Group 7

Group 7 was no brainer : it was the easiest group. West Germany had a very lucky draw – Turkey, Wales, and Malta were no opponents at all. Just as well, for 1978 was terrible for the West Germans – the World Cup finals revealed that the team was in deep crisis and needs urgently not a mere patching, but new approach, radical rebuilding, complete change. The lucky draw made sure that even the team of 1978 will qualify effortlessly, but to a point, the qualification rounds were used for making a new team. Unlike almost every other country, the Germans did not change the coach – they believed in their own tradition : a new coach developes as assistant of the great man at the helm and when the great man retires the assistant steps into his shoes. Derwal was too young for retirement, so he stayed. The weak group and the visible absence of change cancelled close scrutiny of the German team : the group was boringly predictable, so nobody outside specialists paid attention. To a point, the building of new German team was missed by most observers. As expected, West Germany had no match in the group. Yes, they started as bad as they were in 1978 – away 0-0 tie with Malta, followed with another away scoreless tie with Turkey. The rest of their group matches they won easily, permitting just a single goal in their own net. Malta was simply bellow everybody else – they got only one point and this point could be entirely credited to the still weak Germans. Turkey and Wales were equals, exchanging home wins, which practically cancelled both teams. The point Turkey earned at home against West Germany placed them 2nd at the end.

Turkish football was improving during the 1970s, but still was quite weak. No famous players here, no big surprises, no really coming close to the best. Occasional tie against top opponent was the sign of improvement, but nothing more. Finishing second in the group was the measure of success – far behind the best teams, but matching the lower tier of the European middle level. Able to come ahead of Wales, that was the positive result.

West Grrmany, 1979 version, comfortably going to the European finals. Sitting from left : Hans Muller, Walter Kelsch, Caspar Memering, Norbert Nigbur, Dieter Burdenski, Manfred Kaltz, Klaus Fischer, Rainer Bonhof.

Second row : Bernd Schuster, Klaus Allofs, Karl-Heinz Forster, Bernd Cullmann, Jupp Derwall – coach, Sepp Maier, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bernd Forster, Bernard Dietz, Hans-Peter Briegel.

There are radical changes and radical changes – the German version was and is never to start from scratch, but rather to change the emphasis. By now only 4 world champions of 1974 remained – Maier, Nigbur, and Cullmann. Two were reserves back then. Maier was clearly on his way out. Nigbur was seen as the number 1 goalkeeper, but he was already 31-years old and so far deep in the shadow of Maier. Cullmann was reliable, but nothing exceptional as a player – something as eternal back-up and certainly not a team leader. Bonhof was at his prime, but he was not exactly seen as a player leading the new Germany. However, the stupid decision not to include foreign based player was abolished and he was in. Perhaps not for long, though. The bulk was the next generation, already vastly experienced : Rummenigge, Dietz, Fischer, and Kaltz. The backbone of the new team, but the idea was changing the leadership – the key players were the next generation : Hans Muller, the Forster brothers, Schuster, Briegel, Allofs. Too young so far, but pushed ahead. Not the key players yet, just getting used to the national team. But they were the players to lead Germany in the future – and they did. The rest was hit and miss – experiments with new blood. Burdenski, Kelsch, Memering… there were others too, tested, discarded, tried again. So far, the team was raw, not fully developed, just getting shape, and depending on the middle-aged stars. So far, only the defence was ready – Kaltz, the Forster brothers, and Dietz. But there was time – the easy qualification group really served for experimenting, gradually replacing players, tuning, and searching for key figures in midfield and attack. As for expectations, such unfinished team perhaps was not going to impress at the European finals, but Germans are Germans – hard to beat even when weak.

1. West Germany 4 2 0 17-1 10

2. Turkey 3 1 2 5-5 7

3. Wales 3 0 3 11-8 6

4. Malta 0 1 5 2-21 1


And the rest is for the next year.

