Yugoslavia the Cup

The Cup final opposed Crvena zvezda to Dinamo (Zagreb) and considering how the opponents performed in the championship, the final should have been an easy walkover for Crvena zvezda. But this was a cup final played between Serbians and Croats and momentary form was not an issue. Dinamo won minimally the first leg in Zagreb – 1-0 on May 14. Ten days later they extracted 1-1 tie in the second leg and won the cup.

Tired and covered with mud Cup winners – it was not easy, but the trophy was going to Zagreb.

Losing finalists Crvena zvezda. How great is great? Crvena zvezda should have been a double winner if really great. Crvena zvezda, however good or bad, did not win the Cup since 1971. They played only twice at the final since 1971 and lost both times to Croatian clubs. Actually, only Croatians won the Yugoslavian Cup since 1971 – and only three times Serbian clubs played at the final.

Dinamo won its 6th Cup and the first trophy since 1969. Had to wait 10 years for that, but their coming back surely. The disastrous championship was compensated by winning the Cup and confidence was restored – it was important for a young squad. Kranjcar, Mlinaric, Ivkovic, Bogdan, Bonic, the squad had s strong group of talented young players, led by Velimir Zajec. Zajec had a miserable season – he appeared in only 13 matches, most likely because of injuries, and Dinamo was greatly affected by his absence. But he was one of the most important Yugoslavian midfielders at the time and there was no doubt he will be one of the greatest stars of the early 1980s – and Dinamo’s fate depended on him. The team underperformed, obviously not at its peak yet, but by winning the Cup, the team returned to the right path: it was the team for the near future. The 1980s started brightly for Dinamo after all.

Yugoslavia I Division

First Division was strange, because it appeared upside down – traditional favourites were at the bottom of the table and weaker clubs at the top. Decline was not the only reason, for some clubs were just unexpectedly lousy this season. And as good as some of the former outsiders were in their own terms, none was really emerging as a new powerhouse – more likely was benefiting from the weakness of others, than building their own strength. The newcomers to the league, or rather returnees, for both new clubs had been first league members for years, performed at the both ends at the scale: Vardar (Skopje) had excellent season and finished 7th. Celik (Zenica) was the league’s outsider, below everybody else and sunk to the bottom, only to return back to 2nd division. The second relegated team fought to the end lost the battle by a point – Osijek finished 17th, 7 points ahead of Celik, but unlucky.

Two clubs finished at the exact the same positions they had the year before:

Zeljeznicar (Sarajevo) was again 9th and

Rijeka – 10th. Maintaining mid-table position was perhaps satisfying for both clubs at the moment. One more club maintained its normal during the 1970s position, but it was perilous one:

Olimpija (Ljubljana) played hide and seek with relegation, concerned generally with escaping it and so far survival by a hair: 16th in 1978-79, now – 15th, but both years they finished just a point above relegation zone. This was going on for years. If Olimpija stayed where they were, a group of clubs was clearly in decline: Borac (Banja Luka), Vojvodina (Novi Sad), and most alarmingly, Partizan (Belgrade). Of the three, only Borac was familiar with the bottom end of the table – the other two traditionally were near the top. Partizan was champion in 1977-78. The league was fairly equal up to the 6th position in the final table – 6 points divided Sloboda (Tuzla), 6th, from Osijek, 17th, but the group of those fretting to the end, desperately trying to keep their place in the league included not only Olimpija, the three mentioned above, one more usual outsider – Buducnost (Titograd), but, to a point, Rijeka, Zeljeznicta, Velez (Mostar), and Dinamo (Zagreb). Different cases. Partizan (Belgrade) experienced a crisis as never before: immediately after winning their last title, they dropped 15th place, escaping relegation by a single point. This season they moved two place up the table – 13th, finishing 3 points better than unlucky Osijek. But they fooled no one: the team was fighting not for the title, but for mere survival. They finished with 32 points and finished 13th thanks, losing on goal-difference to Dinamo and lowly Buducnost. Crvena zvezda fans surely enjoyed the suffering of the arch-enemy, but the health of Partizan was to a point a measure of the health of Yugoslavian football, so it was more than just club’s crisis. Just above them, edging Partizan only on better goal-difference, finished Dinamo (Zagreb), which perhaps was even more puzzling, if not alarming:

In the previous season Dinamo lost the title only on goal-difference and were considered favourites, for the club finally made a strong new team and were perhaps the most promising side. Instead of winning the title, they struggled to stay in the league… However, Dinamo was different than Partizan – in their case, the weak season was due to the fact that the team was still young and unstable. A momentary slip, yet, a very dangerous one – and, hopefully, a good lesson for the talented bunch.

Similarly, although not to the same frightening point, the other great Croatian club underperformed: Hajduk (Split), the champions of 1978-79, underperformed a bit too and finished 5th.

Hajduk had one of the strongest, if not the best, squad in the country, but a certain tiredness was detected after 1975 – a fate they shared with Velez (Mostar). No longer improving, but rather maintaining their position, slowly moving down. The usual difficult to judge situation, preventing the club from taking big steps into rebuilding: key stars were around, leading the club, solid players assisted them, and young talent was constantly included. Tomislav Ivic was coaching them. Surjak and Muzinic were the stars, famed from the last Yugoslavian appearance at World Cup finals. But it was in 1974… and the stars had few teammates of the same year still: Rozic, Luketin, and Salov. The next generation grew up along the quartet of not old yet ‘veterans’ – Katalinic was a prime representative, for he reached the national team, but in the same time competition – Budimcevic – was elbowing him. And there was the newest generation at hand: Zoran and Zlatko Vujovic, Ivan Gudelj, Davor Cop. Something was not quite right… and few experienced players were added: Boro Primorac from Velez (Mostar), for instance. It was not like Hajduk – the traditional policy was dependance on home grown talent, not on stars recruited from elsewhere. A good team, yet, not at the level of the team of the first half of the 1970s, when players like Salov and Luketin were mere reserves, not key starters. Velez (Mostar) was in similar position too.

So, which were the improving teams? Sloboda (Tuzla) surely.

Second row from left: Verlasevic, Meskovic, Dzafic, Mujezinovic, Divanefendic, Mehinovic, Mulahasanovic, Cvetkovic, Hadzic M, Dzambic, Miljanovic.

Crouching: Hadzic I, Huseljic, Smajlagic, Sabitovic (fizio), Kovacevic, Sarajlic, Gerum (coach), Gogic, Memisevic, Tomic, Malisevic, Ibric, Geca.

Normally a lowly club, Sloboda experienced a great period at the end of the 1970s – they were 8th the prvious season, now they finished 6th. A strong team by their measures, enforced by the former Hajduk (Split) goalkeeper Rizah Meskovic, who returned from Holland, but compared to Hajduk, the squad was very limited. Strong by local measures, but on national scale rather taking advantage by the weakness of others. Sloboda already moved to the upper part of the table, so nothing really new – the big jump ahead was made by two other traditionally lowly clubs: Napredak (Krusevac) and Radnicki (Nis). They finished with 39 points each, so 3rd and 4th place were decided by goal-difference.

Napredak was unlucky and ended 4th, but what a season they had! The previous year they were still fighting for survival and finished 14th, safe only by a single point. This season they jumped 10 places higher, losing bronze medals by chance.

Radnicki (Nis) clinched 3rd place, but they already moved up, so it was rather a continuation of strong period. Strong period? This was their greatest year in history – never before Radnicki got medals! Such achievement usually stay forever in the memory of club and fans, but apparently nobody thought this squad really capable of finishing that high – there is not a single photo of it circulating today! A season, surprising everybody, then… and not so great team, but rather using fortunate circumstances. Radnicki managed to prolong their good play, but the only great player they had was the goalkeeper Dragan Pantelic, who was not stay for long with the club.

Pantelic was noticed not only for his goalkeeping skills, but for his goals – with 7 goals, he was the third scorer of Radnicki this season. At that time it was highly unusual for keepers to score goals.

The up and coming teams were not really strong – neither Sloboda, nor Radnicki, nor Napredak – they had to enjoy their short success, grateful, if good luck lasted a little longer (and clubs like Partizan remained in shambles for a year or two).

At the end, there were only two clubs competing for the title – if that is the word, for the champions finished 7 points clear of the silver medalists. Unusual season, indeed – one team had strong first half of the championship and another – the second half. Inconsistency seemingly ruled.

FK Sarajevo finished as the leader at the end of the fall season. Not exactly a big surprise – they had a good squad, led by arguably the best Yugoslavian player at the moment, Safet Susic. Predrag Pasic was the second big star, young and rapidly establishing himself as one of the very best. There were also Faruk Hadzibegic, Zoran Lukic, Zelimir Vidovic, Haris Smajic, perhaps a few more. Good squad, led by fantastic player, but not a great squad and actually coming short in almost every line. Not enough depth too – especially when compared to Crvena zvezda. Sarajevo finished firt before the winter break, but in the spring Crvena zvezda stepped on the pedal and quite easily left Sarajevo in the dust.

19 wins, 10 ties, 5 losses, 54-26 goal-difference, 48 points and 13th title. Familiar victor – Crvena zvezda. Not point even counting their trophies, even when the number is fatal 13.

Good coach and studded with national team players squad. Perhaps not as great as some previous generations, but Crvena zvezda had most of the current Yugoslavian stars at their peak – at the best age, vastly experienced, well fitting together, coming from the best international season of the club – they played at the UEFA Cup final in the previous season. Most importantly, this was squad with depth: Vladimir Petrovic was the leader and the great star, and around him – Savic, Sestic, Djurovski, Krmpotic, Milosavljevic, Jovin, Jurisic, Jovanovic (in the fall), Muslin, up and coming Repcic and Filipovic. Well rounded team, competitive players, strong reserves, the best squad at the moment. A bit sluggish in the fall, they were flying in the spring. Inevitable foreign transfers seemingly were not going to affect the team, because there were just as good players behind the current stars and Crvena zvezda was always able to get talent from other Yugoslavian clubs. Seemingly, supreme.


