, including at the 1982 World Cup. With a team like that Reims was really good only for second division football – too bad a club so great in the past fell into such terrible situtaion, but sentimental laments cannot change reality.
Two other clubs were in decline : OGC Nice and Olympique Marseille. Nice was declining slowly since 1972 ; Marseille – more recently. To a point, Nice was repeating the fate of Reims – a strong club once upon a time unable to adjust to new realities, largely financial realities. Marseille was more puzzling, for they had large support and generally had no problems generating money.
Nice finished 15th – and it was not surprising, judging by the squad : aging Jean-Marc Guillou and Nenad Bjekovic were already declining. Bousdira was the only other classy player – hardly enough for strong season. And the future did not look bright... Guillou left after the end of the season to play in Switzerland ; Fares Bousdira was not going to stay long too, but he was hardly the player around whon to build a team – he played for France only once in 1976 : evidently, not a star.
Olympique Marseille perhaps lacked vision – the club tried to keep a strong team in the first half of the 1970s, but somewhat mechanically. Buying big names, but not really building a team – failures followed : Jairzinho and Paulo Cesar Lima were the most spectacular. Yet, the club stubbornly continued the same, buying one or two high-profiled players in the hope they would be enough. Meantime the French stars either retired or moved to other clubs. By 1978-79 Marseille was a strange team : Bracci and Zvunka were already declining, but the club missed the right time to replace them. The Swedish national team player Linderoth was good, but not a leader. Didier Six was the best the club had, but he was a continuation of a doomed policy – taken from elsewhere in the hope he will bring class alone. Those before him failed, though (Jairzinho, Paulo Cesar Lima, Yazalde, Beretta...). The bulk of the squad was run of the mill – and as a whole Marseille was really a mid-table team.
Standing, from left :Bracci, Zvunka, Bacconnier, Beaulier, Migeon, Fernandez
Crouching : Flores, Buigues, Boubacar, Linderoth, Six.
12th place was the right place for such a team... and it was also clear that without rapid and big changes this team was only to go further down : there was no strong core to keep it afloat.
One more club must be mentioned from the lower half of the league – Paris Saint Germain. Different from OGC Nice and Olympique Marseille case. Paris SG suffered the usual ills of young ambitious clubs – no traditions. They had money and prime location, and wanted to become one of the leading French clubs, but so far nothing worked : Paris SG continually bought big names, but somehow was unable to create competitive team. Names were impressive : French national team players – Dominique Baratelli (b. 1947), Dominique Batheney (b.1954), Jean-Muchel Larque (b. 1947), Jean-Pierre Adams (b. 1948), league stars – Francois M'Pele (Congo Brazaville, b. 1947), Jacky Laposte (b. 1952), Mustapha Dahleb (Algeria, b. 1952), Dominique Lokoli (b. 1952), bright young talent – Luis Fernandez (b. 1959), Jean-Marc Pilorget (b. 1958), big foreign names – the Argentines Carlos Bianchi (b. 1949) and Ramon Heredia (b. 1951). And Velibor Vasovic, the Yugoslavian former captain of great Ajax (Amsterdam) was coaching them. Looked like a champion squad... which did not work. Bianchi was scoring as ever, Baratelli and Bathenay were in the national team, Fernandez was already a regular, Dahleb was going to play at world cup finals... but some players were already fading away (Adams, Heredia, M'Pele) and some never became the stars they were expected to become (Laposte, Lokoli). The mix did not work, may be because all came from other clubs – it was just a big colection of names, not really a carefully made team. Perhaps hiring Vasovic was a mistake – a great name, but as a player. As a coach -not much experience, to say the least. Money were no problem, but money is not everything – Paris SG 31 players this season : astonishing number in the 1970s and thus only a testimony that team was not working. They finished 13th.
One of the not-working versions of Paris SG this season. May be expecting too much too soon, but just buying names was not the solution. So far Paris SG achieved absolutely nothing, but persisted in the wrong approach – some names were gone after the season ended, only to be replaced by other names. And so on and on.
