Category Archives: World Football

“And then the tears fell from my eyes.” Jorge Burruchaga – Argentina’s unsung World Cup hero.

As World Cup Finals go, the one played out between Argentina and West Germany in 1986 would take some beating for drama. The game seemed won, before being cast into huge doubt, and then a late winner decided the issue in favour of the South American passion play. Although he didn’t score in the final, the tournament will, for a variety of reasons, be largely remembered with Diego Maradona as the star. That said, even the great Argentine icon would surely concur that others too warranted great credit and acclaim. Standing alongside giants can often mean that a shadow falls across others, obscuring their brightness, but they too have a tale to tell that can throw light on events. Jorge Luis Burruchaga is one of those oft-perceived-to-be lesser lights, but as the scorer of the late goal that ascended La Albiceleste to the heavens, his is a story crying out to be told. Continue reading →

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Roberto Bettega – The Old Lady’s favourite son.

No mother likes to see their son move away, and those that choose to stay at home, looking after their nearest and dearest are very much the favoured offspring; the ones most cherished. For Roberto Bettega therefore, child of Piedmont, born in Turin just after Christmas in 1950, there will always be a special place in the heart of Turin’s La Vecchia Signora.

The young Bettega was not yet a teenager when he first fell into the Old Lady’s embrace, joining the Juventus Primavera squad in 1961. Despite brief journeys away, he would remain faithful to the club, always giving of his best across a half century of years of dutiful service as player and then administrator. If any player of the recent era had white and black blood in his veins, it was Roberto Bettega. Continue reading →

Warner, Witchcraft and the 1974 World Cup Whipping Boys

It’s one of those moments that you remember; well, I do anyway. Not quite a ‘where were you when JFK…’ sort of thing, and certainly much less of an event on the world stage, but something that stuck in my mind. It’s a memory of a Haitian official, perhaps a trainer, a coach or similar; he may even have been a substitute I suppose. I’m not sure of his precise role and it matters little, but he had a bright red Haitian tracksuit on. And there he was staring into the camera in Wild-eyed disbelief, doing what I can only describe as overexcited star jumps, surrounded by similarly attired celebrating colleagues, with a look of joy that his face simply seemed incapable of containing. Continue reading →

Gaël Kakuta – The brightest of young stars that never truly shone.

According to the old saying, ‘there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip’ and simply transferring liquid from a vessel to your mouth can be more prone to errors than we may think. Those sorts of potential complications are like nought though, when comparing it to the perils inherent in converting an outstanding young footballer into a mature professional who delivers on the talent promised. Continue reading →

When the heirs of the Magnificent Magyars met the Samba Boys.

 

Over the years, especially since the war, international football has seen a number of teams rise to prominence, and then be swept away by the next wave. These teams haven’t necessarily won everything, scooping the board of honours over a given period. More accurately, they have been the teams that have been widely acknowledged as the game’s leaders. The players at the forefront of the game’s development, setting new paradigms and patterns that others have copied or adapted.

Some ended their time in the sun with a hatful of trophies; others entered the field and left again, empty-handed. On occasions, there’s a game when the handing-on of the torch can be identified. In the World Cup of 1974, for example, Johan Cruyff’s ‘Oranje’ destroyed a street-fighter of a Brazil team that would have embarrased Pelé and the ‘Joga Bonito’ Samba Boys of four years earlier. It was a game when the Dutch ‘Totall Voetbal’ won the day and cherished the stewardship of ‘the beautiful game’ for a few years. In other times though, the change is seamless, but no less apparent for that.

In the fifties and sixties, two magnificent teams rose above the rest to dominate football for a generation. In the early part of the fifties, it was Hungary and the Magnificent Magyar team of Puskás, Hidegkuti and the cherry-shirted magicians playing under Gusztáv Sebes. The team that went from May 1950 to February 1956, winning 43 games, drawing a mere half-dozen, and losing just one – that one game however was the World Cup Final of 1954, and it denied the Hungarians the crown that would have rubber-stamped their dominance. Continue reading →

Electric dreams and football teams – KV Mechelen and John Cordier.

 There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of ‘the only way to make a small fortune owning a football club is to begin with a large fortune.’ A club may be pottering along, very much as it has done for most of its existence, then someone takes control and starts investing money, the club grows in inverse relationship to the amount of money that the owner has – then comes the crunch.

The owner decides he’s spent enough and divests himself of the costs. The club plummets and ends up in a far worse state than before the money came along. For some clubs, it even leads to destruction as the bright, attractive, but ultimately destructive flare of its owner’s ambition burns out, leaving behind merely ashes, memories and regrets. Stories such as this, tinged with pathos, are common across the game, and fitting right into the model is the period covering the late eighties and early nineties for Belgian club KV Mechelen and IT business magnate John Cordier. The club lived the dream – the electric dream of its owner’s ambition – and then awoke with a hangover. Continue reading →

The man who broke Brazilian hearts and the world transfer record.

Juan Alberto Schiaffino was pretty much the embodiment of precisely what you would not expect a footballer to look like. Short and slender, with a pallor complexion, he could easily have passed for some someone in need of a good meal, rather than an outstanding athlete. Here was a player though that reached the very top of the football tree, and at the height of his powers, was deemed to be worth more money than any other player on the planet before him. Continue reading →

The warm Riazor evening when Depor tore apart the champions of Europe.

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 →

Hotbeds of Football – Istanbul

According to the Lonely Planet website, Istanbul is the place is “where continents collide.” Given that the Bosporus that divides the city forms the border between the continents of Europe and Asia, some may see the description as somewhat less than illuminating. Delve a little deeper into the intricacies of this polyglot city though, and particularly its football culture as will be seen later, and there’s more than a hint to suggest that the key word in the quote may well be “collide” rather than “continents.” Istanbul is a city of contrasts, some that combine in glorious splendour and others that compete with the reckless abandon of a passion unabated.

Founded some 3,000 years ago the colony of Byzantium grew to become the eastern capital of the Roman empire, named as Constantinople, for the emperor who took it as his own. Later it was conquered by the Ottomans who cemented its prominence as the heart of their own empire. The land on which the city stands has been fought over for many centuries, and in so many ways, that remains the case today. Continue reading →

Eriksson before England

Aged just 35, to say Adam Crozier was a surprise choice to step into the role of Chief Executive at the FA would be understating the case more than a little. The former Saatchi & Saatchi executive was, however, the new broom, the fresh face, the untarnished non-old school tie appointment that the organisation needed. It was 2000, and going into the new millennium, dusty old corridors were well overdue a spring clean. In two years, Crozier shook up the Football Association in a way it hadn’t experienced throughout a history dating back to 1863 – or, for that matter, since.

The organisation’s headquarters were moved from Lancaster Gate to more modern facilities at Soho Square. The average age of staff was reduced from over 55 to just 32, the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium was progressed and the FA Council, nominally its controlling body, was reduced from 91 members, to a much more manageable 12. Without doubt though, the most revolutionary of Crozier’s achievements was to appoint the first foreign manager to head up England’s national team. In January 2001, Swedish manager Sven-Göran Eriksson was invited by Crozier to step into the hottest of managerial hot seats. The Swede accepted and the Walls of Jericho came a-tumbling down. Continue reading →