Yugoslavia II Division

Quite unusual season in Yugoslavia – the next generation was supposed to be firmly in charge, but somehow it was not so, judging by the alarming performance of some clubs. But Yugoslavian players maintained their great reputation in Europe and a new height was reached in January 1980, when Manchester United paid 300 000 pounds to Crvena zvezda to get 28-years old defender Nikola Jovanovic. Thus, Jovanovic became not only the most expensive Yugoslavian player to that date, but also the first non-British player to appear for Manchester United (Carlo Sartori was Italian-born, but grew up in England and was a product of Manchester United youth system).

Nikola Jovanovic, a new Manchester United player – and one of the 10 biggest flops in the history of the club.

There were a whole bunch of exciting players, coming to their best age, but curiously their teams underperformed. Of course, they were not playing in the second division, which, divided into two leagues, to a point supported the strangeness of this season. One league was closely contested, but the other was not at all.

The East Second Division – II Savezna Liga Istok – practically had more than half the league eying the promotional spot: 9 out of 16 teams. Eventually, some teams lost steam, but at the end Galenika (Zemun) was 4th with 36 points and ahead of them were three clubs with 37 points. Goal-difference decided the winner – the margin was a single goal! Radnicki (Kragujevac) had +23 and finished 2nd. The winners were really lucky.

OFK Beograd, familiar name, indeed. They were relegated the previous season and came back to their usual habitat immediately, but apart from that there was little reason for joy: the team was just lucky to clinch first place, not actually having been stronger than most of their opponents. The decline set after 1975, leading them to relegation and the lucky promotion did not suggest the crisis was over.

The West Second Division – II Savezna Liga Zapad – was entirely different story. Only Spartak (Subotica) and Dinamo (Vinkovci) came near the dominant leader – and finished 6 points behind. There was really only one club determined to be promoted and much stronger than the rest of the league. They were also relegated along with OFK Beograd the previous season.

This may not be a picture of the actual season, but is from the period in question – NK Zagreb, confident winners of the West Second Division. Going back to top flight was perhaps more of a problem for other clubs – NK Zagreb were never very strong, but usually gave headaches to the strongest teams, particularly Partizan (Belgrade). Like OFK Beograd, their concern was going to be mere survival, but at least they were dominant winners of their league and had reason to be more optimistic of the future.

As a whole, the season in the second division suggested no change – those, coming from the top division were stronger than the other second division teams. That is, not new team was rising – talented Yugoslavian football was, but still talent was concentrated in the best clubs and seemingly nobody else had a chance. Also, the traditional stronger clubs belonged to Serbia and Croatia – even the second division maintained the status quo: not only the winners represented Serbia and Croatia, but the teams immediately below them: OFK Beograd, Radnicki (Kragujevac), Bor (Bor), Galenika (Zemun) were the first 4 teams in the East; NK Zagreb first, and Dinamo (Vinkovci) third in the West.


The First Soviet Export

There was an event in Soviet football, which was both significant and mysterious: in 1980 a player was transferred to Western club for the first time. The general public learned about it largely after 1990! Some details remain unknown even to the transferred player to this very day. There are issues of historic and statistical nature difficult to clarify as a consequence. Relatively easy part of the long lasting problems is whether this transfer belongs to 1979-80 or to 1980-81 season. It is a common problem, concerning the difference between European seasons: in the North, and USSR, the season was in one year: Spring-Fall. Most of the Europe has Fall-Spring season, covering two years. So, the player was transferred during the 1980 Soviet season, but as far as the receiving country, Austria, is concerned, it was a rather late transfer for the 1980-81 season. Anatoly Zinchenko joined Rapid (Vienna) in October 1980. His contract was for one year, but eventually he played for Rapid until 1983. The secrecy of his transfer was so big, that when Dinamo (Moscow) arrived in Vienna to play and he went to meet the team, Dinamo players simply laughed when he told them he plays for Rapid – they thought it a joke. The general perception in USSR was that Zinchenko retired from football. Unfortunately, the transfer was not just a football matter – it was almost entirely ideological and political, hence, the mystery. A mystery so deep, that when I saw a photo of Rapid and recognized Zinchenko in it, my first thought was that he defected. The whole story is weird.

Who was Anatoly Zinchenko? Almost nobody by 1980. Born in 1949, he started early and was bright, very promising center-forward in the late 1960s. His first season was with Traktor (Volgograd) – he played 2 years for them, 1967-68, and was recruited by stronger club – SKA (Rostov). He played for SKA from 1968 to 1971.

Dangerous young striker: Zinchenko, on the right, playing his last season for SKA (Rostov) in 1971. After the end of the season, he moved to Zenit (Leningrad). A step up – Zenit was not much at the time, but on one hand SKA was an Army club and unless one wanted to join permanently, the time playing for such a club was limited to the obligatory military service. Those were lean years for SKA too – they finished 14th, barely escaping relegation in 1971, and better players were willing to move to stronger clubs. Zenit was much preferable option and Zinchenko was happy, because he quickly found wonderful partner – the left-winger Khromchenkov. The pair enjoyed excellent 1972 season and both were voted among the 33-best players of the season at the end. Perhaps this was the finest season of Zinchenko, evidently rising and still only 23-years old. He already debuted for the national team and looked like he will be a big star soon. 1973 certainly suggested so, but there was also a dark side: a new coach arrived in 1973. German Zonin, who made Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) champions in 1972, took the reigns of Zenit in 1973.

Zenit 1973 – everything looks great: German Zonin (2nd from rigth), would certainly elevate this team up. With Zinchenko’s help, of course – he is standing right of the middle, 7th from left or right, it does not matter, as becoming for a center-forward. But it was not so great – eventually, Zonin and Zinchenko clashed. As often is the case, the player was unhappy with disciplinarian coach and the coach – with lazy or unruly player. Instead of becoming a big star, Zinchenko faded and by 1975 his relations with Zonin were so strained, he decided to leave Zenit. But by 1975 he was no longer a hot player… and he moved to Dinamo (Leningrad), the smaller club of the city, which immediately took Zinchenko out of circulation: Dinamo struggled in 3rd and 2nd division. It was a club where old players went to have some easy last year or two. Suddenly, Zinchenko was a veteran… he disappeared from sight. However, Yury Morozov became Zenit’s coach in 1979 and he remembered Zinchenko and brought him back to Zenit. He was listed in the team at the beginning of 1980 season, but playing in the lower divisions already took its tall: he never came even close to his ancient form and rarely played. By 1980 few remembered him, he was not interesting news for years already, and Zinchenko decided to retire – he was 31, but, even in his own eyes, finished for the game.

His obscurity was also due to his few games for the national team – only 3 times he played for USSR, scoring one goal. He debuted in 1967 against Yugoslavia and scored his only goal for the national team. Then a long pause followed – he played his second match in 1973 against Bulgaria and soon his 3rd – against Brazil.

Zinchenko with a fierce header against Brazil. Looks fine… on paper. USSR lost both matches in which Zinchenko played – 0-1 to Bulgaria and 0-1 to Brazil. This match, played in Moscow on June 21st, 1973 was his last for the national team. And his career went downhill after that, so this game may be the highest point of his career – 7 years later, he was a nobody. No wonder his absence went unnoticed.

Meantime, Rapid (Vienna) sold Hans Krankl to Barcelona and badly needed a good replacement. It became a Communist Party matter… Rapid had traditionally very close ties with Austrian Left: it was founded as a ‘workers club’ after all. The Austrian Communist Party had close relations with the Soviet Communist Party. The chief-editor of the ACP newspaper decided to get a Soviet player and was instrumental for the transfer. Negotiations started in March 1980. Zinchenko was informed by his coach Yury Morozov, so he postponed his retirement until the matter was settled. It was not something believable, the issue moved slowly from Party levels to the Soviet sport committee, to the difficulty who and how to handle transfer with Western club. Permission to transfer a player to the West was one thing, who to transfer – another. The Austrians wanted Blokhin. They wanted Konkov. They wanted Kolotov. For the Soviets, such players were out of the question. A veteran of Ararat (Erevan) was considered – Kovalenko – which is a hint of the nature of Soviet considerations. The Austrians wanted experienced player with a name. This was perhaps the common ground: the Soviets were willing to consider only experienced players: ‘mature’ men, near the end of their careers, already settled down, so be trusted they would not defect and embarrass USSR. That was the common practice in every East European country, for the same reasons: players no longer needed for the national team and old enough to have families and other strong attachments to the ‘motherland’. Fame was difficult issue: a famous player would be noted by the fans. Blokhin, Kolotov, and Konkov were out of the question – Kovalenko and Zinchenko were in. On one hand, they could have passed for ‘famous’ players – by old reputation. On the other hand, nobody remembered them anymore to pay attention their sudden absence. Zinchenko was the best, because he practically disappeared from sight in 1976. Three other things worked in his favour: Soviet sportsmen’s ‘moral character’ was scrutinized, especially of those playing for the national teams, thus, going abroad – Zinchenko had favourable report: not involved with ‘criminal structures’. The second was connections: Zinchenko knew and was on good terms with bureaucrats of sports governing bodies. His coach, Yury Morozov, was also on good terms with such people and put a word here and there. The third was of general nature: players, belonging to Army and Police clubs – that is, whoever played for all clubs named Dinamo and SKA – were officially officers and automatically unfit for transfer abroad. This explains part of the reasons Blokhin and Konkov, Dinamo Kiev players, were out of the question and also explains why Dinamo Moscow laughed when Zinchenko met them in Vienna and told them he was playing for Rapid – they could not imagine such thing. All reasons eventually belong to ideological politics, boiling down to the problem Soviets were facing: the transfer had to be kept out of public knowledge, for ‘Soviet sport’ was superior to ‘degrading’ professional sport. And along with that, if a football player could work in the West, why not other sportsmen, and by extension, why not everybody? Domestic reasons, but not only: Austrian Communist Party and Rapid were friendly entities, but still at the other side of the Iron curtain – why helping the ‘enemy’ with strong player? Sooner or later, they may play against ‘us’ – and benefit at ‘our’ expense and from ‘our’ generosity. Better give them somebody not so good – an almost retired player was just perfect.