Things worked for clubs with different approach : Monaco and Metz had strong year. Both teams were far behind the title contenders, but still well above the rest of the league. Both finished with 44 points – 4 points ahead of 6th placed Lille, but 10 points behind St. Etienne and Nantes. The two Ms were similar and different at the same time : both depended on attack and had weak defences. Both played 'all or nothing' and did not care much for ties. But Monaco was rising and building a strong team, whereas Metz only had a good season and clearly was not going to stay permanently among the best. FC Metz were typical mid-table club, occasionally in danger of relegation, but most often found somewhere safely in the middle of the league. Never a favorite and not in a position of becoming one – a modest club. But they played well this season and finished 5th only because of worse goal-difference.
What worked for Metz was a core of strong players – Andre Rey (b. 1948), Patrick Batiston (b. 1957), Christian Synaeghel (b. 1951), Henryk Kasperczak (Poland, b. 1946), and Wim Suurbier (Holland, b. 1946). The club was especially lucky with the foreigners – both had strong winner mentality. This group of players propelled Metz to the top. Unfortunately, the key players were dangeroulsy aging and were not enough as a group to keep the club on upward course. Also unfortunate was the predicament of the club – a modest club had no chances of keeping young stars for long. It was clear that sooner than later Suurbier, Kasperczak, and Rey will retire and Batiston will go to bigger club. Metz were one-year wonder.
Not so Monaco – their notorious ups and downs made the club unpredicatble, but at the moment it was going up with a good chance of getting better. Finishing 4th was promising better days in the future.
Like Metz, Monaco largely depended on a limited group of players : Dalger, Onnis, Emon, Nogues, Ettori and Petit. Unlike Metz, Monaco was not in danger of losing its stars – they had the money to keep them on one hand. This was important largely about the top Argentine striker Delio Onnis. On the other the stars were different than the top players of Metz. Dalger, Emon, and Petit still had at least 2-3 years to play, but in the same time they were no longer considered players at their prime and were not very interesting to other clubs. The second foreigner – actually, a dual citizen of France and Argentina – Nogues was not even considered a star. Ettori was also safe posession – a promising goalkeeper, but since others were still the top keepers in France, nobody was after him. Unlike Metz, Monaco had a core of players for the next few years and with some additions the team could be getting only stronger. And additions were badly needed, for Monaco was strong in attack (Onnis, Dalger, Emon, and Nogues), barely decent in midfield (thanks to Jean Petit), had improving goalkeeper (Ettori), but was terrible in defense. It clearly showed during this season – Monaco finished with 70:51 goal-difference : second highest scoring team in the league, but hoping to outscore their opponents was big risk.
Perhaps the key to this season was the state of most French clubs – some in decline, others good only for one year, few promissing, but still not ready and fully made. Fate depended on few good players, not on solid squad. And that perhaps determined the race for the title : three clubs competed. Two were more than familiar – St. Eitenne and FC Nantes defined French club football in the 1970s. Both were getting old and tired, however. The third was a club playing in the second division very recently, but, by itself, sudden soaring of a team was not surprising : ups and downs were perhaps more common in France than any other country. The race was tight and was won by seemingly the most conservative team of the trio – the one, which scored least, but minded their own net. The one,which did not rush to win matches, but carefully collected points from ties. St. Etienne won most matches this season – 24. They also scored a lot – 77 goals. But they lost 8 matches and at the end had 54 points. Far ahead of the 4th placed team – 10 points ahead – and tied with FC Nantes. Nantes scored much more goals than St. Etienne, leaving them with bronze medals. Warning signs were detected since 1975 – St. Etienne was strong, had deep squad, new players popped in, but esentially it was the same team for many years. As a team they reached their peak between 1974 and 1976, and were getting old as a whole. Small changes were not the solution – and the signal was clear this year : they were able to stay amnog the best, but now even a pedestrian team was able to oppose them. And bump them aside. There was need of new leaders able to shake and revitalize the team. The club and the coach Robert Herbin got the message : Michel Platini and Johnny Rep were bought after the season ended.
FC Nantes was similar, but a step ahead of St. Etienne : they also felt decline coming with the aging of the squad and started rebuilding around 1976. Like St. Etienne so far, it was not radical change, but gradual. By now few of the squad of the early 1970s were around, but the new team was not fully matured yet : it still depended on Henry Michel (b. 1947) and Hugo Bargas (b. 1946). The veterans were at the end of their playing days, but the new squad was almost ready – almost, but not ripe yet. A team competing for the title, but not able to win it.
