“In my time as manager, it is the best team we have faced,” said Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United were comprehensively dismantled by Barcelona in last year’s Champions League final. Three-time European Cup winner Graeme Souness went further, saying: “I think they are the best team ever and, in Lionel Messi, they have the best player ever.”
Ten months on, and Barca’s football continues to bewitch. Like the Dutch exponents of Total Football in 1974, and the brilliant Brazilians of 1982, this Barcelona side provides a visceral joy that goes beyond scorelines. Unlike those illustrious predecessors, Pep Guardiola’s team have not only sustained it for longer but also have the trophies to back up their claim to greatness.
And it’s quite a collection of trinkets. The statistics can only hint at the style but they do convey their relentless dominance of world football. Since Guardiola’s ascent in the summer of 2008, Barcelona have won three La Liga titles, three Supercopas, two Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, two FIFA Club World Cups and a Copa del Rey.
But there’s a problem with crowning Barcelona as the finest team the world has ever known. It’s the pesky inconvenience of the current La Liga table. Arch-rivals Real Madrid boast an eight-point lead over Guardiola’s men that will surely prove insurmountable. Can a team justifiably be labelled the greatest of all time while simultaneously being second best in their own league? It may appear incongruous, but history suggests it is surprisingly common.
Having even the remotest interest in Shanghai Shenhua should probably come with a health warning. When I die a decade prematurely, blame it on the side from the Hongkou stadium for weakening my heart and badly damaging my sanity. Shenhua is a dangerous interest to have. Believe me, its lots of fun but if you can, enjoy it in moderation.
The Chinese Super League (CSL) has recently been thrust into the spotlight via the big money arrivals of Nicolas Anelka and Jean Tigana at my ‘local’ club, who having not won a title in almost a decade, have now exploded into relevance once again. No-one is entirely sure where the money has come from for these signings but equally, no one really cares – Shanghai is a brash, loud city where success is expected and demanded. As long as the new arrivals help the club win, everyone’s happy.
For the hardcore fans, the ones who transform the north and south ends of the club’s otherwise sparsely filled stadium into swaying, swearing, boisterous carnivals of noise, the signings are a mixed blessing. Anelka is still a very good player and Tigana, despite being a big fan of resigning without warning, is a proven top level coach. For a success starved club, this is exactly the sort of bold investment that the fans wanted.
However, one can only imagine that there will be more than a little frustration at the sudden influx of new supporters who have been enticed by the hype of Anelka. Ticket prices will go up, not only to fund the wages of the new arrivals but also because there will be more demand, certainly for the first half of the season.
There is also the problem of our chairman, Zhu Jun, who frankly is about as likeable as small pox. This is a man who recently made Shenhua play their ‘home’ games for the Chinese FA Cup in Wuhu, a city in the neighbouring Anhui province over two-hundred miles away from Shanghai. Last season, he sold off all Shenhua’s best players midway through the season, sparking a spectacular nosedive from the top-half of the table and into a relegation dogfight. There are more unicorns in the city then there are people with nice things to say about Mr Zhu.
However, the Anelka singing has given the eccentric videogames mogul a new platform in which to shamelessly promote himself to anyone who’ll listen, much to the delight of rumour mongers everywhere. You’ll probably be reading about Shenhua’s interest in Didier Drogba, which is highly unlikely to go through as the club already have two foreign strikers (Anelka and former Australian international, Joel Griffiths) and need to get an overseas defender or two to strengthen their backline. Fans of Brazilian club, Internacional will be equally curious about the fate of their Argentine playmaker, Andres D’Alessandro, who is also rumoured to be moving to Shanghai. Basically, if you have played in a big European league in the last five years, chances are you’ve been mentioned in the same sentence as Shenhua. Guti and Michael Ballack are among the names that have been recently mentioned and with Zhu reluctant to deny almost any rumour, the pick-a-name reporting shows no sign of slowing down.