Group 6

Group 6 was a joke of fate : USSR, Hungary, and Greece competed with each other for a spot at 1978 World Cup finals. Now they were meeting again. Finland did not count. Tradition is powerful force and USSR was seen as favorite, just like in the previous campaign. But Hungary qualified for the World Cup and Greece was not a helpless outsider anymore. USSR itself experienced perhaps their worst decade. To a point, it was a group of equals – Hungary was pretty much at the Soviet level and Greece was on slow, but steady ascent in the 1970s. USSR was in particularly difficult situation : the strong Dinamo Kiev team of mid-70s aged and was in the difficult process of rebuilding. Spartak Moscow was emerging as the new leader of Soviet football, but the team was not fully formed and shaped. As usual, Soviet football politics did not help much – it was either team based on Moscow or on Kiev players, depending of the preferences of the current coach, whose not very objective view was supported by the old doctrine that the national team should be based on one or two club teams. Nikita Simonyan was the coach until September 1979 and he was Spartak man. He was replaced by Konstantin Beskov, who also coached Spartak at the same time. There were few Ukrainian players in the national team as a result. It was mainly Moscow team, based on Spartak. It was also shaky team – players were changed often, there was no stability, and some choices were more than questionable. The group matches went repeating the results from the previous World Cup qualification group : hosts won. USSR beat Greece 2-0 at Erevan and 20 days later lost with the same result in Budapest. Those the only matches USSR played in 1978 and they had no official match between October 1978 and May 1979. Then things went very wrong – Hungary managed 2-2 in Tbilisi, leading until the 75th minute. In June USSR travelled to Helsinki for a sure win. The match ended 1-1 – a big surprise, for even a weak Soviet team was expected to prevail. The contrast was shoking – USSR struggled for a tie with Finland, but Greece beat them 8-1. Simonyan was replaced with Beskov. Nothing was lost yet – USSR had to win their last two matches. Beskov called his chosen players and tried them in friendlies – here is the squad for the friendly with DDR, played on September 5, 1979. USSR was playing Greece a week later, so this was not an experimental team.

Crouching : Vl. Bukievsky, E. Gess, F. Cherenkov, R. Shengelia, V. Darasselia, G. Yartzev, E. Sidorov, A. Makhovikov.

Middle row : V. Shemelev – masseur, S. Yurchishin, Vik. Samokhin, K. Beskov – coach, F. Novikov – assistant coach, A. Bubnov, D. Kipiani, A. Novikov, A. Maksimenkov.

Top row : A. Mirzoyan, S. Shavlo, S. Nikulin, O. Romantzev, V. Pilguy, N. Gontar, S. Prigoda, Yu. Gavrilov, V. Khidiatulin.

Well – 11 Spartak players. 6 from Dinamo Moscow. Add Prigoda from Torpedo, and the total is 18 players from Moscow. Dinamo Tbilisi – 3 players. One may think Beskov included them very reluctantly – Tbilisi had exciting and successful team, so it was impossible to ignore Georgians. But they were few and for most positions Moscovites were prefferred, although they were not better than Georgians playing the same positions. Ukraine was represented by a single player – Yurchishin, who played in Second Division. The goalkeepers both played for Dinamo Moscow – a stange choice, although not without precedent : back in the 1960s Yashin and his back-up in Dinamo Moscow were both included in the national team. But neither played against Greece – Rinat Dassaev was the starter, rounding the players from Beskov’s own club, Spartak, to 12. A few years back Lobanovsky did the same, calling even his reserves to the national team – the result was a disaster. And it was no different now : USSR played without inspiration, just lost on the pitch, and Greece won 1-0 in Athens. Beskov evaluated the lost match curiously : he said he was surprised by the lack of commitment of his players, but mostly blamed the unfamiliar hard pitch. As if USSR did not play against this very same Greece on this very pitch less than 2 years ago. One may easily conclude that the Soviets simply failed to study the opponent, not even checking their own memories. USSR was out. But it was not even the end – the lowest point was reached in the last day of October, when in front of 1000 (!) spectators USSR hosted Finland in Moscow. The match ended 2-2. The terrible decade of Soviet football ended by hitting rock bottom. Beskov – and not only he – appeared unruffled : with European championship in the drains, the national team was free to concentrate on preparation for the 1980 Olympic games.

