Tuesday, August 24, 2021


The Lions of Flanders, Part 4

By the 1977/78 season, Ernst Happel's Bruges were probably at their peak. With two domestic championships and two commendable international cup runs behind them, they were not going to be underestimated by anyone in Europe this time around. And it proved to be their best season, almost culminating in the biggest club prize of all.

After an easy win in the first round of the European Cup, they narrowly saw off Panathinaikos in their next tie and faced Spanish champions Atlético Madrid in the quarter-final. The Rojiblancos, coached by the respected Luis Aragones, were a side that combined flair with tough defence; within their ranks were several Spanish internationals as well as the brilliant Argentinian attacker Ruben Ayala and the daunting Luis Pereira, Brazil's defensive lynchpin at the 1974 World Cup.

Bruges produced a fine performance in the home leg, which exemplified many of their best qualities. Non-stop pressing and scrapping saw them overcome Atlético's greater technical skill. In the early stages, Daniel De Cubber hit the base of the post and club icon Raoul Lambert, battling ferociously for every ball, had a shot cleared off the line. "A very spirited side, this Bruges," remarked an impressed Spanish commentator. Perhaps ironically, after a half in which enthusiasm had outdone subtlety, it was Bruges' most skilful player, Paul Courant, who opened the scoring: taking advantage of a bad mistake by the Atlético defender Miguel Ruiz, he swerved splendidly past Pereira and fired the ball home from a tight angle.

In the second half, although Atlético might have had a penalty, Bruges kept up the pressure and went further ahead when a shot from De Cubber was deflected unluckily past Miguel Reina in goal. Atlético deserved something from the game, and almost got it when a deflected goalkick sent Ruben Cano racing into the box, only to be tripped by Georges Leekens. This time a penalty was awarded, but Birger Jensen made a magnificent save from Marcial's spot-kick. Bruges too should have had a penalty when Alberto brought Courant down in the box fifteen minutes from the end, but 3-0 would definitely have been harsh on Aragones' team.

In the return leg, a stylish Atlético performance saw them romp to a 2-0 first half lead. But another of Julien Cools' priceless thunderbolts pulled a goal back for the Belgians on the hour, and the ever-reliable Lambert scored another from a deflection in the box eight minutes later. It finished 3-2 on the night, but Bruges were through to the semi-finals, to face Juventus. The unsung hero of the tie for Bruges was the solid, hard-working left-back Jos Volders, who had done a great deal to keep the talented Ayala in check.

Along with defending champions Liverpool, Juventus were among the favourites of the competition. Their side featured several of the players who were to shine at the World Cup in Argentina a few months later, including young stars such as Claudio Gentile, Marco Tardelli and Gaetano Scirea; not to mention the strong, shrewd Roberto Bettega up front, and Franco Causio working his tricks on the right wing. 

If Bruges had advanced to the semi-finals thanks to their pressing and energy, in Turin they gave a fine display of controlled, organised defence and counter-attack, making excellent use of the offside trap. The game featured few chances; De Cubber and Cools went close for Bruges, Jensen once had to rush out of goal to smother a shot from Causio. But throughout the evening the Juventus forwards were constantly caught offside; Ernst Happel's tactic of condensing the midfield and defensive lines was working a treat, and the players' discipline in enacting it was first-rate. "Offside...just for a change," commented the witty Italian commentator Nando Martellini, when Bettega had strayed beyond the last Bruges man yet again.

And Volders, once again, was giving a stirring performance, shackling and frustrating Causio throughout. Juventus finally notched a goal six minutes from the end when Causio for once got the better of Volders and pulled the ball back for Bettega to score, and the young Antonio Cabrini, on as a substitute, almost pinched a second with a marvellous run through the defence two minutes later. But it finished only 1-0, and Bruges, who had won all their home games comfortably thus far, were in the driver's seat.

They were made to work hard back in Belgium: although right-back and club captain Fons Bastijns snuck in on the blind side to score a fine early goal, they had to wait until extra time for the winner. The Danish winger Jan Sorensen hit the left-hand byline and pulled the ball back for René Vandereycken to apply a close-range finish, and Bruges became the first (and so far, only) Belgian team to reach the European Cup final.

There they would meet Bob Paisley's mighty Liverpool, who had overcome last season's finalists Borussia Moenchengladbach in the other semi with relative ease. All the auguries were against Bruges: the match, held at Wembley, would be a virtual home tie for the Reds. Two key attacking players, Lambert and Courant, were injured. In place of the latter, Happel surprisingly gave a start to the former Hungarian international Lajos Ku, playing only his third game for the club. On top of that, his experienced sweeper, Eduard Krieger, was struggling with a rib injury. Not since 1956 had a team playing in its home country failed to win a European Cup final, and before the match Happel hailed Liverpool as clearly the best team in Europe.

The match, however, was closer than expected.

In most histories of the European Cup, the 1978 final has gone down as a dull, predictable affair. In Rab MacWilliam's comprehensive account, the match is dismissed as "disappointing", with Bruges characterised as the "boring Belgians". This is, to put it mildly, not entirely fair. If not the finest of all European Cup finals, it was very far from the worst, and contained plenty to engage the neutral viewer. Certainly, by comparison with the previous year's thrilling Liverpool-Borussia showpiece, the match came off badly; but it was, for instance, infinitely better than the following year's Nottingham Forest-Malmö snoozefest.

To add to the pre-existing factors favouring his team, Paisley made a shrewd personnel choice. The young, red-haired David Fairclough had been known mainly up to then as a "super-sub", having played this role to perfection in the vital tie against St. Etienne in the previous season. But Paisley unexpectedly gave Fairclough a start, and the youngster proved just the man to throw Bruges' famed offside tactic out of kilter. Roaming all around the forward line and hanging off first one shoulder, then another, Fairclough seriously disturbed Bruges' tactical discipline and was, along with the commanding defender Phil Thompson, Liverpool's best player on the night.