But this brings the question why Austria was the first permitted destination – foreign clubs were interested obtaining Soviet players for years and surely Spanish or West German club would pay more than Austrian one. Now a hint comes from another sport: USSR exported hockey players since the early 1970s. The first country was Austria, followed by Finland and Japan. Part of the reason was political – nobody paid attention to the post-Second World War peace treaties for years, but USSR had special ones with both Austria and Finland, which made it easy to put pressure and prevent possible defection. Austria was safer from Soviet perspective than other Western countries, so they exported old hockey players there and the formula was established: no Dinamo or CSKA player ever went abroad, but Spartak Moscow players did. The International Hockey Federation’s rules helped the Soviets in their own efforts to hide professional contracts: since under those rules every European player was mere amateur, USSR did not export professional players, but, officially, coaches. Who, once in Austria, transformed into playing coaches – and played. Nobody defected, which was a good sign for risking a football player. It was not possible to make Zinchenko ‘a coach’, but another way was found – Zinchenko not only never signed the contract with the Austrians – he never even saw it! The terms remain unknown to him to this very day. It was never made public. It was not a contract between clubs – Zenit was not involved, not even the Soviet Football Federation was directly involved: it was a contract bargained and signed by entirely different organization and Zinchenko went to Vienna as ‘engineer’ employed by ‘Soyuzvneshtechnika’, a body dealing with specialists permitted to work abroad. Zinchenko was paid by this organization, receiving his salary – in special vouchers Soviets had for such workers, giving him the right to shop in the special Soviet stores using hard currency – in the Soviet Embassy in Vienna. At the end, Zinchenko lost most of his payment – his salary was paid in special vouchers, exchangeable for goods in those hard currency stores, so, he was unable to spend them in Austria, and had little use for them back in Leningrad. He kept those vouchers at home for years and when USSR collapsed found himself with pile of useless paper. Anyhow, Zinchenko went to Vienna not as a football player, but as some kind of engineer. The news was not mentioned in any big publication, so it remained unknown and stayed so until the end of USSR, when players already were moving abroad and purely historic question emerged who was the first one. Then at last Zinchenko’s story was published.

So big and dark was the iron curtain, that Zinchenko was not even quite sure where was he going to play. Nothing was simple – for some mysterious reason his plane ticket was difficult ‘to make’. At last he was informed by a brief telegram: ‘Your flight to Vienna is scheduled at…’. According to Zinchenko, he believed that all this is real only when he got the telegram. His Zenit’s teammate Kazachenok told him that Rapid is like Dinamo Moscow, ‘a club never winning anything’, which gave the impression to Zinchenko that he was joining some small insignificant club. In Vienna he arrived late – at the end of October. Half an year passed and not exactly in negotiations of contract terms. Rapid received his new player at last, Zinchenko, not knowing a word of German, was shaken when he was introduced to the team and the fans – it was too lavish for ‘a small club’ he thought he went to. He was received well and also helped with money: his Croatian coach, Otto Baric, knew very well the weird terms of the contract and passed personally to Zinchenko the playing bonuses. The Soviet negotiators were not aware of such practice – the bonuses were the more important part of the earnings of players than their fixed salaries – and the contract said nothing of them. Unfortunately, bonuses were also public knowledge and regularly published in the Austrian press, so the Embassy learned about them and Zinchenko had to lie constantly that he got no money, but material bonuses: furniture, clothes , appliances. Baric warned him to keep these payments secret and to a point, those were the money Zinchenko lived from in Austria – his ‘official’ salary in vouchers was leaving him penniless in fact. He trained well, played well, became an important regular of the team, and stayed 3 years with Rapid instead of the original one.

But the question who was the first Soviet player to play abroad remains. Zinchenko was not really the very first. A few Soviet players played in East German Second Division in 1979-80. May be some appeared earlier. Some played in Israel perhaps since the 1960s, when Jews were permitted to emigrate. Vassilis Hadzipanagis went to Greece in 1975. Then Armenian player appeared in USA – and returned back to Ararat (Erevan). Perhaps, the correct term would be that Zinchenko was the first Soviet player officially permitted to go abroad as a player. The previous cases were in a different category: ‘repatriation’. The Jewish players were mostly kids, going to Israel and USA with their parents. There was no even faintly known player among them. Hadzipanagis, although born in USSR, was the son of Greek political emigrants and did not have Soviet citizenship until called to play for the Junior national team – but he also played for the Soviet Olympic and A national team. Officially, he was permitted to ‘repatriate’, although it was known not only that he was going to play, but also the club which signed him and more than likely paid to some Soviet authority. Avetis Ovsepyan was not even in born in USSR, but in Tehran, Iran – his family emigrated first to USSR, but in the mid-1970s got permission to move to USA. Although in smaller numbers, Armenians were permitted occasionally to ‘repatriate’ similarly to the Jews. Football was not even an issue, but once in USA, Ovsepyan decided to make a living as a professional player, failed, and went back to USSR. And had to participate to the farce prescribed for returning traitors: to tell horrors of the cruel life in capitalist society, to confess his ‘mistakes’ with tears in his eyes, and to beg all Soviet people for forgiveness and to be permitted to join them, repentant, yet, stained by his ultimately unforgivable sin. Ovsepyan was permitted to play and although his career was going steadily downhill, he was still Ararat player in 1980. Those, who played in DDR were entirely different case: they were officers and soldiers, stationed in DDR. The better known names were veterans well over 30 and not interesting as players anymore to the Soviet clubs. It was purely military assignment having nothing to do with football. Once in DDR, some kind of almost benevolent deal was made locally: players were allowed to play for the local club, because there was no other; local authorities, knowing the reputation of some of the players, perhaps asked the local Soviet Army commander to give the a bit of help; may be some money were moved quietly from one pocket to another, but it was a matter entirely outside the Soviet football authorities: it was between the Army and local German officials, no special permits were needed, for nobody was going anywhere – the players still belonged to the Army and could be moved elsewhere, if the Army ordered them so. Strictly speaking, none of the Soviet footballers playing abroad before Zinchenko went abroad explicitly to play. But strictly speaking, Zinchenko was not permitted to go to Vienna as a player either – he was merely a ‘Soviet specialist’ allowed to work (help) abroad as an ‘engineer’, employed by Soviet organization and receiving Soviet salary, not paid directly from Rapid. He had no contract with Rapid , like those playing in DDR, and unlike Ovsepyan and Hadzipanagis. Apart from ideological and political concerns, the Soviets had no legal mechanism for such occasions and transfers of players was slow, painful, extremely puzzling and bureaucratic process until the collapse of USSR. Zinchenko was kept on tip-toes for half and year, not even believing the transfer real. Seemingly, even getting a ticket for a flight to Vienna was difficult issue, dragged in secrecy as long as possible. No wonder Zinchenko was almost shell-shocked at his arrival at his new club.

If we discard those playing in DDR, Zinchenko could be considered the first Soviet player transferred to the West only by ethnicity: not Greek, Armenian, or Jewish. This is crazy argument and never voiced out, but what else is left to support the claim? Statistics? Rapid was the last club Zinchenko played for – and so is Iraklis (Saloniki) for Hadzipanagis. Whatever statistics exist for Ovsepyan omit the US club he briefly played for. Mikhail Forkash, who played in DDR from 1977 to 1982, has his German club added to his biography occasionally and only recently (with a question mark for the number of games he played – they remain unknown so far). Marian Plakhetko, who played in East Germany from 1976 to 1980 has East German club and number of matches for it added only recently. Neither Forkash (1 match for USSR), nor Plakhetko (2 matches) was big national team star – but then neither Zinchenko, nor Hadzipanagis have better records. However, today Forkash and Plakhetko appear as Ukrainians… and Zinchenko is? Russian? According to birthplace, judged by today’s political geography? Going picky, ‘Zinchenko’ is not purely Russian name. Was he the first Soviet player to appear for foreign club? Well, it took more than 10 years for journalists and football historians in USSR/Russia to find out he played abroad and even longer ‘to discover’ Forkash and Plakhetko. By the time of ‘discovery’, foreign transfers were nothing new, so the general public was hardly impressed. One things is sure, though: there was gap of few years before another Soviet player was transferred to a Western club and the second transfer was no longer kept in secret, but was instant news.

There is one more aspect to Zinchenko’s transfer – the year. In 1980 other Eastern bloc countries carefully started the export of players. Czechoslovakia (for the first time after a brief period related to the ‘Prague Spring’ in the late 1960s), Romania (exporting players in the 1960s, but stopped in the beginning of the 1970s), Bulgaria (for the first time ever – the few players, who went abroad in the 1940s, officially moved to study, but the Communist rule had not yet entirely stifled the country – no player went abroad after 1946, except a single defector). It is unlikely that export was orchestrated – more likely Eastern European football officials were just watching the ‘mood’ in USSR, and seeing it not severely prohibitive, made their moves. But the pattern was the same everywhere: old, nearing retirement players, but very famous, preferably from smaller provincial clubs. One player at first, as an ‘exception’, then a pause, then eventually a second ‘exception’, then making official – but not publicized very much – rule, stipulating who would be suitable: players over 28 years of age. The Football Federation was the body dealing with foreign transfers – the clubs and the players were not a party. ‘Friendly’ countries were the first destinations: Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, France. So many similarities to be mere co-incident. It took years until Eastern European started making more meaningful – in terms of money and playing careers – transfers: big clubs, asking for current stars continued to be refused. To a point, it looked like the Soviets gave a tiny signal that it is no longer forbidden to export players and get some hard cash for them, the satellites jumped eagerly on the opportunity, and the Soviets set back to watch what could happen, until making their mind at last – and falling behind all others in the process, except DDR (and not counting Albania, for it was not in the Soviet camp). If Soviets gave a signal, even without having that in mind, they were so slow, that when Zinchenko arrived in Vienna, there were already Eastern European players, whose federations started negotiations after USSR, but completed them much quicker. Thus, Zinchenko had Antonin Panenka as team-mate in Rapid, and had to play against the Bulgarian striker Petko Petkov, who joined Austria (Vienna).