As someone who likes to spend his Saturdays encamped with the Blue Devils, one of the supporters groups in the Hongkou’s north stand, I can’t wait for the season to begin. The all-standing atmosphere in that part of the ground is a joy to behold, especially when tickets plus a beer can be as little as a fiver. I desperately want this season to be a success, not only as a writer who likes the romantic story of a once great club returning to its former glory but also as a resident of Shanghai who wants to see his club do well. Some fans would like a title run but for me, a decent league finish with a couple of wins over rivals Hangzhou and Beijing would be just fine. And the less Zhu, the better, obviously.
You can follow Shenhua’s fortunes by following Andrew on Twitter @ShouldersGalore
November 7, 1990 – Napoli were eliminated from the European Cup by Spartak Moscow on penalties.
Look out for Ciro Ferrara and Diego Maradona converting their spot-kicks for Napoli with Marco Baroni the unfortunate Italian to miss – presumably put off by the goalkeeper’s prescient Movember contribution.
As for Spartak Moscow, future Russian internationals and Celta Vigo stars Valery Karpin and the brilliant Aleksandr Mostovoi both succeed from the spot – with Mostovoi stealing the show thanks to the mother of all mullets.
Even if you aren’t really into Italian football, Calcio Italia is a magazine well worth buying. If you are a fan of all things Serie A then it’s practically an essential purchase.
There are monthly columns by such esteemed footballing opinionistas as James Richardson, Gabriele Marcotti and Tor-Kristian Karlsen. There are features from the likes of Jonathan Wilson, Ben Lyttleton, James Horncastle and Simon Kuper. And now, dragging the reputation of the magazine down a few notches, there’s me.
The January 2011 edition of Calcio Italia magazine includes a feature I have written about Udinese. It charts the history of the club and pays due respect to icons such as Zico, Oliver Bierhoff and Antonio Di Natale, as well as their legendary managers Alberto Zaccheroni and Luciano Spalletti.
You can order a copy online or pick it up at most major newsagents. Highly recommended.
As we continue our look at some of the great sides from history it is impossible to overlook the Allied side of the Second World War in the 1981 film Escape to Victory.
This team never actually lined up together in a competitive game you say?
You try telling them that their epic 4-4 wasn’t competitive.
The side boasted a spine of three World Cup winners in Bobby Moore, Ossie Ardiles and the incomparable Pele.
I sense that they would have lined up in a broad 2-3-5 or a W-M formation that was the fashion of the 1940s. Clearly the flexibility of Russell Osman could have helped provide this fluidity of movement between the two formations. Moore took advantage of this as he grabbed a goal and managed to bizarrely pop up on the right-wing to provide the assist for Pele’s spectacular equaliser.
This was a true team effort though. Sure there were the stars, but not only were the rest of this team willing to put themselves on the line for the side – they were even prepared to serve out the rest of their days in a Nazi prison camp for the cause. That’s real dedication.
In the advanced positions, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul van Himst and Hallvar Thoresen all boast truly remarkable records. Deyna had captained Poland in two World Cups while the scoring record of the Belgian forward, Van Himst, is astonishing – 233 goals for Anderlecht at more than a goal every other game. Thoresen’s strike rate at PSV is similarly impressive with 106 league goals in 196 matches. These were no mugs.
In the midfield engine room, it was the Ipswich pairing of Russell Osman and John Wark that ably assisted the impeccable Ardiles. Out wide there was Mike Summerbee of Manchester City fame to fire in the crosses.
At this point, you may have noticed the more controversial selections in the side. At the back with Bobby Moore was the actor Michael Caine. It is easy to deride the man but in truth Caine’s leadership skills were crucial to the morale of the side and he seldom looked out of his depth alongside Moore.
In goal was the faintly ludicrous sight of Sylvester Stallone. The athletic American had a questionable knowledge of the rules and is even thought to have proposed running around the entire German team to score the winner. That said, many keepers wouldn’t have held on to the penalty save from Werner Roth. Swings and roundabouts.