Hungary had her own troubles – the 70s were a decade of decline, slow, but steady. The country still had good players, but not as good and not so many as in the previous decades. There were great difficulties in making really strong team and no matter what, it was always shaky. On top of it Hungary started exporting players after the 1978 World Cup, which meant the foreign based players were no longer included in the national team. This was changed soon, but the old mentality was still in force during the European campaign. Without those who went abroad and with many mainly concerned with going to play abroad, Hungary had trouble making a very strong team. The opposition was similar, so Hungary had a chance to reach the European finals, but equal opponents also mean they are difficult to overcome. Hungary excelled against USSR – a win and a tie. Against Greece it was the other way around : a tie and a loss. And against Finland… a home win and away loss. Hungary was exactly 50%… the record shows exactly the state of Hungarian football : right in the middle, neither strong, nor too weak. They came near qualification, but did not deserve it.

Hungary – having a chance to qualify, or may be not having a chance.

Greece won. The only big surprize group winner. It was chance victory, but Greek football was improving during the whole decade and gradually became tougher and tougher opponent. They were not great team, although the generation was talented. In other other group the Greeks would not win, but they had lucky draw – both Hungary and USSR were not in good shape. They were also familiar from the previous campaign, when Greece played successfully against each. The Greek team was experienced and high spirited. They also took home advantage to the full. The key match for them proved to be the away game with Hungary – a bit earlier Greece detroyed Hungary 4-1 at home and this counted too. Away, Greece managed a scoreless tie. Then they beat USSR 1-0 at home and it was over – they had 7 points. Hungary had 4 points and one match to play. USSR had also a match to play and 4 points. Greece qualified and the remaining games did not matter.

Here are the heroes of Athens, beating USSR 1-0 : from left : Delikaris, Konstantinou, Galakos, Livatinos, Firos, Iosifidis, Ardizoglou, Nikoludis, Gounaris, Damanakis, Kapsis.

It was not even the best Greek selection – Mavros did not play, for instance, but apparently was a team specificly selected for the task at hand – a sturdy, physical team, able to fight the Soviets, expected to be physical and not greatly imaginative and technical. It worked. Greece achieved their biggest success in history : qualified for a major international finals for the first time.

1. Greece 3 1 2 13-7 7

2. Hungary 2 2 2 9-9 6

3. Finland 2 2 2 10-15 6

4. USSR 1 3 2 7-8 5


Group 5

Group 5 was without big favorite. Czechoslovakia were reigning European champions, but they failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup. A generational change was seemingly going on, always a difficult period for any team, but the Czechoslovaks were not to be discarded. On one hand, they had curious cycle, going up, then down, then up again. On the other, they were coached again by Jozef Venglos, who had his ways of building a strong team. A good number of the 1976 European champions were still in the team. France was rising roughly since 1975 and made strong impression at the 1978 World Cup. The team still had few weaknesses, but there was sense that they should be reaching their peak and lead by Platini, already world-class star, they were perhaps a bit better than Czechoslovakia. And finally Sweden – the dark horse in the group. A decline and lack of influential players was detected especially at the 1978 World Cup, but Sweden was always a tough cooky. Their chances were considered small – most likely Sweden would play decisive role in the battle between France and Czechoslovakia. The outsider was obvious: Luxembourg.

Luxembourg – one of the teams existing only to improve the goal-difference of others in the 1970s. Lowly teams left little pictorial material of themselves, so it is a rare moment of showing such a team. Not a single recognizable name – no wonder nobody cared for the likes of Luxembourg.