Liverpool dominated the game territorially from the outset. Young Gino Maes, preferred to Volders at left-back for his pace, had to make a saving tackle on Jimmy Case after Fairclough burst through on the left. Ray Kennedy shot wide after a weak clearance from Krieger, clearly struggling for fitness. Jensen, who was to have a splendid evening in goal, saved from Case's free kick on 35 minutes, and after another surge by Fairclough, Jensen's half-clearance rebounded to Graeme Souness, who shot just over the bar. An ineffective Ku failed to make the most of Cools' dangerous right-wing cross at the other end, and just before half-time it was only a brilliant double save from Jensen that kept the score at 0-0. A reverse ball from Terry McDermott put the ubiquitous Fairclough through; Jensen rushed off his line to block, and then saved again from Alan Hansen's header. Somehow, Bruges had battled their way to the interval without conceding.

When Fairclough again got free early in the second half, Jensen had to plunge at Kenny Dalglish's feet to save; it was clear that Bruges' offside trap had completely unravelled. McDermott, played through by Dalglish, had another good chance, but Jensen made another excellent save.

Oddly enough, Liverpool seemed to be losing the thread of the game somewhat as the minutes ticked by, and it seemed as if an unlikely shift in the momentum was about to occur. But then, almost against the run of play, came the deciding goal. A weak header out by De Cubber reached Souness, and as the Bruges defenders pushed out, the Scot picked out his fellow countryman Dalglish with a deft through-ball. The offside trap was breached once again, and Dalglish chipped the advancing Jensen nicely to score.

That was clearly that. The Liverpool fans were by now in deafening voice, Thompson was completely dominant in the air, Souness was bossing the midfield, and Bruges' feints at goal began to look ever more desperate. They needed a gift, and surprisingly they almost got it when a slack back-pass from Hansen was intercepted by Sorensen: Ray Clemence was quickly out to smother, but the ball fell to the striker Jan Simoen, whose shot was cleared off the line by Thompson. A very lucky escape.

The Cup was Liverpool's once again, and Emlyn Hughes and his men ascended the thirty-nine steps to collect their prize. The unfashionable Belgian team were condemned to be a footnote in the history of the competition, and their time had passed: next season, they were dumped out of the competition early by Polish champions Wisla Krakow, and never again scaled the same heights. Ernst Happel, after another near-miss a month later with Holland at the 1978 World Cup, moved on as he always did, this time to Hamburg, to gain a second European Cup triumph in 1983.

But the journeymen of late-70s Bruges deserve to be commemorated. A team of unheralded professionals who formed a tight, resilient unit who overcame some of Europe's best in their three-year heyday, they remain the only Belgian side that has reached European club football's showpiece match.

Saturday, August 21, 2021


The Lions of Flanders, Part 3

Bruges began their 1976/77 European Cup campaign unconvincingly with a narrow victory over Steaua Bucharest in the opening round, thanks largely to a debatable penalty in the home tie. It was in the second round that they produced a surprise to rival those of the previous season's run to the UEFA Cup final: they beat the mighty Real Madrid. True, the Madrileños had to play the first leg away from their home stadium, which was in the midst of renovations. They were also having one of their worst-ever seasons, finishing ninth in the Spanish league. But the loss to Bruges was still a shock.

Madrid's "home" tie, held in Málaga, ended 0-0. In the return, Ulrik Le Fevre put the home side ahead early on with a powerful volley, and just before half-time the Madrid defender Benito Rubiñan headed a Bruges corner past his own goalkeeper. It might have been three when Bruges were awarded a penalty in the second half, but Raoul Lambert's shot was saved. Madrid's legendary president Santiago Bernabeu was not in a generous mood after the tie, claiming that the English referee had favoured Ernst Happel's Bruges...because there was an Englishman (former Derby County man Roger Davies) in the side! 

Bruges' opponents in the quarter-final were the eventual finalists, Borussia Moenchengladbach. Domestic champions for the past two seasons, this team boasted such experienced German internationals as Bert Vogts, Herbert Wimmer, Rainer Bonhof and Jupp Heynckes, as well as the feared Danish attacker Allan Simonsen, soon to be named European Footballer of the Year. They were renowned for their fast, creative, attacking style, and were highly favoured against Happel's men. But in the home leg, the Germans received a dreadful fright.

Moenchengladbach took the early initiative, as expected, and the busy midfielder Uli Stielike created a couple of half-chances. But on 23 minutes, Bruges surprised their hosts with a fine team goal: the young Dirk Hinderyckx, a late replacement for an injured Lambert, flicked a header on for Davies, whose well-weighted pass inside fell to Julien Cools; the powerful midfielder advanced and finished smartly past Wolfgang Kneib.

Borussia responded, with the winger Kalle Del'Haye having a shot deflected wide and Simonsen, already looking dangerous, tricking his way nicely past two defenders and forcing a save from his compatriot in the Bruges goal, Birger Jensen. But soon Bruges went further ahead: a through-ball from the left-back Jos Volders reached the playmaker Paul Courant, who had underlined Bruges' down-to-earth ethos by arriving at the Madrid match on his bicycle. He took a deft touch around Kneib and slotted the ball home. 

As against Liverpool the season before, Bruges had gone into a 2-0 lead against a formidable home side.

And, as at Anfield, it wasn't to last. Just before half-time, the Borussia forward Christian Kulik was played in by Wimmer on the left and pulled a crucial goal back. After the break, Borussia were dominant, although Kneib had to make a close-range save from Davies early in the half. Simonsen, always in the action, created two good chances for himself at the other end, and on the hour the hosts' pressure told in unfortunate fashion. Bonhof's cross from the left was headed towards goal by Hans-Jurgen Wittkamp, and Jensen, who had played so well up to that point, fumbled it into the path of Simonsen, who tapped the ball home.

Bruges, resilient as ever, held on until the final whistle, although Jensen had to make another vital save from Simonsen on 74 minutes. Five minutes later, there was a controversial moment when a backheel from Del'Haye reached Vogts, who crashed a shot against the underside of the Bruges bar: it came down tantalisingly on the line. "I know what you're all thinking...Wembley!" remarked the laconic German commentator. But Vogts was to be no Geoff Hurst; the goal was, correctly, not given.

A 2-2 draw should have been excellent news for Bruges, but Happel's comment prior to the game that he had more fears for the home leg than the away leg proved prescient. Missing two key players in the return match at the Olympiastadion, Bruges failed to make much impact, perhaps convinced that they could keep the game scoreless and progress. But six minutes from the end, disaster: Jensen rashly came out to claim an aerial ball that he was never going to reach, and the teenaged Wilfried Hannes, a Borussia substitute, popped up to head the ball over him and into the empty net.