Anatoly Zinchenko in Rapid shirt at last. It did not look like a great deal… getting almost retired player, but Rapid gambled not only with him: the Czechoslovaks agreed to transfer Panenka only as a package – the 38-years old Frantisek Vesely was the other part. Either both, or no Panenka. Yet, the gamble worked – Zinchenko settled well. His original contract of one year was extended and played 3 seasons. When Hans Krankl returned to Rapid, he was more than pleased having Zinchenko as a team-mate and urged the club to keep him. Contrary to expectations, Zinchenko was a success in Austria. Unfortunately, he arrived too old… three years later he was too old for a new extension. Perhaps if Otto Baric was still coaching Rapid in 1983, Zinchenko would have been kept a bit longer – but Baric was gone and the new coach had different ideas. Zinchenko returned to Leningrad, where nobody believed that he was absent from the city because he played 3 years for Rapid. But all that was still in the unknown future – in 1980 the long saga of the first Soviet transfer of a player to Western club dragged on until its risky completion. As for Soviet fears of ‘defection’ and ‘betrayal of motherland’… technically, they had justifiable reasons to be cautious: Otto Baric offered coaching position to Zinchenko, a simple thing for the Croatian, who did not care much what the Soviets would think – if they do not give permission, so what? Stay anyway, the job is yours. Zinchenko refused, because he was very nostalgic for Leningrad – according to him, nostalgia was almost unbearable and the most difficult aspect of life to deal with in Vienna.

What of Zinchenko, as a person jumping into the unknown, then? Given the circumstances, failure not just on the pitch, was more than likely. The culture shock was too big – according to him, he was ‘just an ordinary Soviet person of his time’. Ignorant of life in ‘capitalist society’, perhaps even fearful. But Zinchenko says to this very day that he adapted well, felt no hostility, was pleasantly surprised that politics did not appear in the dressing room and his team-mates were more than friendly. He learned German, befriended local people, enjoyed Vienna, had no problems with the club – he maintains fond memories of his stay in every aspect of life. He quickly returned to his long gone great from and had a revival, as if it was 1972 again. Obviously, a good professional, perhaps lucky, to find himself in the right club and with right team-mates and coach. Compared to a big deal of the next Soviet exports, Zinchenko’s is a success story – Blokhin was way too old to make impression, when finally transferred to Austrian club; others were not transferred to suitable club for one or another reason; some failed to adapt to professional demands and Western lifestyle; and some were cheated by either careless contracts or dishonest clubs. And there were injuries after all. Zinchenko had no such problems and remains as a truly success story (apart from the Soviet aspects of it and his post-Vienna financial misfortunes, entirely related to the way he was paid by his ‘official’ Soviet employer). Speculatively, perhaps the only mistake he made was refusing Baric’s offer to become his assistant – Zinchenko’s coaching career was far from good in USSR, coming close a failure. But this has nothing to do with his years playing for Rapid.

USSR the Cup

The Cup final opposed Dinamo (Tbilisi) and Shakhter (Donetzk). The due of the second best Soviet teams at the time, both playing solid football for years. Dinamo won the Cup in 1979, Shakhter was the losing finalist in 1978. Dinamo was strong for the most of the championship this year, but Shakhter started sluggishly, eventually improving its game and climbing up the table. Technically, the second best Soviet teams, but they eliminated the best in the semi-finals: Dinamo (Tbilisi) won over Dinamo (Kiev) 2-1 and Shakhter – Spartak 1-0. Curiously, Shakhter’s coach stated that the Cup is their goal back in winter, before the start of the season – and so far, those were not empty words. The finalists were also teams with peculiar styles, each loved by fans and observers, led by great personalities – Kipiani and Starukhin, the players actually shaping the styles of their clubs. Both great scorers too. Starukhin was the number one Soviet player in 1979, Kipiani – if not the greatest Soviet star at the time, perhaps the most loved for his creativity and technical skills. The clash was promising and 50 000 fans were not disappointed. The attendance was 15 000 lower than the 1979 final, but the final traditionally was played in Moscow and both finalists were provincial on one hand and on the other, the Cup final was no great show the previous year. Yet, the final in 1978 attracted only 22 000 and the last all-Moscovite final played – in 1977 – 45 000. The opponents had some problems – the regular goalkeeper of Shakhter, Yury Degtyarev, was out with heavy injury, and there was no certainty that Dinamo will be able to field Vladimir Gutzaev, their most dangerous, but also very moody striker. Gutzaev did not start the game, but came out in the second half – the wisdom of such decision was questionable. Shakhter had no option, but to play its second goalkeeper, which was beneficial in two ways: first, to the team. Viktor Chanov was known for his long kicks, bringing the ball deep in the opposition’s half of the pitch, which served Shakhter’s style very well. Second, the talented keeper so far was warming the bench and perhaps this match brought real attention to him. Of course, he was in tough situation – there was Degtyarev, a national team player, plus his own brother Vyacheslav Chanov and young Viktor hardly ever played. But Vyacheslav, himself tired of warming the bench, moved to Torpedo (Moscow) and Degtyarev got injury – Viktor had a good chance and jumped on it. Apart from Degtyarev and Gutzaev, the finalists had no problems and came out in familiar formations, both playing 4-4-2, but the similarity obscures the differences: Shakhter depended heavily of its English-style center-forward Vitaly Starukhin, so space was left open for him in front and the midfielders generally had the role to feed him. The Georgians depended on Kipiani – a great playmaker and dangerous striker, starting his forays from deep back. Dinamo usually needed just two wingers, leaving the central space free for Kipiani. Anyhow, the final started well and kept the fans on tip-toes to the end.

Dinamo got the upper hand at first, successfully killing Shakhter’s attacks with the off-side trap and Kipiani conducting their own attacks from midfield. They scored in the 11th minute, but the referee signaled an off-side. Since the opponents knew each other perfectly, tiny details were important, may be decisive: as expected, Dinamo attached personal marker to Starukhin, Chilaya. During the match this decision was felt wrong – not the personal marking, but the man assigned to do it. Chivadze was perhaps the right man – Starukhin was an old fox, familiar with personal markers for years. He wandered sluggishly around, seemingly disinterested and out of the game, scratching his head, not looking for the ball, but then, out of the blue and surprising his marker, he was with the ball in dangerous position. He almost scored out of nothing, but in the 24th minute he did, outsmarting the Gergian defense: there was a free kick in front of Dinamo’s net and Starukhin seemingly was not where he must be. But when the ball was in the air he suddenly was in the right place and scored with his trade-mark header.

Coming from back, jumping high and scoring – typical Starukhin. But note that Chivadze and Khinchagashvili were caught by surprise and unable to react, seemingly prepared to battle with Fedorenko (number 10) and Chilaya was not even around. Starukhin outsmarted the Georgians and ne ended alone in the air, unchallenged.

There was another surprise right after the goal – everybody expected Shakhter to move back and slow down the tempo, but instead they rushed into, accelerated the tempo and almost scored a secod goal – again Starukhin was quicker than Khinchagashvili and Chilaya out of sight. The first half ended with Shakhter not only leading 1-0, but controlling the game. Dinamo needed something else and Gutzaev started the second half instead of Tavadze. The change was logical and helpful – speedy and highly technical Gutzaev made Dinamo’s attacks more unpredictable and dangerous. At last, they equalized in the 80th minute.

Khinchagashvili and Chilaya were not effective against Starukhin, but they compensated with equalizer: Khinchagashvili (not visible) passed a good ball to Chilaya and he just shot it in the net – 1-1.

Four minutes later Shakhter scored a second goal, thanks to Pyanykh. Because of Starukhin, Shakhter were masters of set pieces – their second goal was almost a copy of the first: again a corner kick, again a player – Pyanykh instead of Starukhin this time – seemingly disinterested surprised the Georgian defense and scored with header. In the remaining 6 minutes Dinamo was unable to answer and Shakhter won.

A happy moment – Shakhter’s captain Vladimir Safonov gets the cup. Perhaps too tired to smile. Shakhter won their third cup and first trophy since 1962. Well deserved and even fair – they were one of the best Soviet clubs after 1975.

Dinamo (Tbilisi) was unable to win the cup for two consecutive years, but this was still their golden team. Sulakvelidze, Chivadze, Shengelia – difficult names, but in the 1980s the whole world learned them, for they were key players of the excellent national team of USSR. Add Gabelia, Chelebadze, Daraselia, Mudzhiri, who played for the national team too. Khinchagashvili and Gutzeav were well known in the 1970s, often playing for team USSR. David Kipiani needs no introduction. Excellent squad, perhaps a bit moody, but always a pleasure to watch. Why they lost? Small mistakes were listed by commentators: Chilaya was not the man marking Starukhin – Chivadze should have been personal marker. May be Gutzaev should have been a starter, even if injured or not at top form – with him, Shakhter’s attention would have been divided and not so concentrated on Kipiani. Wrong tactic in the second half, when Shakhter moved back and slowed down to keep their lead – the whole team of Dinamo rushed ahead in relentless, but because of that rather chaotic, attacks. They should have been more careful and cool-headed, depending on their technical superiority – keeping the ball in midfield, thus forcing Shakhter to move ahead and use the gaps in defense. Constant speedy attacks were not the best against physical team, used to sustain pressure. Substitutes were made too late – this last criticism was perhaps whimsical: Dinamo made two changes (note, that USSR allowed three changes in their domestic championships) during the final – Gutzaev started the second half, so if there was a mistake, it was not late substitute, but not starting the game with him in the first place. Chelebadze replaced Minashvili in the 75th minute – again, if there was a mistake, it was not to start the game with him. Hardly the substitutes were key factor – tactical mistake in the second half was really to blame.