The team showed its grit and determination, not to mention considerable skill, as they clawed their way back from 4-0 down to earn a dramatic draw. Take the time to enjoy Pele’s equaliser .. I believe he counts it in his official goal tally.
I thought it’d be nice to revisit a piece from last September that many of you may have missed … (basically it took ages and nobody was reading this blog then!)
2010 sees the 50th anniversary of the World Club Championships. Previously a contest between the club champions of Europe and South America, the competition has now been extended to include other continents to better represent the global nature of the game. In all that time, only 4 teams have retained their title and thus won the competition back-to-back. The first was Pele’s Santos. The second was the legendary Inter side of Helenio Herrera, the grand wizard of Catenaccio. The third team to do so was Arrigo Sacchi’s incredible AC Milan of the late 80s. The last side to claim the honour, however, was one that is often overlooked. The club was Sao Paulo, and they achieved the feat in 1992 & 1993 by conquering Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona ‘Dream Team’ and Fabio Capello’s miserly Milan. Let us take a look back at that remarkable outfit.
The coach, Tele Santana
For Santana, leading Sao Paulo to become World Champions was blissful redemption. The culmination of his ‘Jogo Bonito’ (Beautiful Game) philosophy that had been so damaged by his experiences with the Brazilian national team. Santana was the coach of the Selecao in the 1982 & 1986 World Cups. The ’82 side in particular is commonly regarded as the finest side never to reach the World Cup Final. Some slack play against Italy allowed Paolo Rossi to score a hat-trick and eliminate Santana’s side – Toninho Cerezo was particularly culpable for a thoughtless pass across his own goal to allow Rossi through. Four years on, Zico’s penalty miss in normal time preceded a shoot-out loss and Brazil were again eliminated from the World Cup, this time at the hands of France. Santana left his role with the Selecao as Jogo Bonito was pushed to one side and the Brazilian national team went for a more pragmatic approach. Santana, however, was not done with his particular footballing philosophy and he was to rebrand it with spectacular results when he joined Sao Paulo in 1990.
This Sao Paulo side was built on quality defence. In those early days, there was the centre-back partnership of Antonio ‘Zago’ Carlos and Ricardo Rocha to rely on. Rocha was soon to move on to Real Madrid but the two combined to provide the base for Sao Paulo’s Campeonato Brasiliero win in 1991. Of more devastating attacking significance was Santana’s use of the full-back positions in his side:
The man who was to go on to become the most capped Brazilian footballer of all-time was arguably the key figure in Sao Paulo’s dominance of club football in the early 90s. He played in both of the club’s Copa Libertadores wins in 1992 and 1993 as well as each of the World Club Championship successes in those same years. Cafu’s calm nerve in the penalty shoot-out was to serve his side well – he scored in the ’92 Libertadores win over Newell’s Old Boys, the ’93 Recopa Sudamericana defeat of Cruzeiro and the ’93 Supercopa Sudamericana victory over Flamengo. When Cafu moved on to enjoy further success with Zaragoza and beyond, the titles dried up and Sao Paulo were simply not the same side.
Leonardo Long before the days when Leonardo was oozing class in the Milan midfield, he was being utilised everywhere from left-back to right-wing by Tele Santana in order to win trophies with Sao Paulo. Leonardo played a vital role in the 1991 Brazilian league title success before moving to Europe with Valencia. However, he was to return to his homeland in glorious style by scoring in both legs of the ’93 Supercopa Sudamericana, helping Sao Paulo defeat Milan in the famous game of ’93 and even scoring in the ’94 Recopa Sudamericana success over Botafogo before moving to Japan after the ’94 World Cup.