It was a painful way to go out, but Bruges were to have an even better crack at Europe's top club prize in 1977/78. To be concluded in Part 4.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021


The Lions of Flanders, Part 2

When Bobby Robson's Ipswich side notched up a comfortable 3-0 home win against Ernst Happel's Bruges in the second round of the 1975/76 UEFA Cup, they must have thought that their progression was more or less assured. But in the second leg, Bruges wiped out the deficit within the first half, and a late goal from René Vandereycken put them through, 4-3 on aggregate. It was the first of many surprises they would pull in the competition.

In the succeeding rounds, they toppled Roma, AC Milan and Hamburg as well. For the first time, a Belgian club had reached the final of a major European club competition. Their opponents would be former winners Liverpool, who had narrowly gotten the better of a Johan Cruyff-inspired Barcelona in the other semi-final. Liverpool were already on the way to becoming the dominant side in Europe, and were heavy favourites for the final, which, unlike that of the European Cup, was played over two legs.

But they received a shock in the first leg at Anfield. After only five minutes, Bruges' talismanic forward Raoul Lambert latched onto a weak back-header, and lobbed Ray Clemence accurately to put his side in front. Ten minutes later, a superb left-footed half-volley from Julien Cools flew into the top corner of the Liverpool net; the Reds were 2-0 down at Anfield. The Danish winger Ulrik Le Fevre almost scored a third for Bruges after a fine team move.

The home side rallied, and in an extraordinary six-minute period in the second half, they scored three. First, the tricky Steve Heighway found space on the left and played a ball inside for Ray Kennedy, scorer of so many important Liverpool goals; his powerful left foot did the rest. Then it was Kevin Keegan, pivoting smartly on the left of the box and playing in Kennedy again, whose shot hit the post, Jimmy Case scrambling in the rebound. The third goal was controversial: Heighway got forward on the left again and was fouled by the Bruges captain Fons Bastijns, but it was surely outside the box. A penalty was given, and Keegan put it away. Things might have gotten even worse for Happel's side, but an alert clearance off the line by Jos Volders, and a great save by Birger Jensen from David Fairclough, kept the score at 3-2.

Early in the return leg, Bruges also received a fairly soft penalty for handball in the box, and Lambert put them ahead. But four minutes later, Emlyn Hughes touched a free kick off to Keegan, who fired home a superb low shot to put his side back ahead on aggregate. Although Lambert hit the inside of the post in the second half, and Cools forced a late save from Clemence, the cup was Liverpool's. Bruges' giant-killing run was halted at the last hurdle.

But they had won the domestic title, and next season the European Cup awaited them. In their previous appearance in the competition, in 1973/74, Bruges had been knocked out in an extraordinary tie against the Swiss side FC Basel, whose side included the Peruvian World Cup star Teofilo Cubillas. Bruges took a one-goal first-leg lead to Switzerland, but a wild, fluctuating game at the St. Jakob Stadium ended in a 6-4 win for Basel, the decisive goal coming three minutes from the end.

The 1976/77 European Cup campaign, although ultimately a disappointment, was to be a harbinger of greater things to come for Happel's well-drilled side. More in Part 3.

Saturday, August 14, 2021


The Lions of Flanders, Part 1

We all know of the great club sides of the 1970s. The Total Footballers of Ajax, who won three successive European Cups with their ultra-aggressive, high-tempo football. Their successors as lords of Europe, the Bayern Munich of Beckenbauer, Muller and Maier. The grand Liverpool dynasty which squared the circle by combining continuity with renewal. Last but not least, the mighty Independiente of Argentina, who dominated the Copa Libertadores in the first half of the decade.

Then there were the famous also-rans; Don Revie's pugnacious Leeds United, feared in England and Europe, runners-up to Bayern Munich in a tight European Cup final. The stylish St. Etienne of Rocheteau and Bathenay, for so long a force at the top level. The much-respected Dynamo Kiev, brainchild of football's philosopher-in-chief, Valery Lobanovski, and spearheaded by the brilliant Oleg Blokhin.

Yet there is a team that is barely spoken about these days, which enjoyed a bright three-year heyday in which they reached the final of two major European competitions, and won three consecutive domestic titles. During this time, they won cup ties against, among others, Real Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Hamburg, Roma and Lyon. A pretty stellar field.

This was Club Brugge, better known to English-speaking fans as Bruges. It was a team with no stars, and assembled at very little cost. But with a superb team ethic and one of football's great tacticians at the helm, they took on a succession of European aristocrats between 1975 and 1978, and won. All in all, it was a brief golden era for Belgian club football, since Bruges' rivals Anderlecht were winning two Cup-Winners' Cups in the same period.

Much of Bruges' success can be put down to the much-travelled, enigmatic Austrian coach who brought his Midas touch to so many different clubs during his twenty-odd years of peregrination: Ernst Happel.

Formerly an iconic defender with Rapid Vienna and the Austrian national team, with whom he took third place at the 1954 World Cup, Happel began his coaching career in Holland with unfashionable ADO Den Haag in 1962. Totally devoted to the game, and a martinet in training, Happel introduced his trademark "pressing" tactics - later to become synonymous with Dutch football - to the relegation-threatened club, and turned them into title challengers and, in 1968, Dutch Cup-winners. 

Moving on to Feyenoord in 1969, Happel made himself a permanent legend in Rotterdam, and in Holland in general, by capturing the European Cup in 1970. Feyenoord's opponents in the final, Celtic, were heavy favourites, and Celtic manager Jock Stein admitted afterwards that he'd been out-coached by Happel. It was the first of four Dutch triumphs in the tournament.

Always keen for new challenges, Happel left Feyenoord after three years. Following a frustrating year with Sevilla, he headed to the Low Countries again in 1975, taking charge of Bruges.

There was already a core of accomplished players at the club, which had won the Belgian league title in 1973. Happel made only a few changes to the personnel, but they were important ones. He brought his experienced compatriot, the sweeper Eduard Krieger, across from Austria Vienna, plucked the energetic young Daniel De Cubber from the obscure Saint-Gilloise club, and later transferred the elegant playmaker Paul Courant across from Liège. All three were to form part of the core unit that brought to life Happel's football philosophy of hard pressing, incessant attack, and tactical discipline.