Proud Cup winners. Standing from left: V. Maly, S. Zalotnitzky, L. Maly, S. Kravchenko, V. Rogovsky, V. Rudakov, V. Grachev, M. Sokolovsky, S. Morozov, N. Simonov, V. Gorbunov, V. Nosov – coach, M. Kalinin – team chief.

Crouching: L. Kondratov, V. Safonov, N. Fedorenko, V. Pyanykh, V. Starukhin, A. Varnavsky, V. Chanov.

The winners were well known and head-to-head inferior to Dinamo (Tbilisi) – and any other leading Soviet club at the time. Very few players of this squad were considered national team material – Starukhin, Sokolovksy, the missing here Degtyarev, perhaps Rogovsky and Varnavsky, eventually Viktor Chanov. And except Degtyarev, they were just that – ‘national team material’. Observed, considered, but in a very wide sense – they hardly ever played for USSR and rarely made the squad. Shakhter, unfortunately, was a provincial Ukrainian club, which automatically made them depending on the whims and needs of Dinamo (Kiev). They were not able to recruit top players, nor to keep promising talent. So, they made it with second-best players, not interesting to Dinamo or Moscow clubs. An unique player shaped their playing style – Vitaly Starukhin, arguably the only English-style center-forward in USSR. That was Shakhter’s luck, for no other club found him useful – inevitably, attacks focused on him, but Dinamo (Kiev), Spartak, Dinamo (Moscow) needed more diversity in attack, or had players like Blokhin, which were incompatible with Starukhin. He needed high balls from the wings, thus Shakhter played fast and simple kind of football – bypassing the midfield and constantly crossing long balls to feed Starukhin. Collective work at the back, fighting for the ball, then kicking it ahead and Starukhin will do the rest. It worked fine – the players did not have to be stars, it was enough to be physically fit and disciplined. It worked against Dinamo (Tbilisi) – Shakhter was able to saturate their own half with tough runners, thus killing the technical superiority of the Georgians, they needed no time or fancy work to start a counter-attack – a long ball ahead was just enough to give Starukhin a chance. And if the ball was high in the air, it was his – he hardly had a matching opponent in the air. This simple style worked against technical teams like Tbilisi and Spartak, it worked well against physical teams like Kiev. It worked well in a single game, so the cup format was perfect for Shakther. It did not work well in a long championship, though. It was an unusual and unique style in Soviet football – and very safe for Shakther: they did not have to worry about their best players, for nobody wanted them. Of this team only Viktor Chanov was taken by Dinamo (Kiev) – and that happened in 1982, when Degtyarev was still the first goalkeeping choice for Shakther.

USSR I Division

Dominance is relative term – 4 Ukrainian clubs played in first division in 1980 vs 8 Russian, of which 5 represented Moscow, so the great Moscow – Kiev rivalry was 5-1. Kind of, for in fact it was just Spartak vs Dinamo, Beskov vs Lobanovsky. 1980 season kept the formula tried earlier and considered helpful: a limit of 10 ties. Any tie above the limit gave no point. The clubs learned the lesson at last – only 6 clubs went above limit. Dinamo (Moscow) had the seasonal record of 14 ties, which was low number compared to what have been two-three years ago. Attacking football was making its way, but scoring was still low and new trend was observed with some alarm: the league was becoming home-match oriented. The number of points earned away, never very high anyway, decreased. Most of the league was not great, but at least there were no outsiders this year – more or less, all were competitive. Final positions depended largely on the makings of the teams – with one exception, most teams finished in positions corresponding to the number of good players in each of them. Lokomotiv (Moscow) had no outstanding players and finished last.

Crouching from left: Gleb Kolesnikov – doctor, Anatoly Shelest, Viktor Budnik, Vladimir Mukhanov, Sergey Baburin.

Middle row: Aleksander Gassov – masseur, Viktor Maryenko – coach, Nikolay Badussov, Petr Slobodyan, Anatoly Mashkov – administrator, Boris Petrov – assistant coach, Aleksander Averyanov.

Third row: Igor Avvakumov – team chief, Anatoly Solovyev, Evgeny Aleksandrov, Boris Kuznetzov, Sergey Kamzulin, Nikolay Kalaychev, Valery Staferov – assistant coach, Aleksey Mikhaylov.

Petr Slobodyan was perhaps the most famous player in the squad, but he was no longer the promising young player – the very reason he was now playing for Lokomotiv, which was in decline for years and unable to gather a decent team. It was not that Lokomotiv gave up, but they lacked strength and earned 25 points, which placed them at the bottom.

A point above them finished Karpaty (Lvov) – technically, they lost on worse goal-difference, but even if they had better one, their immediate rival was to stay in first division – because of the air disaster, killing almost the whole team the previous year, Pakhtakor (Tashkent) were excepted from relegation. Karpaty suffered from lack of experience more than anything else: it was very young squad. Talented, but uneven – thus, Yurchishin, who attracted the eye of the national team coach when still playing in the second division, now had mediocre season. On the other hand, the right full back O. Rodin played for the national team in 1980. May be hard to believe, but Karpaty had Yu. Susloparov, A. Bal, and V. Ratz in the squad this year. Plus Dumansky and Batich, who were considered sure stars in near future – more promising at the moment than the trio above. Unfortunately, Karpaty needed 29 points to stay in the league, but finished with 26. Down they went again.

One Russian and one Ukrainian club were relegated, a parity in misfortune between Ukraine and Russia, but the newcomers were both Ukrainian. Apart from the relegated and Pakhtakor, which should be excepted from judgment for the reason they needed time to build a new team, the low point of the season was Dinamo (Moscow).

Dinamo finished 14th , barely 2 points ahead of relegation zone. Dinamo lost its leading position during the 1970s, but coming close to relegation was too much, considering the team they had. Perhaps the most experienced and the deepest squad in the league, full of former and current national team players. The usually employed excuse – too many things to handle (championship, cup tournament, UEFA Cup, national and Olympic team duties) – is rather lame.

On the other hand the team which finished just below Dinamo – Kuban (Krasnodar) – may be considered a success. They were debutantes this season and managed to survive.

Crouching from left: I. Grishin, V. Gaponenko, S. Goryukov, I. Kaleshin, R. Hassanov, A. Ploshnik.

Middle row: A. Chakholyantz – doctor, A. Ovchinnikov, A. Chugunov, Yu. Semin, A. Semenyukov, Yu. Chebotarev, V. Shitikov, E. Antonyantz – coach, V. Sereda – team chief.

Third row: V. Beloussov – coach, P. Kusht – coach, E. Polovinko, S. Andreychenko, V. Fursa, A. Artemenko, A. Balakhnin, V. Lagoyda, V. Erkovich, V. Komarov, ?.

15th place is hardly something to brag about, but consider that Kuban had only a handful players with first division experience and never played at top level before – yet, they finished equal to famous Dinamo (Moscow), both teams with 28 points and both teams scored exactly the same number of goals – 32 in 34 matches. Only worse goal-difference placed Kuban below Dinamo.

Torpedo (Moscow) improved a bit, finishing 11th this year, but essentially they shared the same problem with Dinamo (Moscow) – experienced, but disinterested squad.

Top row from left: A. Petrov – masseur, V. Yurin, A. Redkous, N. Vassiliev, V. Chanov, N. Kazantzev, V. Kruglov, V. Sakharov, S. Prigoda.

Middle row: Yu. Zolotov – team chief, N. Senyukov – assistant coach, E. Khrabrostin, V. Buturlakin, A. Zarapin, S. Petrenko, A. Kodylev, V. Zhupikov, A. Minaev, V. Zhendarev – administrator, A. Proyaev – doctor, V. Salkov – coach.

Crouching: V. Pimushin, M. Chesnokov, G. Salov, Yu. Kovalev, Yu. Khlopotnov, M. Smirnov, V. Galayba.

Perhaps the most interesting figure in the team was a newcomer from Shakhter (Donetzk) – the goalkeeper Vyacheslav Chanov. He may serve as a test against both Dinamo and Torpedo – back at home, he was constant a reserve. At 29, he appeared in only 78 matches and faced pressure from two sides – from the regular keeper and national team choice Degtyarev and from his younger brother Viktor Chanov. Yet, Vyacheslav Chanov was talented keeper and even considered national team candidate – but hardly ever played, so he moved to e reputable club where he became instantly a starter. Both Dinamo and Torpedo had this problem with quite a few players, but both the clubs and the players chose not to make a move. Thus, to a point, Dinamo’s goalkeepers Pilguy and Gontar aged together with one sitting on the bench – whoever played at the moment was called to the national team too, but the other often missed a whole season. Or two – Gontar, at 31, had 112 official games and Pilguy, 32 – 188. But it looked like that both were happy just to sit and watch than to play regularly outside Moscow – and they were not exceptions in both Dinamo and Torpedo.

The league was tightly going up to 5th place, occupied by CSKA (Moscow) with 35 points. Then a gap occurred – Dinamo (Tbilisi) finised 3 points ahead of CSKA, but also 3 points behind the bronze medalists. The Georgians had fine season, but never were a title contender. The bronze medalists were not fighting for the title either – they finished 3 points behind the second placed and ended 9 points less than the champions. But they had splendid season, their best in years, for Zenit (Leningrad) normally were mid-table club, hardly worth mentioning. Suddenly they came to life.

Standing from left: V. Khrapovitzky – assistant coach, S. Shvetzov, Yu. Timofeev, V. Klementiev, Yu. Zheludkov, V. Melnikov – doctor, M. Yudkovich – administrator, V. Golubev, A. Stepanov, S. Bondarenko, V. Kazachenok, P. Sadyrin – assistant coach.

Sitting: A. Tkachenko, Yu. Gerasimov, I. Yakovlev, S. Vedeneev, Yu. Morozov – coach, A. Davydov, V. Kornev – team chief, N. Larionov, A. Zakharikov, M. Biryukov.