The matches proceeded as expected – Sweden was too weak to aim at anything, yet, proved the decisive factor at the end. France and Czechoslovakia battled for the first place. They exchanged home victories, so the final standing depended on their other results. Before the last group match France was first with 9 points. Czechoslovakia had 8, but they hosted the only remaining game – against Luxembourg. Practically, it was over. And it was because of Sweden – in the very first match played in the group, Sweden visited France and clinched a 2-2 tie. The lost point robbed France of any chance at the end of the campaign.

The French team for the friendly with Bayern (Munich) in 1979 – showing both the strength and the weaknesses. Standing, from left: Specht, Bathenay, Battiston, Bossis, Lopez, Dropsy.

Crouching: Rocheteau, Larios, Pécout, Platini, Six.

Plusses : Platini, of course, and the defence which will be strong for many years to come – Battiston, Bossis, Lopez. Minusses : goalkeeping – decent, but not exceptional. Search for good keeper will goon for years. Attack – Six and Rocheteau were exciting indeed, but scoring was a problem. Efficiency was not great – and the problem was never really solved. Six was more efficient than Rocheteau ; Rochetaeu was more difficult for the opponents. Specht and Pecout were no solutions and on their way out of the team. France continued to be unfinished team and perhaps that was the reason they failed to qualify.

Czechoslovakia was thought a bit over the hill and having difficulties replacing key players – younger talent was not so great. Depending on familiar names was a bit risky, for they were well known around Europe and none developed further after 1976 – they reached the top of their potential back then. But Venglos was crafty coach. His team lost only the away match against France and made no other mistake, The schedule was cleverly made too – Czechoslovakia played their last match at home against Luxembourg. Sure win and if goal-difference was needed by then – the best opportunity to score as many goals as needed was at hand. But there was no need to play for goals – just a win was needed. Since the match was no contest, it ended 4-0.

The squad for the first match with Luxembourg – Venglos took every match seriously. Eight 1976 European champions here. Plus other well known players. Very experienced squad, in which, hopefully, the younger players would gradually edge the veterans. They did – Vizek, Stambachr,Kozak, Rott defined the team of the early 1980s. For the moment, mission accomplished – Czechoslovakia qualified, so the 1980 finals had the the champions of 1976 as well.

1. Czechoslovakia 5 0 1 17-4 10

2. France 4 1 1 13-7 9

3. Sweden 1 2 3 9-13 4

4. Luxembourg 0 1 5 2-17 1


Group 4

Group 4 had a favorite – Holland. Poland was in decline and considered good for second, DDR and Switzerland were not seen as teams capable of major upsets, and Iceland existed only to improve the goal-difference of the others. And everything went as predicted in the first 8 matches played in the group. The 9th was between Poland and Holland in Poland. The clash between potential group winners, which Poland won 2-0. Nothing really upsetting – except that Holland did not look as strong as thought. But then again, Poland had a reputation since 1974 and a home win was hardly a surprise. After this match all went as expected again… until the last 2 group matches. DDR either played better than expected or at least took full advantage of their games against weaker opponents, for they suddenly had a chance – rather theoretical still – of winning the group. They had 11 points. Poland also had 11. Holland had 10 – but they played in both last games, hosting Poland first and then visiting DDR. Suddenly the lost match in Poland was costlier than thought earlier, but no worries: a home victory over Poland and a tie with DDR was almost sure outcome. Holland needed 3 points and by now calculation, not outplaying opponents was the strength of the Dutch. 3 points were not just desirable – it was a certainty. But… Poland, also having a chance to go to the finals, played strong game, which ended 1-1, Holland having hard time to just equalize,after Poland got the lead in the 38th minute. Poland finished their campaign with 12 points, still leading before the last group match, but heir fate was already known: no matter how the last match ended, Poland will be second in the group. The winner will be either Holland or DDR. The East Germans had home advantage. It was all or nothing for both teams, so playing for a tie was not an option. It was worthy end of the campaign: DDR got 2-0 lead in the first half. Holland managed to score a goal immediately after the start of the second half and the early goal gave them psychological advantage. They were also the classier team. In the 50th minute they equalized. 20 minutes later they scored another goal. The match ended 3-2 for Holland.