Like so many sides of the era, Bruges made regular use of the offside trap. But they employed the tactic in a more "holistic" fashion, rather than just charging out of defence en bloc at a given moment: compressing the midfield and defensive lines extraordinarily tightly when playing without the ball, and maintaining excellent discipline in keeping "the line", they frustrated countless opposing players who failed to time their runs well enough. Never was this tactic employed to better effect than in their European Cup semi-final against Juventus in 1978. 

To adopt such a tactic requires a very mobile goalkeeper, always ready to dash off his line, and Bruges possessed one in the fine Danish international Birger Jensen. One of many Danish players who were slowly making their mark in European football at the time, Jensen was equally good at commanding his area and pulling off acrobatic saves, and in Bruges' most high-profile match of all - the 1978 European Cup final - he would be at his very best.

Apart from Krieger, the defence at Happel's Bruges was made up of club veterans: the battling fullbacks "Fons" Bastijns and Jos Volders, and the stopper Georges Leekens. The regular midfield three, switching positions constantly and ready to turn defence into attack at a moment's notice, were central to Bruges' success. These three were the aforementioned De Cubber, René Vandereycken, a regular at international level, and the combative, hard-working Julien Cools.

Cools must be one of the most under-rated players of his era. He was a very late developer; at the age of 25, he was still toiling away as a defender in the Belgian second division, and working as a postman to make ends meet. But by the late seventies, he had matured into one of the most valuable midfielders in Europe; technically unexceptional, but possessing boundless energy, deceptive pace, strength in the tackle, and a knack for both scoring and making important goals.

In attack, the towering figure was the Belgian international and Bruges stalwart Raoul Lambert, "the Lion of Flanders". A veteran of the 1970 World Cup, he was treasured by the fans not only for his goalscoring qualities, but for his galvanising effect on his teammates. The Bruges attack was less set-in-stone than the rest of the team, and other characters who played a role during the club's golden period were the creative Courant, the ex-Derby County striker Roger Davies, the young Dirk Hinderyckx, the Danish attacker Ulrik Le Fevre, and later another Dane, the tricky young winger Jan Sorensen. 

In Part 2: Happel's Bruges start their string of cup runs in Europe.

Monday, August 09, 2021


Li-Bu-Da, Part 6

On the 6th of June 1971, at his 50th birthday party, the president of relegated Bundesliga club Kickers Offenbach played his guests a reel-to-reel tape recording of certain phone calls. Bundestrainer Helmut Schoen, one of the guests present, left the party in abject shock. The ripples caused by this revelation of bribery and match-fixing in the Bundesliga were considerable; dozens of players and officials received bans of considerable length. One of them was the Schalke 04 captain, Reinhard "Stan" Libuda.

Late in the 1970/71 season, Schalke had lost a match at home to Arminia Bielefeld, one of the teams involved in the relegation struggle. It was later determined that the match had been thrown, and that the Schalke players had received a bribe of over 2,000 Deutschmarks each. They protested their innocence, but the subsequent investigation left little room for doubt. Libuda, as club captain, was banned for life, his international career was over, and his reputation and form were never to recover.

Ironically, in 1971/72, with the scandal making its painful way through the court of the German federation, Schalke were having their best season ever. With the young forward Klaus Fischer starring up front and the mighty Rolf Russmann spearheading the defence, Libuda and his men finished in second place in the league behind Bayern Munich, and won the German Cup in some style. After overcoming Köln in an incredible semi-final, decided on penalties after Schalke had overturned a three-goal first leg deficit, they romped to a 5-0 win over Kaiserslautern in the final. 

By that stage, most of the players knew that this would be their last game for the Gelsenkirchen club for some time, and they were determined to give the fans a send-off to remember. Libuda's parting gift to his adoring home crowd was a trademark storming run down the right, to set up the fourth goal for Fischer. 

Proudly displaying the cup to the Schalke faithful amidst the familiar shouts - LI-BU-DA! LI-BU-DA! - the Mexico 1970 star was asked by an interviewer how he felt about leaving his boyhood club. "To be honest, a little bit sad," was the understated reply. But his feelings on winning the club's first major trophy? "Overwhelming."

Along with his clubmate, the Dutch midfielder Heinz van Haaren, Libuda had secured a move to France, with Racing Strasbourg. Serving out his penance there while his ban was reduced to two years (cynics claimed that many of the bans were reduced with the 1974 World Cup in mind), he returned to Schalke in 1974, but there was to be no grand resurrection: failing to secure a regular place in the team, Libuda retired in 1976, aged 32.

Taciturn and eternally camera-shy, he had no inclination to begin the journey into coaching. But football had been his life since an early age, and the outside world proved difficult for Libuda to negotiate. He ran a tobacconist's shop for a while, but the world of business did not suit him; as his Mexico 1970 room-mate Jurgen Grabowski noted, he was never inclined to be tactful. Unemployment followed, as did divorce, alcohol, and a battle with cancer. In desperate financial trouble, he even had to sell his bronze medal from 1970; touchingly, it found its way into the hands of a Uruguayan collector, who remembered the man who had patrolled the right flank against his countrymen in that third-place playoff.

A Schalke fan eventually found Libuda a job at a paper-refining firm, but in 1992 complications from his laryngeal cancer put an end to his working life. In 1996, at the age of 52, Reinhard Libuda died from a stroke in his son Matthias's apartment in Gelsenkirchen.

On the day of his funeral, it pelted with rain. There is a German football expression "to leave (someone) wet", which roughly matches the English football term "to skin". It was something Libuda did regularly, and one of the mourners was heard to quip, "Look, Stan's left everyone wet again!"

Ultimately, despite his nickname, Libuda was to be no Stanley Matthews. The game had changed too much for a player to build an entire career on a drop of the shoulder and a burst of pace. But in Mexico, he had shown glimpses of a more complete player, a modern winger who might have starred alongside the likes of Muller, Beckenbauer and Netzer in the years ahead. It was not to be.