A solid team, yet nothing special – a typical Zenit’s squad. Good players, but hardly wetting the appetites of the Moscow clubs (Kazachenok did, but Larionov, one of the strong national players in the 1980s, did not). The reason for the sudden awakening of Zenit may be entirely credited to the coaching staff – Yury Morozov, one of the top Soviet coaches of the 1960s and the 1970s – and his assistant, who soon became famous too – Pavel Sadyrin. As for this squad, it had two things: at the beginning of the season Zenit had the only player in the league with more than 300 championship matches – their goalkeeper Tkachenko – and one face is missing on the this photo, made late in the season – the missing face belongs to the first Soviet player transferred to play professionally in the West.

Spartak (Moscow) was one of the two candidates for the title and the champions of 1979 played bravely until they met Dinamo (Kiev) in the second half of the championship – they lost 0-2 in Kiev and Dinamo got momentum, which left Spartak second at the end.

Spartak was arguably the most promising side, but it was also unfinished team – Beskov was still searching and shaping. The rivalry for the 1980s, however, was established this season – Spartak, after sinking to the second division, came back with vengeance. Dasaev, Khidiatulin, Romantzev, Shavlo, Cherenkov firmly established themselves as the leading Soviet players and still very young Rodionov made himself noticed.

The champion was of course Dinamo (Kiev) – after overcoming Spartak they steadily opened a gap between themselves and the Moscovites, finishing 6 points ahead. Dinamo lost only 4 matches and typically for champions had the best scoring and defensive record. Comfortable, confident victory. Lobanovsky prevailed over Beskov – not that much a victory, but a statement of approach, a philosophy.

If Spartak had some problems, Dinamo had too. Some were old, going on for years. It was not the team Lobanovsky envisioned and he was clearly going to search further. Rising stars were aplenty, of course, but… Lobanovsky had peculiar attitude to the game: it was very pragmatic and shortcomings made him insisting on iron no-nonsense football. Compared to the great 1975 team, itself accused of robotic kind of playing, the new version was entirely lacking beauty and fantasy. It was compensated by over-physical, often brutal and sometimes cruel style. Atrocious tackles were characteristic. May be there was no other option, given the circumstances and the coach. After the retirement of Rudakov, Lobanovsky was still trying to find agreeable replacement. For instance, both winners of second division had keepers previously tried by Lobanovsky – Dnepr’s regular Krakovsky was Dinamo player at the beginning of the season. Romensky, who spent many years in second division, was the regular, but by the end of the season it looked like his days were over – a new man was found: Mikhail Mikhailov. Jumping a bit ahead, neither goalie lasted long. The goalkeeping problem put pressure on defense, which was also far from perfect. Lozinsky, who even reached the national team, lost his place as right full back to seemingly promising Viktor Kaplun. Kaplun was not the needed player eaither – the problem with this post was almost ten years old already. Even in 1975 the solution was improvisation – midfielder Troshkin was moved back to cover this post. The 1980 version was also improvisation – Lozinsky was played too, as a defensive midfielder, covering Kaplun. It worked well enough, but who remembers either player today? On the left side Demyanenko was the solution, but there were still reservations: he was accused of not coming back to his post quickly enough after running into attack. So, the left side was a bit vulnerable, although not as risky as the right side. The centre of defense was the best – Konkov and Zhuravlyov. But… Konkov was getting too old. Lobanovsky was not particularly fond of aging players. Zhuravlyov was seemingly the key player for the future – or so it looked like in 1980. Lobanovsky had another view – presented by his fielding of players like Boyko, who never raised above the status of reserve (this was his 6th season with Dinamo already – most of the time he played for the second team). Bessonov was ordered to constantly help the defense – in some matches he was even played as pure defender. Defensive line was saturated with Lozinsky and Bessonov, which restrained the attack. Kolotov, already 31, suffered from injuries and clearly his days were coming to end. He played little – Bessonov was not just preferred starter, but made team’s captain: another sign that the veterans were hardly needed. But Veremeev (32) and Buryak (27) were regulars – perhaps out of necessity: Bessonov was creative player, but he was asked to do too many other things, preventing him from playmaking. Thus, Veremeev and Buryak – as a compromise, for Veremeev was not going to last and Buryak soon was to be out of favour and after not so pleasant confrontation with Lobanovsky, out of Dinamo and to another club. For this Buryak is considered a bit of a traitor… Anyhow, the midfield looked temporary – Baltacha, already in the national team, was still a midfielder, but there were signs he will be moved back to defense. He was. But midfield was not in critical state – Bessonov was the guarantee for better days. Attack had a chronic problem: the centre-forward. In 1975 Lobanovsky played without such player, because there was no one good enough for him – and in 1980 there was still nobody good enough to fill the position regularly. Khapsalis, talented as he was, was not constant starter. By now there was a problem at the right wing too – back in 1975 Onishchenko was at hand and Troshkin forayed at the flank, doubling as a winger, but now there was only the young Evtushenko, who played his first official games this year. Lobanovsky liked younger players, but he was also cautious… Evtushenko was already 22 – at this age Blokhin was not only a regular, but a national prime star. Evtushenko was considered too green… which helped Khapsalis a bit, for Lobanovsky never went as far as using just a single striker. Perhaps he had no say on the matter, for Blokhin was pure left-winger and attempts to move him elsewhere failed. Two strikers were needed to balance the situation. Blokhin was the big star as ever, but this season was a bit special – he came back from injuries and his restored form immensely helped Dinamo.

As a whole, the team was unbalanced and rather provisional. Shortcomings were compensated by excellent physical condition, iron discipline, and aggressive intimidation, but what worked at home, did not work in Europe and Lobanovsky was well aware of that. So the search was going to continue… the champions were 5-6 players short of a great team.

USSR II Division

Second division very likely did not differ from its usual state of affairs, except for an irony: as soon as relegation numbers were changed, none of the newcomers was at the bottom – for the first time all newcomers survived and some played rather strong championship.

Kolos (Nikopol) finished 5th.

SKA (Khabarovsk) – 6th, Dinamo (Stavropol) – 7th, Iskra (Smolensk) – 9th, Guria (Lanchkhuti) – 11th, and Buston (Dzhizak) – 19th. Under the old rules, only Buston would have been relegated – and that only because of worse goal-difference – but now even they survived. But as whole the league was unimpressive – three clubs were hopeless outsiders and three clubs fought for 2 promotional spots. One can say 18 clubs just went through the motions, not carrying a bit for anything: their next season was guaranteed early and sedated life continued as always. Newcomers were more or less the only disturbance of the normal: just like those promoted from 2rd division were normally relegated right away, those relegated from first division were favourites and the biggest candidates for promotion. Not this year.

Zarya (Voroshilovgrad) continued their long slump, which led them to second level football – even here they were no good and finished 10th. But their fall was nothing compared to Krylya Sovetov (Kuybishev), who was relegated along with Zarya.

In the last ten years Krylya Sovetov was unable to build meaningful team and contsntly moved between first and second division. But now they just collapsed. 11 wins 16 ties and 19 losses placed them 22nd with 34 points. They lost 4 points on the rules for ties – only 12 gave points, every tie above the limit gave nothing. But even if all their ties counted they were have been still 22nd – and relegated. Shinnik (Yaroslavl), the 21st finisher, had 40 points (also losing 3 points for ties above the limit).

Along with Krylya Sovetov, two other clubs collapsed – Spartak (Nalchik), 23rd with 28 points and Uralsmash (Sverdlovsk), last with 21 points. Both were normally mid-table clubs, Uralmash more so – Spartak (Nalchik) experienced relegation before, but Uralmash appeared to be eternal members of second division, living in sleepy safety. However, the collapse of these three hardly disturbed the league – most clubs watched in glee the sinking clubs: outsiders meant no trouble at all this season, even hypothetical trouble! No trouble and no ambition either – Pamir (Dushanbe) was noticed, and not just this year, as solid and rising team and they finished 4th, 4 poinst ahead of the 5th, Kolos (Nikopol). Yet, they were far behind the top clubs, ending with 5 points less than the 3rd placed. Hardly candidates for promotion.

The battle for promotion was between Ukrainian clubs, further evidence of the superiority of this part of USSR established in the 1970s and seemingly to be continued in the 1980s.

Metallist (Kharkov) finished 3rd with 62 points – best defense and second-best strikers in the league, but apparently not ready yet for real jump to the top league. They lost by a small margin of only 2 points, but it was a telling one: it came from too many ties compared to the winners.

The battle for promotion was won at the last stage of the championship when Dnepr was unbeaten in 13 consecutive matches. At the end, they were second with 62 points and earned promotion for a second time – the first was in 1971. For Dnepr (Dnepropetrovsk) relegation from first division was followed by insignificant season in which they lost fan support. 1980 was played in practically empty stadium, which was unusual even for a second division club. But all ended fine.

Crouching from left: M. Palamarchuk, N. Samoylenko, V. Kutzev, V. Chernykh, O. Kramarenko, S. Motuz, S. Babenko, V. Shevchuk – captain, A. Vasyutich.

Standing: V. Lukashenko – coach, P. Kutuzov, A. Troshkin, S. Diev, A. Usenko, V. Pavlenko, S. Krakovsky, Ya. Balykin – team chief, A. Lysenko, V. Strizhevsky, R. Konafotzky – administrator, E. Danilov – assistant coach.