Standing, from left : Jean-Paul Bertrand-Demanes, Patrice Rio, Maxime Bossis, Omar Sahnoun, Henri Michel, Thierry Tusseau.
Crouching : Oscar Muller, Victor Trossero, Eric Pécout, Gilles Rampillon, Loïc Amisse.
Not bad at all : seven former, current, and future French national team players, two sturdy, experienced, but still young professionals (Pecout and Rampillon), two new talented Argentinians - midfielder Oscar Muller (b. 1957) and striker Oscar Trossero (b.1953). Their compatriot Bargas was moved to the bench, where more talent was waiting – Michel Bibard (b. 1958), Bruno Baronchelli (b. 1957), Guy Lacombe (b. 1955). Silver medals this year, but it was a team ready for the future.
The present was not theirs, though. The present belonged to those able to get advantage from the shaky season and problems of the favorites. Small problems, but they made the favorites not better than a team playing bravely. And the surprise happened : Racing Club Strasbourg finished 2 points ahead of St. Etienne and Nantes. Unlikely team... so far, RC Strasbourg had little success. They won the Cup twice – in 1951 and 1966. Never the title and normally were not among potential champions. Two years ago they were in second division. And compared to the favorites, their squad was pitiful. Perhaps they underestimated by the others – it looked very unlikely such a team would stay among the best for long. Perhaps a good run for awhile, but inevitably the lack of strong sqaud would bring them down. But Strasbourg stayed on top, earned point after point, until the season ended with them on top. 22 wins, 12 ties, 4 losses, 68:28 goal-difference, 56 points. Two more than their famous competition.
Brand new champion is always great. Especially a club never winning title before. Particulary a club playing in the lower league just yesterday. But... it was not a spectacular team. It was rather made of experienced second-raters. Some of the players were acquared recently – Raymond Domenech (b. 1952) in 1977, along with two players from Paris SG – Francis Piasecki (b. 1951) and Jacky Novi (b. 1946). In 1978 a former teammate of Novi arrived from OGC Nice – Roger Jouve (b. 1949). The other newcomer was also born in 1949, but hardly ever played top league football – one Arsene Wenger was acquired from the other – and very lowly – club from Strasbourg : Pierrots Vauban. A single foreign player taken from Bordeaux – Tokomon Nambatingue (b. 1952), originally from Chad. The new arrivals did not look even a match for those who departed – Ivica Osim retired and Heinz Schilcher went back to his native Austria to play for Sturm (Graz). Strasbourg had a few more good players – Dominque Dropsy (b. 1951), Leonard Specht (b.1954), and Albert Gemmrich (b. 1955), but as a whole – not a single leading player on national scale. This was not a team coming even close to the squads Nantes and St. Etienne had, but a squad generally for the lower half of the table, unless getting brief inspiration and finishing somewhere between 5th and 10th place. However, another man arrived in the summer of 1978 – the greatest star Strasbourg ever had and one of the best French footballers of the 1960s.
Gilbert Gress was one of the few French players to play abroad back in the 1960s and early 1970s, playing for years in West Germany. When he retired, he went to coaching job in Switzerland, taking the reigns of Xamax. Over there he took also Swiss citizenship and coached well – Strasbourg took him back and he made them champions. He was young and not very experienced, but perhaps that was really his advantage – Herbin was coaching St. Etienne for almost 10 years already. Nantes had a coach from different era – Jean Vincent. Gress was fresh and up to date in football matters. He inspired the team and apparently made the best of the players at hand – none was individually great, but all were competent. Strasbourg was not outstanding team. They were no revelation. They largely took advantage of shaky opponents, making mistakes here and there. A great victory, but clearly it was not a team to stay on top. It was a middle-of-the-road team, a surprise victors, and nothing else. And - so far – this season stands alone as the greatest ever for the club : Strasbourg did not win another title. One time wonder. But it was nice to see them win for a change and what a lesson it was for a club like Paris SG – buying stars one after another, and yet unable to get even a medal. The pedestrian Strasbourg meantime won the championship.

And happy they were – for ever to remember.