Perhaps the most commonly-told tale about Libuda is a probably apocryphal one: a prominent German church organisation had adopted as its watchword "No-one gets past God!", and the motto was displayed on posters outside churches throughout the country. In Gelsenkirchen, a Schalke fan apparently added a graffito underneath: "...except Stan Libuda", imagining the Almighty as a hapless left-back on a joyful afternoon at the Glückauf-Kampfbahn...or perhaps as Boris Gaganelov, Bulgaria's left-back on that triumphant day in Leon in 1970.

Saturday, August 07, 2021


Li-Bu-Da, Part 5

In (West) Germany's long and proud history at the World Cup, they have put in some less than impressive performances now and then. The 2002 second round match against Paraguay comes to mind, as does the shock loss to Algeria in 1982. But I would suggest that never have the Mannschaft played worse than in the first half of their first match of the 1970 World Cup, against Morocco in Leon. It was excruciating to watch.

The lack of acclimatisation may have been a factor; Helmut Schoen's squad arrived in Mexico surprisingly close to the start of the competition, and still appeared to be struggling with the heat, humidity and altitude of the Estadio Guanajuato. A number of players, notably Helmut Haller, seemed badly out of form. There were no doubt some opening-night nerves as well, especially given that the prospect of failing to beat the competition's African entrants was a worrying one. But one of the other salient factors was that Schoen had brought no fewer than three quality, in-form wingers to the tournament, and not one of them was in the starting eleven against Morocco. The "wingless wonders" philosophy lingered.

Jurgen Grabowski had matured, since 1966, into a tricky, adroit winger with considerable pace and variation. The versatile Hannes Löhr, who had been used in the Germans' ill-fated 1968 Nations Cup campaign, was a willing runner with a penchant for switching flanks. And, of course, there was "Stan" Libuda, now captain at Schalke 04 and in the form of his life: he had taken the unfancied Gelsenkirchen club to the semi-final of the Cup-Winners Cup, and although the Königsblauen were trounced by eventual winners Manchester City, Libuda had scored in both legs of the tie, and shown all his trademark acceleration and subtlety. 

After the wretched first half against Morocco, in which the African side went ahead with a simple goal, Schoen belatedly brought on Grabowski, who revived the side almost immediately. Löhr too saw some game time towards the close, as the Germans ran out 2-1 winners. But once or twice, the crowd began to chant the name of the man they really wanted to see on the flank: Li-bu-da.

In the next game, against Bulgaria, they got their wish. In more ways than one.

Following his disappearing act in the second half against Scotland, I suspect that Schoen had suggested to Libuda that he alter his style a little, to maximise his effectiveness for the Mannschaft. And so it was that, against Bulgaria, Libuda added some elements of Zagallo to his Garrincha qualities. He dropped deep to receive the ball. He linked up with the defence. He drifted inside (especially when his colleague Löhr switched wings). He even popped up on the left now and then. He didn't obsessively look to drop the shoulder at every opportunity. And the result was one of the finest individual performances of the World Cup, a match-winning display.

The Germans scored five goals, and Libuda was involved in every one of them.

After the Bulgarians had opened the scoring from a free kick, Libuda hit the by-line in the 20th minute, served by the irrepressible Uwe Seeler, and whipped in a low cross which the Bulgarian keeper Simeon Simeonov fumbled over the line. The second goal, an absolute gem, saw the qualities of the two wingers complementing each other perfectly. The busy Löhr moved over to the right and found Libuda, now in the centre; riding a tackle, he almost lost his balance, but recovered to beat Asparukh Nikodimov with a delightful feint before cutting the ball back sharply for Gerd Muller to send a volley past Simeonov. Just before half-time, Libuda nearly scored again, playing a swift one-two with Seeler before firing just over the bar. The crowd were on their feet. "LI-BU-DA! LI-BU-DA!"

At half-time, the Bulgarian coach Stefan Boskov tried to turn the tide by introducing a winger of his own, Vasil Mitkov, on the Bulgarian right flank. But an important newcomer to the German side, the terrier-like fullback Berti Vogts, had his measure and then some. The assault on the other side of the field continued: Libuda twisted past his man again and was brought down for a penalty, which Muller dispatched. Franz Beckenbauer, coming into his own in midfield, almost scored what would have been the goal of the tournament soon afterwards, dancing past no fewer than six Bulgarian defenders before seeing his shot saved by Simeonov.

A flowing crossfield move, started again by Libuda deep on the right, produced the fourth goal, Seeler taking advantage of an accurate cross from Muller on the left. With only a few minutes left, a typical shoulder drop from Libuda produced a free kick; the winger took it himself, sending in an accurate ball to Muller, who headed in magnificently from 12 yards to complete his hat-trick. Todor Kolev's well-taken goal a minute later provided scant consolation to a Bulgarian side which had been destroyed by the slender Schalke captain. 

"Stan won us this game. Fantastic performance," said Beckenbauer after the match. Wolfgang Overath, pointedly, remarked that "[Our tactics] don't work without good wingers. So we have Libuda to thank for that." "The only way to stop this guy is with a gun," grumbled Boskov.

Libuda retained his form in the final group game against Peru, in which Gerd Muller scored another hat-trick, revelling in the service he received both from the wings and from the ageless Seeler. In the sapping heat, Libuda tired towards the close and was replaced by Grabowski, but kept his place for the quarter-final showdown against England.

This, however, was the sort of tough, physical contest which did not suit him quite so well. Up against the dogged Terry Cooper, one of England's best players of the competition, Libuda was far less effective: his crosses were too shallow, and his touches less sure. It was significant, too, that he chose the easy option of cutting inside rather than going for the line most of the time: the heat was having its effect. Eventually, early in the second half, he was substituted for Grabowski, who provided much of the spark for the Germans' remarkable revival.

Schoen continued to shuffle his wingers around. Grabowski started the semi-final against Italy, with Libuda kept on the bench. But with Italy leading 1-0 in the second half and the Germans looking tired after their exertions against England, on came "Stan", in place of Löhr. There followed an intriguing battle with the great Giacinto Facchetti, in which Libuda did not come off worse. His was the first of a rash of German chances just after the hour, when he almost chipped the Italian keeper Enrico Albertosi from a tight angle. In quick succession, Overath hit the bar, Siggi Held had a shot cleared freakishly off the line by Roberto Rosato, and Seeler had an excellent penalty claim turned down by the weak referee, Arturo Yamasaki.