Surprisingly good campaign for DDR – they almost won the group stage. Almost… Third row from left: Werner Walter (assistant coach), Gerd Weber, Hartmut Schade, Hans-Ullrich Grapenthin, Bodo Rutwaleit, Hans-Jürgen Riediger, Reinhard Häfner, Georg Buschner (coach).

Middle row: Hans-Jürgen Dörner, Michael Noack, Martin Hoffmann, Lutz Lindemann, Joachim Streich.

Sitting in front: Konrad Weise, Wolfgang Steinbach, Dieter Kühn, Jürgen Pommerenke.

Poland finished 2nd, but fooled no one: the team was a pale shadow of the great squad of 1974. Aging played a role – by now, few of the 1974 heroes were still in the team and the younger talent was not at its prime yet. They were competitive, but no more.

Holland qualified and on the surface everything was fine: they were expected to win, they won. But…

This is the squad, which was almost beaten by Poland at home. Standing, from left: Piet Schrijvers, Johnny Rep, Huub Stevens, Hugo Hovenkamp, Ernie Brandts, Ruud Krol.

First row: Bennie Wijnstekers, Wim Jansen, Willy van de Kerkhof, Simon Tahamata, Kees Kist.

Impressive on a picture… familiar names, the hero of 1978 Ernie Brandts, the top European goalscorer Kist, bright young talent Tahamata, plenty of experience… It is save to say that by 1979 only Ruud Krol was a great star – the rest were either declining (Rep, Jansen, van de Kerkhof), or never really great (Schrijvers, Hovenkamp), or more or less empty promises (Brandts, Wijnstekers), or just promises (Stevens, Kist, Tahamata). A competent team, a bit too physical, not so technical and imaginative. A far cry from the exciting Dutch circa 1974. It was muscle and determination, not skill, qualifying them at the last minute.

1. Holland 6 1 1 20-6 13

2. Poland 5 2 1 13-4 12

3. DDR 5 1 2 18-11 11

4. Switzerland 2 0 6 7-18 4

5. Iceland 0 0 8 2-21 0

Group 3

Group 3 was unpredictable, like Group 2 at first: Cyprus did not count, but Spain, Yugoslavia, and Romania not only were matched, but had all scores to settle. They competed for a place at the 1978 World Cup finals. Before that Spain and Romania were together and earlier Yugoslavia and Spain went to extra match to decide who goes to 1974 World Cup. Nobody could know it when the first group matches were played, but they decided the final outcome. Yugoslavia lost at home to Spain 1-2 and then away to Romania 2-3. A bad start, but the tournament was still young, so nothing really terrible. And Yugoslavia won their remaining group matches. Meantime Spain managed to tie their away match in Romania. Spain had another small advantage – they played the very last game scheduled. They were visitors, but visiting Cyprus was hardly a trouble. Yugoslavia ended their campaign with 8 points. Spain was trailing with 7. The Yugoslavs could hope only for a miracle. Spain just won 3-1.

To a point, the squad above, which won 3-0 away in Cyprus, tells why Yugoslavia finished 2nd. After 1976 the national team was a mess – players were changed all the time, experiments were constant, there was hardly a core of stars and practically no new team emerged. This squad is no different – few established stars – Surjak, Peruzovic, Hadzic, few talented youngsters, who will be key players later, but were not ready yet – Zajec, Zlatko Vujovic, Stojkovic; and the rest was just those in good current form, but with the exception of Savic, none really lasted long in the national team, let alone becoming a star. Shaky team.

Spain largely depended on the team they had at the 1978 World Cup – not an exciting team, but gritty, tough one. Fighters. This is the squad which tied 2-2 Romania – as it turned out, the most important match Spain played, for the point they got qualified them at the end.

