On a night when the eyes of Europe were fixed on the historic encounter between Real Madrid and Manchester United, another sensational classic match was played in the Champions League. Between AC Milan and Ajax. The same fixture served as a European Cup final on two previous occasions – (in 1969 and 1995), but neither final had been as good to the eyes, and as bad to the heart, as this brilliant knock-out match.
Ajax and Milan had tied the first game in Amsterdam 0-0, meaning all was still to play for in Milan. The established class of the Rossoneri, with Paulo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Rui Costa and Andrey Shevchenko, meant the home side were seen as the favourites, but this was, for the first time in the 21st century, a superbly talented Ajax side. Youngsters like Chivu (22), Sneijder (18), Pienaar (21), and Ibrahimovic (21) were eager to make a name for themselves. And waiting for his inevitable second half appearance was the old master Jari Litmanen, who had helped Ajax beat Milan three times before, back in the 1994/95 season. Could Ajax pull it off again?
The legendary Stanley Matthews defied believes about what a human body can be capable of. The great English right winger was so incredibly fit compared to his fellow players that, when won the very first Ballon d’Or in 1956, he was already 41 years old. Yet he would not retire until nine years later.
One the finer moments of his career came during the FA Cup final of 1953. “Only” 38 years old, Matthews was already oldest man on the pitch. But still the best. He had failed to win the Cup final on two previous occassions, but this FA Cup final – the biggest club game in world football – would be named after him for his great performance.
With the soon to be crowned Queen Elizabeth II watching from the stands, Matthews’s Blackpool took on a Bolton Wanderers that featured the recently elected player of the year, Nat Lofthouse, a striker who had managed to score in every round of the FA Cup so far.
Watch Matthews in action.
The England National Football Team is a graveyard of managers. With expectations always high – and tournament performances almost never so – and with a predatory press ready to let loose at the first hint of failure, England managers rarely leave the job without a damaged reputation, as the likes of Steve McLaren, Sven-Goran Eriksen, Kevin Keegan, Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables have found out.
But the most pityful England manager of all has been their predecessor, Graham Taylor. Seeking qualification for the 1994 World Cup, Taylor’s England was expected to claim one of the two top spots in a qualifying group that also featured Holland. But Unexpectedly, underdogs Norway did so well that England and Holland were left fighting for second place. Whatever the outcome, one of these two would not make it to the USA.
The documentary The Impossible Job (also known as Do I Not Like That) follows Taylor before, during and after the crucial qualifier played in Rotterdam: Holland vs England. The Dutch FA had denied access to the camera crew filming Taylor, but the England manager helped to smuggle them inside the stadium. The footage they were able to capture would later come back to haunt Taylor.
This documentary is a recommended watch.
Check it out here:
What’s the bigger loss: for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to lack a few World Cup games on his CV, or for the World Cup to lack Zlatan?
The latter. At 32, the man from Malmo should be past his prime, but only keeps getting better, scoring ever more audacious and spectacular goals. Goals that no other player can score. Goals that force everyone around him – teammates included – to accept his supremacy on and off the field. A supremacy that he desires and requires to excel. A supremacy he defends – if need be – with his incredible physique and street-educated personality.
It’s no wonder that a Swedish dictionary recently included the verb Zlataner – meaning “to dominate with overwheling force”. Read the best quotes of a man who is not just convinced, but knows with his entire soul, that he is The Greatest.
Although it’s a topic many prefer not to touch, the fact that many teams in the 60′s and 70′s were doping their players with amphetamines has already been established numerous times. (See this overview of doping cases in football).
Ajax and Holland were no exception. For his new book Voetbal Mysteries, Dutch journalist Guido Derksen has collected new testimonies – from the doctors of Ajax and Holland, as well as from players Johnny Rep, Arie Haan and Piet Schrijvers – which all confirm the Dutch Doping thesis.
“Football and Doping? That’s no mystery at all. In those days, everybody did it.”
Here are a few key conclusions from Derksen’s new book:
For all the glamour, prestige and early success that Johan Cruyff brought to FC Barcelona as a player, the club never won a European trophy with Cruyff wearing the Blaugrana. Not even a final was reached. A year after his departure, Barcelona díd reach a final, of the 1979 European Cup Winners Cup.
The key figures in Barcelona’s side were Cruyff’s former luitenants: Migueli, Neeskens, Asensi and Rexach. And to replace Cruyff, Barcelona had purchased the Austrian striker Hans Krankl. In his first – and only – season for Barcelona, Krankl managed to score 29 goals in La Liga. Coukd Krankl do what Cruyff had failed to do and deliver Barcelona their first European Silverware?
Or would the combined strike force of Fortuna’s Allofs brothers outweigh Krankls talents?
Among the things that have gradually disappeared from football are friendly matches between clubs and countries. Wouldn’t it be nice to see repeats of such games as (1993) AC Milan vs Colombia and (1999) Brazil vs Barcelona? In any case, in 1979 Ajax traveled to Sao Paulo to face none other than the Brazilian National Team.
After the Post-Cruyff depression, Ajax had finally assembled a genuinely good side again, with the fearless giant Piet Schrijvers guarding the goal, the world class libero Ruud Krol sending his famous long balls everywhere, the young Danish talents Soren Lerby and Frank Arnesen having fun on midfield, and tricky wingers Simon Tahamata and Tcheu La Ling dribbling circles around opposing defenders.
But how big the difference between a good Ajax and a great Brazil really was, was demonstrated on that evening in June, 1979, when a Brazil already resembling the side of 1982 ran rampant. Zico played. Falcão played. Junior played. And Socrates played.
It was only Socrates’ third or fourth international match. But he left an unforgetable impression. After the game, Zico commented:
“Socrates has exceptional feet and he’s everywhere at once. He’s unpredictable and supremely skilled in first-time passes – I’ve never seen anyone better in one-touch play.”
Check out these highlights.
Before big money completed its conquest of football, being able to kick a ball in a straight line wasn’t enough to ensure a life of luxury. It was an era when even the greatest of all footballers didn’t make enough money to just rest on their laurels after their career had ended.
Danny Blanchflower, captain of the great Tottenham Hotspur side that won the double in 1961, and a midfielder endowed with charisma, elegance and intelligence, was a man of that era. After his retirement, he had no choice but to find other employment. Such was his way with words that he worked not just as a manager, but also as a journalist. Read these 10 quotations by the greatest football romantic to come from the British Isles.
“Always play with a smile on your face”, he would say. “It’s a beautiful game.”