Eventually the veteran German sweeper Karlheinz Schnellinger equalised. In the amazing extra time period, there were five more goals, and once more Libuda was involved in both of the German ones, his crosses from the right providing the platform for Muller to work his penalty-box tricks. Libuda was also at the centre of a crucial, and largely forgotten, incident just prior to Italy's third goal: receiving the ball on the right, he was plainly fouled by Luigi Riva. The referee waved play on, Riva rushed into the German half...and pivoted to score. On such things do matches turn.

After two exhausting periods of extra time, it was no surprise that the Germans looked listless and uninspired in the third-place game; their opponents, Uruguay, would have won easily had they taken their chances. But Schoen's men held on for a 1-0 win and a bronze medal, and yet again Libuda was involved in the game's only goal; his cross was headed back across goal by Seeler for, inevitably, Muller, who this time prodded the ball back for Overath to thrash it home with his unforgiving left foot.

And so, after a long wait, it seemed that Reinhard Libuda was set to play a major role in the Germans' successes of the next few years. Still only 26, he had shown himself worthy of the biggest stage in Mexico. And he had added some modern versatility to his old-fashioned wing play.

Sadly, his career and life were soon to take a sharp downward turn. To be concluded in Part 6.

Thursday, August 05, 2021


Li-Bu-Da, Part 4

Not much went right for the West German national side in the years immediately following the 1966 World Cup. In their qualifying group for the 1968 Nations Cup, they were eliminated after failing to win an away match against Albania. Their road to the World Cup in Mexico was a distinctly rocky one: they began well enough with a 2-0 away win against neighbours Austria, but received a dreadful scare in tiny Cyprus, whose team they had thumped 6-0 away in a qualifier three years earlier. This time, it took until the second minute of injury time for Helmut Schoen's men to find the net; the scorer was the new German talisman Gerd Muller, pivoting to score one of the classic opportunist's goals for which he was to become so famous.

Three weeks later, on the same ground, the Cypriots were brushed aside 5-0 by the team who were shaping up as Germany's chief rivals in the qualifying series: Scotland. The joint group leaders faced off in Glasgow in April 1969, and the Germans were lucky to come away with a 1-1 draw. 

The nadir of Germany's qualifying series came in their next match, a home tie against Austria. This time, against a fairly modest team who had clearly come to defend, the Germans were found horribly short of ideas and penetration. Muller was having a miserable game up front, and the absence of the experienced Uwe Seeler was felt keenly. But once again, two minutes from the end this time, it was Muller who broke the deadlock with a moment of genius, brilliantly flicking the ball up to secure himself a free header, which crept in. The words of the laconic German commentator said everything that needed to be said about Muller's modus operandi: "Muller...chance...and goal!".

Meanwhile, "Stan" Libuda had returned from Borussia Dortmund to his beloved Schalke 04, and was in tremendous form in the Bundesliga. Schoen's choice for the outside-right role for the past few years had been the Hamburg winger Bernd Dörfel, who had formed a good attacking partnership with the veteran Seeler at club level. But Dörfel had moved to Eintracht Braunschweig and lost his form; in the match against Austria, he was anonymous. And so it was that Libuda returned to a rejuvenated Mannschaft which put a cricket score past Cyprus in the return fixture. It was a perfect stage for the shy, diffident Schalke idol to regain his confidence with the national team: a match against weak opposition, held in Essen, just next door to his home club, and with Muller there to take full advantage of his pull-backs and crosses, as he did on the occasion of the afternoon's first goal.

Schoen kept faith with Libuda for the crucial home qualifier against Scotland, held in Hamburg five months later. The Germans were now in a commanding position in the group, and the Scots needed at least a draw to retain any hope of a ticket to Mexico. Schoen shrewdly restored Seeler, Hamburg's perennial hero, to the side, and was rewarded with passionate support from the crowd.

It was a rugged and bad-tempered but thrilling match, and the Scots gave their all; but for the magnificent goalkeeping of Sepp Maier, having one of his finest games for his country, they would certainly not have lost. The Germans had the better of the refereeing decisions, too: Horst-Dieter Höttges should definitely have been sent off for kicking Colin Stein to the ground in retaliation, and Muller too was lucky to escape with only a caution after a dreadful studs-up foul on Peter Cormack. 

Scotland went ahead soon after the kick-off, but Germany equalised from a corner shortly before half-time. Another of Muller's trademark half-chance goals gave them the lead on the hour, but a surprisingly easy headed goal by the veteran Alan Gilzean, having a splendid game, levelled the scores straight afterwards.

And Libuda? In the relatively serene first half, he saw comparatively little of the ball, but beat his man consistently when he did so (as well as sending in the corner which led to the first German goal). Scotland's experienced left-back, Tommy Gemmell of Celtic, made the mistake of letting Libuda come at him, and he was simply unable to cope with the predictable but irresistible shoulder drop and acceleration. Amidst the cries of "U-WE! U-WE!" from the Hamburg crowd, occasionally another now familiar chant would break out: "Li-bu-DA! Li-bu-DA!".

The second half was a different story: now the game was becoming harsher and more bogged down in the centre, while Libuda, typically, rarely strayed from the right touchline. Gemmell now surged forward to intercept whenever the often telegraphed pass went out to the right, and Libuda barely had a single touch for the first thirty minutes of the half. His opposite number Jimmy Johnstone, similarly tightly policed, was willing to drift infield at times and join in the scrapping. But this was not Libuda's style.

Yet, as in the Cup-Winners' Cup final three years earlier, Libuda would come fruitfully to life after a period of anonymity. On a German breakaway, the alert Helmut Haller played him through on the right: this time, Gemmell was well beaten, and Libuda took a deft touch with his right foot before beating the Scottish goalkeeper James Herriot with his left. The match was won, Germany were in the World Cup, Libuda was the hero of the hour, and there remained only the infamous moment when a chagrined Gemmell made his notorious assault on Haller.