1. Spain 4 1 1 13-5 9

2. Yugoslavia 4 0 2 14-6 8

3. Romania 2 2 2 9-8 6

4. Cyprus 0 1 5 2-19 1


Group 2

Group 2 was expected to be tough: 4 teams were capable of qualifying. Norway did not count at all. They got just a single point from away match, surprising Belgium. Perhaps the matches between Belgium and Scotland were really the decisive ones – they were scheduled at the end of the campaign, Scotland actually playing the last 3 games in the group, and thus looking like having an advantage. Belgium won 2-0 at home and was with 10 points. Scotland was out after this match – they had to win all of their last 3 matches to qualify and nothing else could do. Austria was still on top with 11 points, but no more matches to play. Belgium had to win their last match, which was doubtful – Scotland may have been eliminated, but they never gave up. But Belgium, which started badly with surprising home tie against the outsider Norway, was in great shape by now and managed to prevail 3-1. The last match of the group between Scotland and Portugal was mere protocol – both countries were already eliminated.

Austria with a new coach, but preserving the team so impressive at the 1978 World Cup. Standing from left: Karl Stotz – coach, Baumeister, Schachner, Pezzey, Obermayer, Hattenberger, Gasselich, Prohaska, Krankl, Schmidt – assistant coach.

First row: Weber, Zuenalli, Mirnegg, Koncilia, Baumgartner, Kreuz, Sara, Hintermaier.

Austria had a chance to reach the finals – but their fate depended on others and they finished 2nd.

The battle between 4 countries was intriguing to the very end – even Portugal had theoretical chance of winning the group, if Belgium and Scotland tied the matches between them and then Portugal won with a big result their last away match. Well, the chance was strictly theoretical – they needed to beat Scotland by more than 5 goals. But theory was not to be tested. Belgium delivered when mattered most – first they won at home 2-0 over Scotland, thus coming back into the picture. Still nothing was decided yet – before the last any of the 4 competitors could end on top. The all-decisive match was in Glasgow. And here Belgium was superb, winning 3-1. End of story.

The squad, beating Scotland 2-0 in Bruxelles on November 21, 1979: standing from left: Vandereycken, Custers, Millecamps, Meeuws, Ceulemans.

First row: Van Moer, Gerets, Renquin, Van Der Elst, Voordeckers, Cools.

Some of the players were well known either from the past – van Moer – or from the recent strong years of Anderlecht and FC Brugges, but they were very famous yet. Still, it was not surprising to see Belgium going to the finals – the Red Devils did not reach World Cup finals in the 1970s, but were regularly strong in the European championships. They did not lose a match during the qualification campaign.

1. Belgium 4 4 0 12-5 12

2. Austria 4 3 1 14-7 11

3. Portugal 4 1 3 10-11 9

4. Scotland 3 1 4 15-13 7

5. Norway 0 1 7 5-20 1


European Championship Qualifications Group 1

The year came to a close with the final standings in the European Championship qualification groups. The tournament was changed, following the formula of the World Cup. The host of the finals – Italy – qualified automatically. The rest of the European countries were divided into 7 groups, the winners going to the finals in 1980. Unlike the World Cup, the winners of the previous European championship had to go through the qualification phase. Two years of group matches finished by the end of 1979. The group stage was not without drama, highs and lows, but there were also easy and difficult groups – some winners were easily predictable and did not have much difficulties.

Group 1 – five teams: England, Eyre, Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, and Denmark. The Danes were the outsider, England was the big favorite, and the rest were considered equal. Easy group for England – they had no match, all opponents playing convenient for England football. England was a big disappointment since 1972, failing to reach 2 World Cup finals and missing the final stages of the 1976 European championship too. However, short of some major English blunder, they were considered sure winners: the opposition was too weak. Denmark was still lowly team, Bulgaria was in a decline since 1974, the two Irish squads were perhaps capable of occasional heroic match, but no more. Even if England was not in good form, the fairly equal opponents most surely were going to cancel each other out. And they did precisely that. More or less, the only surprise was the away win of Northern Ireland in Bulgaria – 2-0. England had no real opponent and was head and shoulders above the rest.