Although Dnepr earned promotion, there was little praise – even the captain Shevchuk was unable to find good things to say about his teammates and spoke mostly nonsense (how political work was improved, how many factories the team visited to meet workers, how they used every free minute to go to museums and theatres – a required blabber, patently untrue, and having nothing to do with playing). No wonder – Dnepr had not even one famous player. The team was not particularly exciting – it depended on well known second division players, who were good and experienced, but neither great, nor near the level of the top players in first division: Palamarchuk, Kramarenko, Pavlenko. The defensive line was the weaker part of the team, but nobody else was particularly exciting. Of course, Dnepr was between the rock the and the hard place: as a smaller Ukrainian club, they had no chance of recruiting strong players and even developing their own talent was not a great idea, for talent was inevitably grabbed by Dinamo (Kiev): a team of solid, but unimpressive players was safe… and not much on the field. The only talented youngster playing regularly was the goalkeeper Krakovsky. There were two more, coming from the junior system, but so far just a deep reserves – V. Lyuty and G. Litovchenko. Not much for the future… the trio eventually became instrumental for Dnepr’s success in the 1980s, but the inevitable happened anyway: Litovchenko ended in Dinamo (Kiev). Dnepr had to navigate carefully, not attracting undue attention to itself, which meant having so-so team and promotion, as good as it was, was also a headache: how to survive among the best clubs with a team like that?

The problems of Dnepr were familiar to the second division winners, but there was a difference: Tavria (Simferopol) never played in the top league before. Like Dnepr, Tavria had miserable 1979 season. Unlike Dnepr, Tavria was driven by enthusiasm in 1980. Tavria excelled in attack and lost the least number of matches in the second division – the only club with less than 10 losses, and their 9th came in the last round of the championship, when they already won the title amd had nothing to play for. It was the greatest season in the history of the club and rightly they were going up. When the team captain was interviewed at the end of the season, he simply said that the key for success was had work – sometimes too much work. Typically Ukrainian approach.

Brand new champions, promoted to first division for the first time: sitting from left: A. Shudrik, Yu. Zuykov, E. Korol, V. Prichinenko, V. Naumenko, A. Petrov, S. Prichinenko, V. Sinelnik, A. Cheremisin, O. Serebryansky, Yu. Pomogaev – masseur.

Standing: A. Glukhoedov – team chief, A. Polosin – coach, V. Tansky – assistant coach, B. Marintzov, V. Korolev, V. Petrov, V. Yurkovsky, K. Panchik, S. Matukhno, A. Syrovatsky, S. Katalimov, V. Bass – doctor.

Tavria had even lesser known players than Dnepr, but it was younger and hungrier team. And hard work was familiar to some of the boys – V. Sinelnik, O. Serebryansky, V. Yurkovsky, and S. Katalimov were former Dinamo (Kiev) players, used to Lobanovsky’s drills. True, every one of them failed to satisfy Lobanovsky and only Yurkovsky was a regular starter, however, briefly, but for Tavria and second division in general, they had enough class and ambition. Of course, Tavria was not having happy life – like every secondary Ukrainian club, they were easy prey for Dinamo and not only Dinamo, for they were actually tertiary Ukrainian club, ranking well below Dinamo, Shakhter, Chernomoretz, Karpaty, Zarya, Metallist, and even Dnepr, so their fate was clear: hope not to be robbed form key players (V. and S. Prichinenko and Naumenko were possible targets) and depend on hand-outs form the bigger clubs, preferably Dinamo, because whoever was rejected by Lobanovsky hardly interested other clubs. So the team was not very impressive, but it was lively and high scoring. The problem was really the near future: survival in the top league.

Good or not, the newcomers were both Ukrainian clubs – a testimony of the dominance of Ukrainian football at the expense of the Russian.


USSR III Division

The Soviet football season had two news in 1980 – one was usual: yet another change of formula. The other was kept successfully secret until the fall of USSR. The first legally transferred player to Western club – it needs separate narrative. As for the change, almost every year presented new rules and compared to some, this time the change was minor: it concerned only relegation/promotion between second and third division. Instead of 6 clubs, at the end of the 1980 season three were going down and three up. The reason was quite transparent: normally, the newcomers from third level did not last in the second, often relegated right away. They were obviously below the level of quality and reduction apparently was to take care of that – smaller number should mean more competitive ones. But second division was not reduced – it remained 24-club strong, so fewer relegation spots automatically meant increased comfort for the big number of clubs which were just happy to stay in the league without any trouble and no big effort. The reduction, however, changed the way clubs were promoted – so far, they were the winners of the different zones of 3rd Division. Now the winners were to play a final tournament for the three spots: 9 clubs divided into 3 round-robin groups. Which meant also restructuring of the third level – from 6 to 9 zonal groups, which perhaps inflated further the numbers at the expense of quality. At the end, to the finals emerged these clubs: Spartak (Kostroma), Rotor (Volgograd), Lokomotiv (Samtredia) – in Group 1; Traktor (Pavlodar), Dinamo (Samarkand), Torpedo (Toliati) – Group 2; SKA (Kiev), Khimik (Grodno), Dinamo (Barnaul) – in Group 3. Some played in second division before, but from those relegated in 1979 only Traktor (Pavlodar) managed to get a new chance. The final tournament produced outsiders and no real favourites. Predictably, the teams from the non-Russian South-East were below the rest. The third outsider was a relatively new club of which perhaps more was expected because it was attached to the giant VAZ automobile plant.

Torpedo (Toliati) failed – 1 win, 3 losses, and the worst goal-difference among all finalists – 3-9.

None of the group winners was particularly impressive and there was even a curiousity: Spartak (Kostroma) lost its opening match in Volgograd 0-6. They won all other matches and finished first, but with negative goal-difference – a rare anomaly for a top finisher and quite telling too of the general class of the candidates to play in second division: there was no much. It will suffice to give only the final tables – winners were promoted.

Group 1:

1. Spartak (Kostroma) 2 1 1 4-7 5

2. Rotor (Volgograd) 2 0 2 8-5 4

3. Lokomotiv (Samtredia) 1 1 2 4-4 3

Group 2:

1. Traktor (Pavlodar) 2 1 1 5-2 5

2. Dinamo (Samarkand) 2 1 1 7-4 5

3. Torpedo (Toliati) 1 0 3 3-9 2

Group 3:

1. SKA (Kiev) 2 2 0 8-5 6

2. Khimik (Grodno) 1 3 0 5-4 5

3. Dinamo (Barnaul) 0 1 3 3-7 1

Dinamo (Samarkand) was the unlucky team – head-to-head matches with Traktor decided their fate and they were placed 2nd. Traktor (Pavlodar) won promotion and had a new chance to establish itself in 2nd Division after a single year in 3rd division, but if there was any hope placed on the newcomers, it was on SKA (Kiev) – they were familiar with second level football, represented the dominant already Ukrainian football, and as an Army club had much better chances of recruiting better players than Traktor and Spartak. It all depended on the not very well known in the West structuring of Soviet sport: SKA belonged to the Army organization, so the ‘mother organization’ would make sure to strengthened them. Spartak belonged to the trade-union organization and also would be helped by the centre. Traktor was on its own. So much for the newly promoted… Soviet press did not bother with them, except for mentioning that SKA was solid and confident from start to end.

Holland the Cup


And that was that: Ajax won the title, but not a double. They reached the Cup final and lost it 1-3 to their arch-enemy Feyenoord. True, the final was played in Rotterdam and in front of home crowd Feyenoord hardly needed motivation, particularly against Ajax, but they were in crisis and Ajax looked at least half-decent. Half-decent is not great… and fells pray to ambition. At least when a single match decides everything.

Third row from left: Gerard van der Lem, Ivan Nielsen, Roger Albertsen, Joop Hiele,

Jan Peters, Peter Petursson, Stanley Brard.

Middle row: Gerard Meijer (Verzorger), Vaclav Jezek (Hoofdtrainer), André Stafleu,

Jan van Deinsen, Sjaak Troost, Ton v. Engelen, Carlo de Leeuw, Marcel van der Blom,

Richard Budding, Ben Wijnstekers, Clemens Westerhof (Assistent).

Sitting: Michel van de Korput, René Notten, Karel Bouwens,

Win van Zinnen, Wim van Til, Wim Jansen, Paul van der Blom.

To a point, winning the Cup hides the problems of Feyenoord: winners immediately suggests good health. It was more saving face and momentary success, spurred by playing against the arch-enemy, though. Of course, Feyenoord, even when weak, was strong in Holland, but only fools would equate this victory with strong team. If anything, the victory was good for Vaclav Jezek – the man who made Czechoslovakia European champion in 1976 was hired clearly to restore Feyenoord to its former might. His second season with the club brought success. This was the first trophy Feyenoord won since 1974 and the their first Cup since 1969 and their 5th Cup altogether. The drought was over at last… well, not really. This is a period in the history of the club better not mentioned.


Holland I Division

First division did not present more optimistic picture than the second. Small countries with limited pool of players as a rule concentrate the best available talent in few bit clubs and Holland was no exception – traditionally, the top players were found in the usual three suspects, to which AZ’67 was added. But AZ’67 were rather separate and atypical case. For the troublesome state of Dutch football around 1980 it is better to take a look what the rest of the league had. The fate of many a club depended on the feet of veterans… Rinus Israel (b. 1942, PEC Zwole), Aad Mansveld (b. 1944, FC Den Haag), Dick Schneider (b. 1948, Go Ahead Eagles), Tommy Kristiansen (Dane, b. 1953, Go Ahead Eagles), Gerrie Kleton (just because he was a member of the great Ajax vintage, now – Haarlem), Pleun Strik (b. 1944, NEC Nijmegen), Jan Jongbloed (b. 1940, JC Roda), Theo de Jong (b. 1947, JC Roda), Dick Nanninga (b. 1949, JC Roda), Pim Doesburg (b. 1943, Sparta), Louis van Gaal (b. 1951, just because he became a famous coach – Sparta), Ruud Geels (b. 1948, Sparta), Willem van Hanegem (b. 1944, Utrecht). True, the stars played abroad to the usual destination for Dutch players – Belgium – another two attractive destinations were added – USA/Canada (NASL) and England after 1978, but the bulk of the league depended on a small group of very old local players. But compared to this group, the number of promising youngsters appeared pitiful… Ruud Gullit (b. 1962, Haarlem), Edo Ophof (b. 1959, NEC Nijmegen), Adrie van Tigellen (b. 1957, Sparta), Danny Blind (b. 1961, Sparta), Martin Jol (b. 1956, Twente), Hans van Breukelen (b. 1956, Utrecht), and the Norwegian Hallvar Thoresen (b. 1957, Twente). The future certainly did not look bright. And it was clear that none of the promising youngsters will play for their current club for long. Currently, Holland had not a generation capable of maintaining the high standards set by Cruyff and company in the first half of the 1970s. Which affected negatively the top clubs too – the big three were still the best in Holland, but already lost their leading position in Europe. The same happened to the national team this very year at the European finals. The league itself was divided into three groups this season – four above the rest, a big bulk of middle of the road teams, and 6 at the bottom trying to escape relegation. Three outsiders were unlucky – or simply worse than the others.