Were it not for that goal, if the match had ended 2-2 and had Schoen been left only with the image of a forlorn figure hugging the right touchline and hoping for a good through-ball while the real business of the match took place elsewhere, Germany may still have qualified for Mexico, but I doubt whether Libuda would have been on the plane. But now, he could hardly be left behind. And his greatest moment with the national team was still ahead of him.

Continued in Part 5.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021


Li-Bu-Da, Part 3

Most long-term England fans are familiar with the story of how Alf Ramsey tried out the wingers in his squad in the opening round of the 1966 World Cup - John Connelly, Terry Paine, and Ian Callaghan - but ultimately decided that his team would be better off without them. Hence the "wingless wonders", in which the nominally left-sided Martin Peters popped up here, there and everywhere, and the combative Alan Ball ran himself ragged on the other side.

What these fans may not know is that England's opponents in the final, West Germany, actually went through a similar process.

Helmut Schoen adopted what was essentially a 4-3-3 formation for most of the tournament, but alongside the iconic Uwe Seeler up front, he always made sure there was a hard-running, powerful forward as well as an out-and-out winger...and by the knockout rounds, there were no wingers, just two beefy runners flanking Seeler. Namely, the Borussia Dortmund duo of Siegfried Held and Lothar Emmerich, with whom we are already familiar.

In Germany's opening game against the Swiss, the safe choice on the right wing, where Reinhard Libuda might have been, was the Italy-based Albert Brülls. A survivor of the 1962 tournament, he was an experienced, dependable and diligent, if unspectacular, outside-right.

While Brülls had a quiet game, Schoen's young stars ran riot against their overawed opponents. Held scored the first, going on a marvellous twisting run by the left-hand by-line, worthy of the finest wingers, before cutting the ball back for Seeler and finishing smartly when the veteran striker's shot hit the post. The two impressive young midfielders Franz Beckenbauer and Wolfgang Overath dominated that sector, Beckenbauer breaking forward to score two fine goals. Seeler showed all his old class, providing a crucial assist for one of Beckenbauer's goals and winning the penalty that allowed Helmut Haller, another 1962 veteran, to score the fifth. Suddenly, Germany were World Cup favourites.

Against a tough, sly, cohesive Argentina side in the next game, however, it was a very different story. This time Held's surging, uncomplicated runs down the left came to little, and Brülls was easily snuffed out on the other flank. Seeler, not the tallest of strikers, could make nothing of the crosses that sailed into the box from distance. Even after the Argentinian stopper Jose Albrecht was sent off for a shocking foul, the Germans looked almost comically ineffectual against the resilient Albiceleste defence, in which the sweeper Roberto Perfumo and the left-back Silvio Marzolini - one of the players of the tournament - were outstanding. Would the occasional surprises offered by a player like Libuda, with his drops of the shoulder and his sudden bursts of acceleration, have provided the missing penetration? In retrospect, it seems at least likely.

A knock to Brülls late in the Argentina game allowed Schoen to quietly drop the Brescia winger, and reorganise his attack for the final game against Spain. Held now moved into the centre, and another attacker was added on the left - Emmerich, who seemed more suited to the position than his Dortmund team-mate. This time, it was Werner Krämer of Duisburg who occupied the outside-right role, but he too failed to make any real impact.

It was a tense game. Emmerich's choice was amply justified when he equalised Jose Maria Fuste's opening goal with a thunderous left-footed shot from a narrow angle; Held, appropriately, provided the assist. From then on it was an even contest, with the Spanish looking, if anything, more likely to score for much of the second half. But in the 84th minute, Germany's Mr. Reliable, Seeler, finished neatly after Held had gone on another of his bulldozer runs, leaving Manuel Sanchis in his wake and pulling the ball back adroitly. It was a close thing.

What was Schoen to do? His right-sided players had been found wanting. A young Jürgen Grabowski was in the squad as well, but Schoen ultimately decided not to entrust the role to such an tyro. Instead, he did away with wingers altogether, restored the versatile Haller to the side, and kept Held and Emmerich as Seeler's "wing-men", the former playing virtually as a second centre-forward. It was what the Brazilians later referred to, not entirely unadmiringly, at futebol forca - power football.

Although this new formation made it to the final, the Germans had a great deal of luck on the way. In the quarter-final, a forceful Uruguay side were denied a plain penalty early on, and then conceded a freakish goal to go behind. Thus incensed, they began to play rough, and two red cards early in the second half were, let us say, not undeserved. Against nine men, Germany coasted to victory.

They virtually faced nine men as well in the semi-final, with the Russian playmaker Joszef Sabo suffering a bad injury early on and hobbling along the left touchline for the remainder of the contest, and Igor Chislenko getting himself sent off for a dreadful foul on Held. This time the score was only 2-1, but Schoen's men were playing within themselves.

The final saw the two chief proponents of futebol forca produce a thrilling game, and although Germany went down in extra time, most pundits agreed that the match could have gone either way. Although Emmerich had an indifferent game, Held was superb once more, and it looked as if physicality and work-rate were to be the way of the future, in Germany as in England.

This was bad news for a delicate touch-player like Libuda. But in 1969, his time would finally come. To be continued in Part 4.

Sunday, August 01, 2021


Li-Bu-Da, Part 2

Around the mid-sixties, attitudes towards specialist wingers were changing. True, the 1962 World Cup had been dominated by the ultimate wing specialist, Garrincha, a purveyor of endless entertaining tricks. In the Nations Cup final in 1964, Real Madrid's outside-right Amancio played a pivotal role in Spain's victory. Last but not least, on the eve of the World Cup in England, Amancio's venerable Real Madrid team-mate Paco Gento had made the most of his Indian summer by helping the Madrileños to their first European Cup crown since 1960. Gento, of course, was another old-fashioned wing wizard par excellence.

But there were other trends emerging. On Brazil's other flank in 1962 was Mario Zagallo, who played much more like a modern wide man, dropping inside, linking with the defence, even daring to put in the odd tackle. Recent European Cups had been dominated by teams who scorned the old-fashioned expansive football of the WM era, with its twin wingers, focusing instead on deep defence and counter-attack. 