Northern Ireland finished 2nd and perhaps this squad tells why: the Irish were unable to field 11 classy players. They did not have a full team first division players – Derek Spence played for Southend and Bryan Hamilton for Swindon Town. Nothing new, really, but spirit was not enough of a weapon.

England had an easy sail, losing only 1 point though the campaign – a 1-1 tie, visiting Eyre.

1. England 7 1 0 22-5 15

2. Northern Ireland 4 1 3 8-14 9

3. Eyre 2 3 3 9-8 7

4. Bulgaria 2 1 5 6-14 5

5. Denmark 1 2 5 13-17 4

England to the finals – after three consecutive failures in the 1970s! The team looked more than impressive, lead by Kevin Keegan. Well, it looked like England was going to restore her fading glory.


Among the countless debutantes this season was a pocket-size West German winger. He was born 1960 in West Berlin, which perhaps explains his not-so German sounding name, but he appeared with 1. FC Koln jersey. His talent was noted, but talented youngsters are many and dilemmas are eternal: is a teenage going to be just a quick flash, just as quickly disappearing, or going to develop into real star? Is it better to put a youngster quickly into the trials of professional football, or is it preferable to introduce him slowly and carefully, step by step? He may burn out right away… his development could be arrested too, if kept on the bench. The first Bundesliga season of the 1.68 m tall winger is not bad as numbers go: 16 matches and 4 goals. Not bad… not great either, for the record says he played only in half of the seasonal matches. Very likely not full games either – coming as a substitute more often than starting a match. Yet, it was a debut in the Bundesliga – a tough and challenging place to be. No matter what point of view one adopts, the youngster’s debut was not big sensation and he was unknown. Yet.

Some boy called Pierre Littbarski. One of the greatest players of the 1980s appeared on the scene without fuss.


As a rule of thumb, retirements are more interesting than debuts – famous veterans step down. At the end of 1978-79 season it was Gianni Rivera. Once upon a time – in 1959-60 – barely 16-years old debuted for Alessandria. It was sensational start: the teenager almost immediately became a starter and played 26 matches in his first season, scoring 6 goals as well.

Alessandria was better known club then than now, but it was a small club. It was easier to get starting position in a struggling team without stars – Rivera may have been lucky, but his debut was more than noticeable nevertheless. The ‘Golden boy’ of Italian football was born. As for Gianni – he was born in 1943.

Rivera in his first season – and his only season for other club but Milan. He was bought for a record fee of $200 000 – a testimony of his talent. Milan had the cash and also plans for a teenage genius: to replace aging star Juan Schiaffino. Not right away, but in the future. However, the talent of the new boy was so great, he became a starter immediately – an attacking midfielder or offensive playmaker, a rather mixed definition, but eventually putting him against another youngster back than: Sandro Mazzola. A quick jump forward: both Mazzola and Rivera became superstars, definitive players of the 1960s, extremely successful, key players for both clubs and country. It was difficult to play them together in the national team, for they had the same position, yet both accumulated impressive number of caps for Italy. Rivera, however, became and remained the Golden boy of Italian football, part of the international success of Italian football in the 1960s, scoring goals, which was not easy at the pinnacle of cattenachio and playing for perhaps more defensively oriented team than the originator of the dreadful defensive tactic.

This photo from the early 1970s speaks volumes of football history: Nereo Rocco, Gianni Rivera, and Trapattoni. Born to win and knowing how. Rivera shined in ultimately defensive, tough, and hardly attractive team devised and run with iron hand by Nereo Rocco. As for young ‘Trap’ – he had the luxury to learn coaching craft from a grand master and having at hand a genius player. As for Rivera – he was and is so well known, the best would be to just give numbers.

