“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible!” – Ilario Castagner and the Perugia of Miracles.
The neat phrase coined by Einstein was surely never intended to refer to football. With apologies to the eminent physicist however, let us borrow it for a trice, as it chimes tunefully with the achievements of the small – ‘relatively’ speaking, that is – Umbrian club and their manager during the 1978-79 Serie A season.
The Grifoni, displaying the prowess of that legendary beast produced a feat never before achieved in the highest echelon of Italian football, and completed the season undefeated. With the head of a lion – king of the beasts – and the body of an eagle – king of the birds – there’s a majesty about a Gryphon and in this particular season, Perugia surely lived up to the reputation of their nickname. That they failed to secure the Scudetto, despite their invulnerability should not detract from the achievement; rather it should define it even sharper relief, shouting of it not only being laudable, but also magnificent in the truest sense of the word. Continue reading →
I’ve heard it said that non-football fans are – to paraphrase Bart Simpson – the MTV Generation, knowing neither highs nor lows. Anyone not hooked up with a femme fatale of a football club – someone upon which you pour your affections, only to be scorned and disheartened at so many turns – is incapable of understanding the all-too-brief but euphoric highs of success for the object of your adoration. Sometimes though, albeit so very rarely, those highs linger and join together to offer an enticing view of a world full of joy and bereft of despair and disappointment, a sunlit upland that will be yours for ever and ever; your club becomes dominant – the paragon, a beauty inarnate, the iconoclast that kicks down the rules of normal roller-coaster emotions. Into the mid-nineties, the Barcelona team of Johann Cruyff was such a team. Continue reading →
On Tuesday, 23rd March 2004, AC Milan entertained Deportivo La Coruna at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in that season’s Champions League competition. As well as being the reigning champions, the Rossoneri, under coach Carlo Ancelotti were many pundits’ favourites to win the title again. The outcome of this first leg match certainly did little to shake any such opinions. Continue reading →
Heinz Krügel was born in the small village of Ober-Planitz, near Zwickau on 24th April 1921 in what would be – between the end of the Second World War and the reunification of the German state – East Germany. Even as a young boy, football was a major part of his life and at the age of six, he was playing for the local club, SC Planitz, He stayed with the club for the next 23 years, and in 1948, he had his first taste of national success when Planitz won the inaugural Deutscher Sportausschuss Oberliga (the East German league championship). Less than two years later, Heinz Krügel’s playing career was ended by a serious knee injury. It was that misfortune however, that ultimately led to a more celebrated career, as Krügel turned his hand to coaching and management. It would also have the unfortunate consequence of bringing him into conflict with the government authorities. Continue reading →
The mid-seventies were a particularly good period for German football. Not only did Die Mannschaft, take full toll of home advantage by lifting the 1974 World Cup, their clubs sides were also dominant. In 1974, Bayern Munich were Champions of Europe, and would retain the European Cup in the following two seasons. Borussia Mönchengladbach secured successive Uefa Cup triumphs in 1975 and 1976 and Hamburg took the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976.
German footballing success was not confined to the western half of the divided country though. Despite Franz Beckenbauer lifting the Fifa World Cup Trophy, on a politically tense June evening, their eastern brethren triumphed over the eventual champions in the final group game in Hamburg to top the group thanks to a late goal from Jürgen Sparwasser.
Although politically, the victory over West Germany was a high watermark for the east, in footballing terms, it was Sparwasser’s club, 1. FC Magdeburg, that flew the flag highest for the DDR in those few years of German footballing hegemony. A mere few weeks prior to that less-than-fraternal international triumph, they became the only East German club ever to lift a European trophy. The story of FC Magdeburg and their European triumph is a akin to that of the Trabant, totally built in East Germany and defying much logic and the expectation of many cynics to reach its destination. Continue reading →
There’s a certain type of wisdom that only comes with age and the experience; of seeing many things; by observing quietly and absorbing; by understanding. Sitting in the suburb of Santa Úrsula in Mexico City, the Estadio Azteca is not only an imposing architectural edifice, it can also boast a rich history of hosting some of the most celebrated matches in the history of international football. Being the first venue to host two World Cup Finals, it’s fair to say that the old stadium has witnessed a fair bit of the ‘beautiful game’ with some of the rarest of talents ever to grace the international arena treading its turf. When the Azteca speaks of greatness therefore, it’s done with the authority of age and experience. It’s beholding on us all to listen. Continue reading →
In sport, especially within the often wildly unpredictable world of football, there is rarely anything like a guaranteed winning bet. The Europa League Final on 14th May 2014 was however, probably as close to being a ‘dead cert’ as almost anything ever is when the ‘beautiful game’ is involved. Bet on Sevilla to beat Benfica and lift the trophy, was the call. It’s as close to being brass in the bank as any bet can ever be. Honestly! Would I lie to you? On paper it appeared to be a close contest. Both clubs had enjoyed a reasonably successful season, and had deservedly reached the showpiece final in Turin. That was as may be, but it didn’t mean backing Sevilla wasn’t a good money shot. Continue reading →
Describing the defender that he had played alongside for so many glorious years in the Rossoneri, backline, Paolo Maldini, in an interview with Jamie Carragher said: “That’s exactly it. He was special.” In that simple phrase, he encapsulated the aura and majesty of a player who graced the famous red and black as a ‘one club’ player. A hero of the tifosi on the Curva Sud at the Stadio Guiseppe Meazza San Siro in the Lombardian city of Milan and the man for whom AC Milan retired the number six shirt; the incomparable Franco Baresi. Continue reading →
Not only has the city of Milan been dominated by a succession of empires, with the Romans, Spanish and French all having claimed dominion over the capital of Lombardy, powerful families have also held sway there. The Viscontis were deemed ‘lords of Milan’ from the late thirteenth century through to the middle fifteenth, and the Sforza family later took up this control around the Renaissance period. Nothing is for ever though. Empires crumble and families wither, and a similar fate appears to have befallen the city’s two football clubs. Once dominant in Serie A with an imperial strut to their performances, both AC Milan and Internazionale appear to be in decline, and the Berlusconi and Moratti families whose respective ownership of the Milanese clubs has identified them over recent years, appear to be following a following a similar pattern. Continue reading →
It may feel like a flippant, knee-jerk reaction way to talk of a player who won’t be 24 until August, but the career of Bojan Krkic, onetime wonder-kid of the Camp Nou, is now resembling one of those ‘what could have been’ stories redolent of a bright spring that turned into a damp, disappointing and dispiriting summer. Recent reports have even suggested that next season he could be plying his trade with Stoke City. No offence to the Potteries’ club, but Bojan burst onto the season, that wasn’t on the menu.
Born to a Serbian father and a Catalan mother in the small town of Linyola, ironically about a 90 minute drive from the Camp Nou, Bojan joined the Blaugrana at nine and had all the makings of a La Masia graduate destined for greatness; blessed with consummate skill, elegant balance and an unerring eye for goal. In the next seven years he accumulated more 850 goals for the club’s junior teams. It’s a mind-blowing total. If one works on an eight-month season over the period, it equates to almost 3.50 goals per week – every week; not for the team, just for Bojan himself. When he was 15 he played for Spain in the U17 European Championships, and although officially a year too young, still ended up as the competition’s joint top scorer. He returned to the same tournament the following year and notched the winning goal for Spain in the final. Here was a player set to rank alongside Cruyff, Messi and Maradona as an all-time great at the Catalan club – and a born Catalan to boot. The football world lay at his feet. Or so it seemed. Continue reading →