The beginning of Sao Paulo’s continental clean sweep came with their first ever Copa Libertadores win in June 1992 over Newell’s Old Boys of Argentina. A 1-0 defeat away from home was reversed in the home leg in front of a huge crowd though to be upwards of 100,000. Rai’s penalty in normal time was repeated in the shoot-out with Cafu also on target as Sao Paulo finally claimed South America’s greatest club prize. It was to begin a rush of continental trophies that would secure this team’s legacy as one of the greatest the world has seen.
The hero that day had been Rai. A mercurial playmaker of considerable talent, Rai is justifiably regarded as one of Sao Paulo’s greatest ever players. He was later to enjoy success with Paris St Germain but endured a bitter-sweet ’94 World Cup - earning a winners medal but having to relinquish the captaincy to Dunga and sitting on the bench for the final 3 games. His finest moment, however, surely came 6 months on from that Libertadores success when he led Sao Paulo to victory against Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona in the World Club Championships in that December of 1992. Down 1-0 to a Hristo Stoichkov goal, Rai was not only to equalise but also grab the winner with a picture perfect free-kick late in the 2nd half (shown below with Osmar Santos’ memorable commentary).
After edging past Newell’s Old Boys and Barcelona in 1992, the 1993 Copa Libertadores was to be Sao Paulo’s most emphatic success. Their old rivals Newell’s were dispatched 4-0 in the 2nd leg of their last 16 clash before Flamengo were disposed of in the Quarter Finals. After shutting out Cerro Portero of Paraguay for 3 hours in the Semi-Final, only Universidad Catolica stood in the way of back-to-back Libertadores triumphs. The first leg in front of 100,000 people in the Estadio do Morumbi was to be the final confirmation that Sao Paulo were the kings of South American football. The Chilean outfit were destroyed 5-1 with Rai again amongst the scorers with a beautiful chested goal in what was (for now at least) to be his farewell gift to the club.
Also among the scorers that day was Sao Paulo’s striker supreme, Muller. He, along with fellow attacking force Palhinha, were virtual ever presents through this period of success for Santana’s side. A strong forward of some skill, Muller was already an established star in the game having enjoyed an impressive spell at Torino in Italy as well as scoring for Brazil in the 1990 World Cup. He added the 5th that day against Universidad Catolica with a sumptuous left-footed lob but was to miss out on Sao Paulo next major triumph – the 1993 Recopa Sudamericana.
The Recopa Sudamericana is now the South American equivalent of the European Super Cup. In September 1993 it was contested between Sao Paulo and Cruzeiro over 2 legs. The football was something of a non-event, with both games finishing goal-less, although Sao Paulo’s shoot-out victory was remarkable in that it featured a high-profile penalty miss by Cruzeiro’s teenage sensation, Ronaldo. Zetti, Sao Paulo’s Brazilian international goalkeeper, was to prove the shoot-out hero once more by tipping Ronaldo’s effort over the bar with his left-hand having dived to his right. Cafu was among the 4 scorers for Sao Paulo and the trophy was in the bag. A few weeks later, yet more silverware was to follow with victory in the Supercopa Sudamericana and the emergence of another superstar…
Juninho Paulista had caught the attention of Tele Santana whilst playing against Sao Paulo for minor outfit Ituano in the Sao Paulo state championships. Santana wasted little time in acquiring the young starlet and before long he was exerting his influence at the Estadio do Morumbi. Juninho really took centre-stage in the Supercopa Sudamericana, a competition between previous Libertadores winners, when he scored in both legs of the final against Flamengo. Each game ended 2-2, with returning hero Leonardo also scoring in both legs, before Sao Paulo completed their now customary penalty shoot-out victory (Leonardo, Cafu and Muller all scoring from the spot).