He played for Milan from 1960 to 1979 – so long, that often his first club is even not coming to mind. A one-club man, something fans adore and remember – a Milan legend in the true sense. He played 501 games for his club and scored 122 – that is official Italian championship games. When all other matches are added… the number perhaps cannot be even established correctly. With Milan he won 3 Italian titles – 1962, 1968, and 1979; 4 Cups – 1967, 1972, 1973, and 1977; 2 European Champions Cups – 1963 and 1969; 2 Cup Winners Cups – 1968 and 1973; and 1 Intercontinental Cup – 1969. He was also once the top scorer of Serie A – in 1973, although he shared the honor with two other players (Guiseppe Savoldi and Paulino Pulicci). He captained Milan from 1966 to 1975 and again from 1976 to his retirement in 1979.

For Italy he played 60 matches, in which he scored 14 goals between 1962 and 1974. After the awful Italian performance at the 1974 World Cup finals Rivera was no longer called to the national team – which in a way makes his stats even more impressive: Rivera not only accumulated so many largely during the 1960s, when national teams did not play many games, but also against the odds, for he had great rival – Sandro Mazzola. With Italy, Rivera played a 4 World Cup finals – 1962, 1966, 1970, and 1974. And he won the European Championship in 1968 – unfortunately, he missed the final because of injury. And he was voted European player of the year in 1969.

There was another side of him as well: the love of the game and his gentleman approach to it lead him to… banishment. In the 1970s he spoke against Italian referees and was punished for that. He also refused to move across the Atlantic and join the lucrative NASL – Rivera was entirely against going to the weird league and made fun of it. So, he played for Milan to the end, finishing his illustrious career at 36, but at high note: as a champion of Italy.

After retirement, he became vice-president of Milan and stayed at this post until 1986 when Silvio Berlusconi bought the club. After 1986 Rivers turned to politics and was elected in the Italian Parliament. Much later – to the Eurpean Union Parliament too. But it is not his political life remembered and cherished by people: Rivera became a football legend long time ago and remain exactly that not only in Italy. One of the all-time greatest players.

Stepping down – graceful exit, waiving at the fans. Nothing is forever, except memory – the Golden boy remains after 20 years delighting fans on the pitch.

The Golden Shoe

The Golden Shoe, arbitrary as it was, had new winner – a Dutch of the next crop. Two men scored 31 goals this season – Laszlo Fekete (Ujpesti Dosza) and Thomas Mavros (AEK). The Greek was a prolific scorer and one of the best players of his country in the 1970s. Fekete was already a bit fading, he never fulfilled earlier expectations, but scored he did. Hungarians appeared often among the best scorers – Golden shoe really favoured weaker leagues, where a striker of strong team had plenty opportunities against much weaker opponents. Nothing surprising that Greeks and Hungarians scored so much. But they were outdone.

Two silver and one golden boot – from left: Fekete, Kist, Mavros.

Kees Kist scored 34 goals and got the award. He played for the strangely made, but rapidly rising AZ’67 Alkmaar. Kist was rising along with his club – he was of the next Dutch generation, pushing its way to replace the famous Flying Dutch of the first half of the 1970s. Players like Kist seemingly ensured continuity.

A typical dangerous Kist, not afraid from and not really stopped with such tackles. Like many Dutch players, he made strong impression playing for a smaller club – and then moving to Ajax or Feyenoord. It was a bit different this time: Kist was to stay with AZ”67 and have sensational European season before moving to other teams and countries as already established big star. To a point, the Golden Shoe was the big impression he made to Europe. He continued to score everywhere he played, but perhaps he got bigger reputation he really deserved. For he was not to be the next great world superstar… like the rest of his generation, he represents the time of relative decline of Dutch football. But this is general assessment – Kist outdid all other European strikers this year. He was good player and excellent scorer. Those, making the 1980s were pushing ahead – they were coming, Kist was a clear sign of that.