Gento and Garrincha both played at the 1966 World Cup, and were both found wanting (although age as much as the changing nature of the game played a role in that). Garrincha looked commanding enough against the slow, supine Bulgarians in Brazil's opening match, with all his old trickery on show. But in the vibrant encounter with Hungary, he was hopelessly off the pace. Gento found the going hard against Argentina's tough defence in Spain's opening game; the European champions were defeated, and the celebrated veteran was dropped for the final, decisive group match against West Germany.

England, whose manager Alf Ramsey had previously been a great supporter of wingers, ultimately won the tournament without using a single one in the knockout rounds. But this was largely because no fewer than three of them had been used in the group stage, and had made little impact.

And Helmut Schoen's West Germany? Well...it's complicated.

Schoen, unlike many of his contemporaries, rarely went into a major tournament with a settled first eleven. Instead, he would use the initial matches to tinker around the edges until a working combination emerged. To this end, he tried out a few different right-sided players at the start of the World Cup. But Reinhard Libuda, the hero of Borussia Dortmund's recent Cup-Winners' Cup triumph, was not among them.

Yet Libuda's club-mate Siegfried Held, a center-forward at the Stadion Rote Erde, was used on the left wing by Schoen initially (Zagallo, significantly, also deployed two players who were not really wingers in wide roles in Brazil's glorious 1970 campaign). The reason for this had much to do with the direction that football, and German football in particular, was heading at the time. And Borussia's final two matches in the Cup-Winners' Cup were telling in this respect.

In their semi-final second leg against the defending champions West Ham, Borussia's stars were the representatives of the modern trend towards speed and physicality: the forwards Held and Lothar Emmerich. The dark-haired Emmerich had a rousing game, scoring an early goal from a rebound and then thumping in a second from a free kick. Held, once bullocking his way through the entire West Ham defence with tremendous power, was a torment to the Hammers throughout. 

Meanwhile, on the right wing, the frail-looking Libuda was producing moments of delightful skill, dropping the shoulder regularly, occasionally getting to the line, but looking a bit-part player by comparison with the two imposing forwards. In the second half he went on a brilliant jinking run into the box, but a weak shot spoiled what might have been a fine, romantic individual goal. 

West Ham manager Ron Greenwood later compared Libuda to the great English winger Tom Finney (rather than Stanley Matthews, despite Libuda's nickname), but his limitations had been quite apparent, as well as his talent. But despite the excellence of Held and Emmerich, it was clear who the sentimental crowd favourite was. Every time their right-winger pulled off one of his trademark swerves, the Borussia contingent broke into a chant which would be repeated in Mexico four years later: "Li-bu-DA! Li-bu-DA!".

In the final against Liverpool, the downside of Libuda's style was even more starkly apparent. It was a tough, disjointed, over-physical game, and although Libuda was to produce the eventual deciding goal, he was a passenger for much of the game, especially in the second half. Already, the sensitive youngster was getting a reputation as a Heimspieler, a home-player, someone who needed the comfort of the adoring home support to produce his best. 

Instead, it was the two big forwards who combined to put Borussia ahead just after the hour, with Emmerich dropping deep to put the ball through to Held, who charged through a gap in the Liverpool defence and struck home. That should, in fact, have been the winner, since Liverpool's equalising goal was a chimera, Peter Thompson pulling the ball back from well over the goal-line for Roger Hunt to score.

So Held and Emmerich went to the World Cup in England, and Libuda did not. But, logical as this may have seemed at the time, it could well have been a mistake on Schoen's part. More in Part 3.

Friday, July 30, 2021


Li-Bu-Da, Part 1

At the 1970 World Cup, the nucleus of the West German team that would go on to triumph at the 1972 Nations Cup and the 1974 World Cup was in the process of being formed. The great Franz Beckenbauer was there, still in midfield but edging into the "attacking sweeper" role for which he would become renowned. Appearing for the first time at a major tournament, "Der Bomber" Gerd Muller took the Mexican World Cup by storm, scoring 10 close-range goals, many of them spectacular. Sepp Maier had emerged as a world-class goalkeeper. Wolfgang Overath and his brilliant left foot made a significant contribution too, as did the tricky game-breaker Jurgen Grabowski.

But there was only one Mannschaft player at the event who was given the honour of the whole German section of the crowd chanting his name. It happened during the match of his life, the game in which he dazzled crowd and commentators alike, and took the opposition apart. This player was Reinhard Libuda.

Who? I hear you cry.

It was an era of great attacking players, and it is perhaps inevitable that some of them have been largely forgotten. Libuda's story is both instructive and tragic, the tale of a player who was born ten years too late, whose elegant style was slowly becoming obsolete, and whose innocent folk-hero status could not survive a murky scandal.

A miner's son from the Ruhr, with film-star looks and a shy, almost childlike manner, Libuda quickly became an idol with his beloved hometown club Schalke 04. A classical right-winger with superb dribbling skills, he was given the nickname "Stan" for his resemblance to the legendary Stanley Matthews; the "Matthews swerve", that signature drop-of-the-shoulder move named after football's first knight, was one that Libuda executed brilliantly.

Although he came to broader notice in Mexico, Libuda first played for the German national team as far back as 1963 under the aegis of Sepp Herberger, the miracle-worker of Bern whose spell as German Bundestrainer began before the war. But Libuda failed to cement his place in the team.

In 1965, with Schalke finishing in last place in the nascent Bundesliga, Libuda secured a move to local rivals Borussia Dortmund so as to remain at the top level. (Oddly enough, Schalke were not relegated, for obscure reasons.) And it was with Borussia that Libuda collected his first major trophy: the 1966 Cup-Winners' Cup, in which the Dortmunder overcame Bill Shankly's Liverpool in a tight final. It was Libuda who scored the spectacular winning goal, chipping the ball in from 25 yards with a little help from the Liverpool captain Ron Yeats, after the tireless Siggi Held had been stopped in his tracks.

It was the first time that a German club had won a major European title, and with fellow Borussia players Held, Lothar Emmerich and Hans Tilkowski going to the World Cup in England later in the year as first-team players, it came as a surprise to some pundits that German manager Helmut Schoen omitted the 22-year-old Libuda from the squad.

But a closer look at the latter stages of the Cup-Winners' Cup indicates that Schoen, whose attitude to wingers was always somewhat equivocal, may have had his reasons. More in Part 2.

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