By this point, what may now be seen as the final piece of the jigsaw in the Sao Paulo side was in place. Toninho Cerezo, the rangy midfield dynamo who had been the villain in Tele Santana’s unsuccessful tilt at the ’82 World Cup, was back to play under his old mentor. Cerezo had first played for Santana at Atletico Mineiro as long ago as 1971 and was now 38 years of age. He was, however, a remarkably young 38. He’d proven this by winning Serie A with Sampdoria just a couple of years earlier and then playing in the 1992 European Cup Final for them against Barcelona. Now Santana had persuaded Cerezo to return to his homeland after a decade in Italy. It was a masterstroke by the wily old coach - the veteran midfielder had one final great performance in him.. and he would save it for the grandest of stages.
December 12th 1993, Sao Paulo 3-2 AC Milan
Their finest hour. Fabio Capello’s AC Milan were filling in for the now disgraced 1993 Champions League winners Olympique de Marseille but this did not make Sao Paulo’s task any easier. Far from it in fact. Milan were on their way to winning the 1994 Scudetto by conceding just 15 goals and their season was to culminate in a 4-0 demolition of Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ to clinch the Champions League. That victory would see Milan hailed in Europe as the best team in the world. This was a view unlikely to be shared by their South American counterparts who had keen memories of the match the previous December when Sao Paulo had done battle with Milan in the National Stadium, Tokyo..
There is just so much to enjoy in Sao Paulo’s performance that day. The opener is a thing of beauty as Cerezo sweeps the ball out left before a crossfield ball falls perfectly for Cafu to pull it back behind the much vaunted Milan defence, where Palhinha is waiting to turn home. Milan’s equaliser is less aesthetically pleasing as Sao Paulo fail to clear a long throw before Marcel Desailly lumps an ugly ball into the box for Daniel Massaro to fire home. 1-1. Just before the hour mark Sao Paulo are ahead again as Palhinha finds Leonardo in the inside left channel where he jinks to the byline before finding the mustachioed figure of Cerezo at the far post for his fairytale goal. Again Milan hit back. Roberto Donadoni chips the ball into the box to find Massaro who heads on for Jean-Pierre Papin to nod home. 2-2. Still Sao Paulo are not done. Good work from Leonardo finds Cerezo – who else – and the old man threads a ball in between Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi that the Milan keeper Sebastiano Rossi can only push against Muller for the striker to bundle home. 3-2 and Sao Paulo are the Champions of the World for the 2nd time in succession.
It is a feat yet to be repeated.
There were other good days to follow. The Recopa Sudamericana was won again the following year, 3-1 vs Botafogo with Leonardo on the scoresheet. Shortly after this, Brazil won the World Cup for the first time in 24 years. Zetti, Cafu, Leonardo, Muller, Rai, Ronaldao & Ricardo Rocha were all in the squad. Sadly however, the team was breaking up. Cafu moved to Europe and Cerezo was approaching retirement, while Ronaldao & Leonardo had already agreed deals to head to Japan. Muller followed them to the Far East later that year – but only after amusingly making a fool of Everton manager Mike Walker by pulling the plug on a move to Merseyside just minutes after a press conference had been called. Juninho did pitch up in England with Middlesbrough the following year, joined later (and somewhat less spectacularly) by Doriva – the youngster who’d done much of the covering for Cerezo that day in Japan.
Decline was confirmed when, finally, Sao Paulo were undone by a shoot-out – losing to Velez Sarsfield in the final of the 1994 Copa Libertadores with Jose Luis Chilavert the hero, scoring at one end and saving at the other. The great Sao Paulo side had been knocked off its perch and the players that had taken them there were moving on. For Tele Santana, the glory days were behind him and he was forced to retire in 1996 after suffering a stroke. Ten years later he sadly passed away having left the world with memories of a sensational Brazilian national side that couldn’t quite lift the greatest prize of them all… and a truly wonderful Brazilian club side that most certainly did.
