The Aftermath

The aftermath. Of course, the victory of Brazil comes first – first, it was the first time in 40 years Brazil won, second – winners are always praised and analyzed. Lazaroni turned from vilain to hero overnight and his team was suddenly great. However, the Brazilian victory evoked West Germany on the road to its world title in 1974: team and coach struggled for a long time until finding the formula for success. On the road, the initial team the coach and in mind had to reshaped. In both cases, the winners convinced the public only near the end of the tournament.
The ‘European style’ – Lazaroni employed it, but in fact, the whole tournament was a triumph of the ‘European style’.
Near-sensational team Ecuador – with its coach directly imported from Europe – was the best example: a team without any stars and generally on the bottom of the continental hierarchy stunned Uruguay and Argentina just by playing physical, disciplined football, pressing and marking the opposition everywhere the whole match. What this proved was that now such a bland team could be equal to greatly talented teams and effectively neutralizing them. Effectiveness won over artistry, which was fine on one hand – now there were no real outsiders and competition was greater, but in terms of skills, excitement and showmanship such games were very boring to the viewer. Ecuador was effective, but not good – when it came to playing with equals and they had to prove improvement by winning, they failed (the match against Bolivia).
The kind of football championed in the late 1980s greatly changed long tournaments: most games were plainly boring, especially in the early phases of the competition. Attendance was perfect indicator: the range from 1500 (Peru-Venezuela and Paraguay-Colombia) was in sharp contrast to the 170 000 attending the final. The total attendance of Group B -where the reigning World and South America champions played, with Maradona and Francescoli! – was 108 000: less by more than 60 000 than the attendance of the single match final. No matter what specialists praised, the ordinary fan snubbed mainly boring games.
Yet, on the positive side, Copa America introduced new young and competent coaches, Lazaroni (38, the youngest at the tournament) and Tabarez (42) were the prime shining examples. The contrast was great: teams coached by men over 50 performed poorly (Peru with Pepe, 54 and Argentina with Bilardo, 51). The only exception was Ecuador, but Draskovic (50) directly represented ‘modern European football’, so he really part of the competent young group of coaches, well versed in and promoting the modern style. If Lazaroni was somewhat radical to the Brazilian taste, the Uruguayn Tabarez was very different: his ‘modernization’ was structural – appointed to coach the national team of Uruguay, he first of all proposed a long-term program for development of the whole system of national teams. It was implemented, still working to this very day, and produced amazing results. As for coaching, Tabarez hardly changed the Uruguayan style – he mostly motivated players and utilized their skills best by careful tactical variations tailored to specific opponent. May be because he was not building a new team, leaving established players out or asking them to play unfamiliar positions, the young and relatively unknown coach established good relations with his team – there were no scandals, no stars criticizing and refusing to play under him. Essentially, Tabarez assessed realistically the limits of Uruguayan football, worked with was available, not changing the historically established football the players were familiar with, only finely tuning it and shaping it.
If the above was positive, a whole range of warning and troubling things were present. One was playing conditions: aging stadiums, increasingly displeasing both players and viewers. The Peruvian star Julio Cesar Uribe openly complained that he never played on such atrocious pitch before and he was not alone. Hard pitches with little grass and many bumps combined with constant hard marking was increasingly killing the quality of the game – skillful players were in great disadvantage.
Brutality was rapidly increasing in such conditions – it was quite disturbing that the Uruguayan defender Hugo de Leon bitterly complained form the violent approach of Argentina: apparently, new level was reached when master killers like the Uruguayans found it disturbing. Many cards were showed by the referees – and that in the 1980s, when referees rarely bothered with something short of murder and in South America traditionally it was not even certain that mass murderer on rampage will be expelled. When victory, no matter how achieved, mattered, violence was seemingly the natural way to win ‘ a war’ and it was only increasing.