Haarlem finished last with 24 points.

Third row, from left: Jaap Elzinger, elftalleider, Frank Kramer, P.D.J.M. Huyg, P.L Th.M. De Jong, R. Boersma, E.M. Metgod, Ruud Gullit, Jan Frantz.

Middle row: A. Van Der Ban, E.L. Melgers, C.C. Verkaik, G. Kleton, F.W.M. Reuser, Cees Duindam. Sitting: D.A. George, K.L. Masefield, T. Hendriks, B. Hughes,A.M.F. Haar, W.P.T. Balm.

Ruud Gullit had to play second division football before becoming world-famous stars of the 1980s.

Vitesse finished 17th with 25 points – hardly a big surprise, for the club was outsider at that time.

NAC (Breda) was the unlucky 16th – with 27 points, they were relegated because of worse goal-difference than 3 other clubs – NEC (Nijmegen), PEC Zwole, and Sparta (Rotterdam).

Sparta was the best placed among the outsiders – 13th.

Of the small clubs, the bulk of the league better than the outsiders, but not in the same league with the best, Utrecht was the best.

Top row from left: v. Breukelen, Tervoort, v.d. Vlag, Carbo, de Kruyk, Rietveld, Stroomberg.

Middle row: Han Berger, Wildbret, Cabo, du Chatenier, v. Doorn, Streuer, v. Tamelen, Norbart, v. Oostrom, Verkaik, Okhuysen

Sitting: Rietveld, Flight, Gozems, Wouters, Adelaar, Kruys, Witbaard.

5th place most certainly was great achievement for Utrecht, but they had 4 points less than the 4th and were 5th because of better goal-difference – slowly declining since 1975 Twente in its current shape was still better than almost the whole league.

So, 4 clubs were above the rest – nothing new in Holland, except the best teams were not a reason for optimism. There supremacy was preserved largely because they were able to get the best players of the country. Of the four, two were in disarray, and one was a special case.

Feyenoord was 4th and rightly so – signs of coming crisis were noticed around 1975 and after that they were on the slippery slope. Compared to Ajax, Feyenoord missed the moment for starting a new team – Ajax constantly sold the top players and thus was also constantly looking for replacements of the stars. Feyenoord had no such approach and when the great stars moved abroad, retired, or were just too old to play outstanding football, the club was caught unaware. They started rebuilding late, from scratch, and in disadvantage – the new talent was limited in numbers and currently more successful clubs were more attractive to the youngsters. By this season a single player remained from the great older vintage – Wim Jansen. 34-years old defensive midfielder… hardly the player to build a team around and let him lead. Vaclav Jezek, the other famous name, made Czechoslovakia European champion in 1976, but in Feyenoord produced no magic may be because of the very small number of really talented players. Rene Notten, aging himself, was not a big star anyway and failed to satisfy Ajax a few years earlier. Ton van Engelen was the third veteran, perhaps making the fans wonder why Trejtel was dismissed: already 30 years old, van Engelen spent most of the 1970s as a back-up of the best Dutch goalkeeper Jan van Beveren in PSV Eindhoven. The rest of the key players were much younger and still rather ‘promising talent’ than established stars: Michel van de Korput, Ben Wijnstekers and two foreigners: the Icelander Petur Petursson and the Danish defender Ivan Nielsen. Both eventually became well-known players, but in 1979-80 were just raw unknowns. With such a squad, there was no surprise Feyenoord had nothing to do with the title and finished 4th.

Now PSV Eindhoven aged and automatically declined a bit, but they were different than Feyenoord – perhaps because PSV was the last internationally successful Dutch club, or may be because they never had such grand figures like Cruyff and van Hanegem, replacing veterans was easier and young players willing to join. PSV suffered largely by their own movers and shakers: Rene and Willy van de Kerkhof in particular, but also those veterans, who were beyond their peak for years already – Lubse, van der Kuylen, and van Kraay. Van Beveren was perhaps declining too, for he was no longer called to play for Holland – when Cruyff quit the national team in 1977, it seemed that the goalie will be willing to play regularly, but curiously he was no longer called. PSV had a big group of current stars completing the team: Huub Stevens, Ernie Brandts, Jan Poortvliet, Piet Wildschut, and the young hopeful Erwin Koeman, but there was no flair – the switch of flamboyant, fast, and risky football they were famous for in the first half of the 1970s, was gradually replaced by rather dull, strict, physical football of the van de Kerkhof twins. Their stamp was very clear – all younger players were of the same ilk and almost all of them – defenders. It was exactly the current generation of Dutch players – well prepared, tough, competent, but dull and unimaginative. Unfortunately, it was not a great generation and PSV struggled without really great players, and went down a bit.

Third row from left: Reker (ass. trainer), Harry Lubse, ?, Huub Stevens, Ernie Brandts, Jan van Beveren, Willy Heijink (ass. trainer)

Middle: Jac. v.d.Ven (verzorger), Piet Wildschut, Adri van Kraaij, Willy v.d.Kuijlen, Erwin Koeman, Willy Janssen, René v.d.Kerkhof, Cees Rijvers (trainer)

CrouchingValke, ?, ?, Adrie Koster, Jan Poortvliet, Willy v.d.Kerkhof.

Good enough for 3rd place, a point better than Feyenoord, but out of the title race.

Which was lost by the only optimistic happening in Holland – AZ’67 by 3 points.

This was the most successful championship season of the club so far. Also, this was the most promising team at the moment, but in the same time AZ’67 was a special case and not taken entirely serious. The record shows astonishing climb: the club won Second Division in 1971-72 and debuted in First Division the next season, in which barely survived, finishing 15th. But after that it was only going up and – 7th in 1973-74, 5th in 1974-75 and 1975-76, 3rd in 1976-77 and 1977-78, and 4th 1978-79. And Az’67 won the Cup in 1978. Yet, the club was hardly ever mentioned, let alone considered a big news. Perhaps staying out of scrutiny helped, but there was a sense it was a special project, a bit of artificial development, which prevented permanency. Success depended on special blend – AZ’67 took discarded veterans from other clubs and added young talent missed for one or another reason by the big clubs. This season started with Eddy Treytel and Hugo Hovenkamp as veteran anchors. The rest of the team was much younger, but already the current stars of Holland – Ronald Spelbos (b. 1954), Johnny Metgod (b. 1958), Jan Peters (b. 1954), Peter Arntz (b. 1953), Kees Tol (b. 1958), and the fantastic scorer Kees Kist (b. 1952). Add two talented imports: Kristen Nygaard (Denmark) and Kurt Welzl (Austria). But one thing was not missed by any careful observer: apart from Kist, AZ’67 did not have home-grown players – all were bought from elsewhere. Thus, the future depended on the ability of the club to sign players of good quality, replacing those who will inevitably move away, for AZ’67 was in a position to prevent neither Dutch giants, nor foreign clubs offering more lucrative contracts. How long would be possible to keep ‘constructing’ teams was the question, leading observers to be cautious about AZ’67. And in the same time it was the only really improving team in Holland and more importantly – the team playing attractive football, close to the standard set by the great Dutch players of the first half of the 1970s.

As good as AZ’67 were, they were still beaten. Ajax finished first with 22 wins, 6 ties, 6 losses – 50 points and 77-41 goal-difference, which was worse than AZ’67’s, but Ajax won 2 more matches than their rivals. Tradition and deeper squad were perhaps the keys to success – Ajax really won the tile away from home: AZ’67 earned 17 points from away games, Ajax – 21. And this was so far the clear shortcoming of AZ’67 – all of the Dutch big clubs were more successful at away matches than the mavericks.

By now, it was even pointless to count Ajax’s titles – some other aspects were more important. There was a single survivor of the great team of the early 1970s – Ruud Krol. This was his last season in white and red, though – more than reminder that new team should have been made since 1975. But so far Ajax struggled – no new version came even close to the earlier standards. Of course, they were too high a hurdle to be easily overcome, but no new team even relatively close to the old Ajax emerged so far. Transition was painful, players were hired and fired, and the only result was that Ajax lost its strong position in international football. This version was neither well-shaped, nor particularly strong – just like every other version since 1974. Without Krol, this team was left with leading veterans like Piet Schrijvers and Pim van Dord – a far cry from the golden days of Cruijff and Keizer. The newcomer was famous and arrived from Real (Madrid) – the Danish star Henning Jensen – but he was one more example of what did not work so far: after Cruijff was sold to Barcelona in 1973, Ajax visibly changed their concept – earlier the formula was finding young promising players either in smaller Ducth clubs, or in their own youth system. After 1973 Ajax was buying well known names, but old – probably hoping to build a new team around them. Results were mixed and certainly not long-lasting. Henning Jensen’s arrival showed continuation of this ill-fated policy – to the point that not many people remember him playing for Ajax. Of course, Ajax had bright talent as ever – Tahamata, La Ling, Schoenaker, Meustege – but none of them ever became a big star and a true leader. To a point, the best discoveries were foreigners – Soren Lerby and Frank Arnesen, both Danish. They were recruited so young and unknown, that they could be considered a product of Ajax, but they were not Dutch… and more importantly, it was unlikely they will stay for long. On one hand, Ajax never changed its policy of selling profitable players; on the other hand – foreigners were naturally less loyal, especially to a club, which lost its veneer. At best, Ajax was strong enough for the domestic championship, especially when PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord were not in great shape.