Obstacles with building a team – like violence, only increasing with time. By the end of the 1980s almost every team depended largely on players stationed abroad, mostly in faraway Europe. It was increasingly difficult to get them released, let alone training a team with them. The problem with clubs refusing to release players for national team duty was old, but now it was reaching massive proportions – various teams were unable to use their best stars in this Copa America. Some players were finally able to join their national teams only when the tournament was already in progress. Along with that came frictions and scandals between coaches and players, most clearly presented in the Brazilian camp: Luis Muller made the effort to arrive on time only to hear that Lazaroni thinks him tired and unfit and is not going to use him. Muller left enraged and bitterly complained in the press – and it was hard to blame him, for in the same time other players, not even here yet, were selected and when finally arrived they were immediately starters. So, Muller was too tired to play, but Renato, who was still playing in Italy when Copa America started, was fine? But who was fine in such conditions? Maradona was clearly tired and disinterested – Copa America was not on his mind, he arrived with his huge retinue of family and friends as if on vacation. No wonder some coaches – Bilardo and to a point Tabarez – did not see Copa America as real tournament, but rather as a training camp: it was almost impossible to motivate players arriving from grueling European seasons and concerned with transfers, contracts, and keeping their employers happy. It was unreasonable to expect a guy, no matter how great, who just yesterday played important match with his club to excel today with teammates he only met briefly before going to the pitch. No wonder Tabarez did not ask his players to try anything new and unfamiliar to them – it needed more than asking, it needed training it together and there was no such time for working on a new idea. But if coaches openly said that Copa America was not on their minds… the tournament was in deep trouble. And if the continental championship was not to be taken seriously, what next? The World Cup… It was not only South American problem – Europe was the same.
So, at the end, it was hardly a big surprise that there were almost no new discoveries. What emerged from Copa America?

Mazinho of Brazil. Lazaroni was reluctant to play him, he was not his first choice, he had different players in mind. So it was almost against his will and almost from desperation Lazaroni fielded him – Mazinho turned out to be a revelation and thus practically discovered by the world.
But the truest discovery was the 18-years Paraguayan striker Gustavo Alfredo Neffa. He debuted in 1987 for Olimpia (Asuncion) and now was debuting for Paraguay in important tournament. To a point, Neffa benefited by the traditionally small pool of players in his country, combined with the absence of Romero and Cabanas – left practically without strikers, it was relatively easy for the Paraguayan coach to take the risk of fielding the teenager. Neffa played so well, he caught the eye of Juventus (Torino) right away and was signed immediately. With the end of Copa America, Neffa packed his trunk and flew to Italy – which was to a point his undoing and another warning sign of rapidly coming new reality: Juventus had no real intention to use him – he was too young and green for them, there was no place for him in the team, having established foreign stars in the permitted limit. Neffa was loaned to Cremonese and practically never played for Juventus. Three years later he moved back to South America, joining Argentine Boca Juniors and from there moved North to play for Dallas Burn in the USA. Although he played almost 10 years for Paraguay, his career was steadily going downhill until he quit 28 years old. Unfortunately, sometimes is dangerous and counterproductive to shine early… And that was one more sour note on 1989 Copa America and on the general state of football at the end of the 1980s.
As a whole, 1989 Copa America displayed more problems than bright and optimistic signs.
Crouching from left: Calderon, Basualdo, Troglio, Sensini, Burruchaga. Standing: Batasta, Pumpido, Clausen, Brown, Ruggeri, Maradona.
Perhaps Argentina summed best the sorry state of football in the late 1980s – old, tired, disinterested, violent, confusing fun and vice with pride and work world champions, without alternative. Frozen team with a coach unwilling to shake and rebuild. It is quite indicative that perhaps the brightest young player Caniggia isn’t here – in this Copa America the ‘change’ Bilardo made to freshen the team was… 30-years Calderon, who played a bit for Argentina in the 1982 World Cup for the last time before. It was also indicative that the World champions had too many players – newly rising stars included – playing for secondary clubs: Pumpido (Real Betis, Spain), Brown (Real Murcia, Spain), Basualdo (Mandiyu, Argentina), Clausen (Sion, Switzerland), Troglio (Verona, Italy), Caniggia (Verona, Italy). To a point, even Maradona – no matter what, Napoli was not exactly the most formidable Italian club and now he was expected to move to Olympique Marseille (which even did not happen) – no matter ambitions and money, Marseille was even a step down from Napoli: the greatest player in the world was no longer desired by the leading clubs in the world Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Milan, Inter, Bayern, Liverpool. Hardly an optimistic picture, rather the opposite…