For some folk, it hasn’t taken long for Manchester City to supercede Chelsea in symbolising all that is wrong with the English Premier League. However, for viewers of a certain vintage, when the television cameras pan to the Eastlands bench and the faces of Roberto Mancini, David Platt and Attilio Lombardo, a somewhat different emotion surfaces. The mind drifts back to that glorious Sampdoria team of the early 90s and, more specifically, the 1993-94 season in which the three players were joined by Ruud Gullit to form an attacking quartet that set Italian football alight. The top scorers in Serie A that season they capped the campaign with a memorable 6-1 Coppa Italia victory over Ancona. This is the story of that team…
The summer of 1993 was a big one for Sampdoria. Sven Goran Eriksson had finished a disappointing 7th in his first season in charge and as a result the club missed out on European football altogether just 12 months after reaching the European Cup Final. Having won the Scudetto in 1991, this was quite the fall from grace and there was some cause to think the club was set to rejoin the also rans of Italian football. Spirits were lifted, however, by the signing of superstar Ruud Gullit. Alberigo Evani also arrived from Milan and, with David Platt coming in from Juventus, a new team was being built.
The signing of Gullit was a masterstroke by owner Paolo Mantovani. The Dutchman’s relationship with Milan coach Fabio Capello had completely broken down in the previous season. Capello had little faith in Gullit’s fitness and froze the player out – famously asking Gullit why he was getting on the coach for an away trip when he had neglected to tell him his services were not required. For the player, the final straw was being left out of the squad for the European Cup Final against Marseille. He of the famous dreadlocks decided to leave and nearly joined Bayern Munich before plumping for Sampdoria. Gullit was outspoken in his relief to be away from the Milan goldfish bowl and the strict regime of Capello. Now it was the family atmosphere of Mantovali’s Sampdoria and the more relaxed coaching style of Eriksson:
“They had not given me a [squad] number yet. They asked me which number I wanted. ‘Give me number 4, I have never played with number 4 yet’. They all laughed and so did I. None of the players made any objections. I just put on the shirt and played the whole season up front with the number 4 shirt on my back”.
The signing of David Platt was perhaps a more low key purchase but it was a hugely significant one. After making a big impact in an ultimately disastrous season for Bari, Platt had earned a move to Juventus but failed to make much of an impression to justify his price tag. The Bianconeri took the opportunity to move the player on and, like Gullit, Platt was to immediately make himself at home in Genoa. Both players grabbed their first Serie A goals for the club in a 2-1 opening day win at Napoli and a memorable season was underway. Gullit went on to score 17 goals that year in league & cup with Platt contributing 11 goals from midfield.
Clearly, the new additions had a huge impact on improving Sampdoria’s fortunes but that is not to say the players already at the club did not make a significant contribution too. Roberto Mancini had been one half of ‘the terrible twins’ at Sampdoria with Gianluca Vialli and he was already established as a club legend. When given the chance to link up with Gullit, they formed arguably one of the most cerebral forward line the world had yet season – two players of impeccable control and stunning vision. Mancini scored 12 goals in 30 Serie A games and featured 7 times in the successful Coppa Italia run.
Attilio Lombardo & Ruud Gullit
Of course, Mancini and Gullit’s remarkable ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play provided opportunities for midfield runners like Platt to steal the headlines. Lurking out on the right-wing was the unmistakable figure of Attilio Lombardo. A pacy dribbler with an eye for goal, Lombardo had arguably the season of his life scoring 8 goals in Serie A. However, it was in Sampdoria’s successful Coppa Italia run that Lombardo really came into his own, scoring 5 times to help win the trophy.
There were other stars in the team. Alberigo Evani, the former Milan midfielder, would go on to score in the penalty shoot-out at the World Cup Final at the end of the season. Gianluca Pagliuca, their charismatic goalkeeper, also played for Italy in that final. Then there was Pietro Vierchowod, the ageing but pacey defender who had already spent a decade at the club, and Vladimir Jugovic, the brilliant Serbian midfielder. As Gullit himself observed: “the team was a good one: they had experienced men as well as a whole group of promising younger players”.
The season began impressively but the death of owner Paolo Mantovali after 7 games of the season hit the family club hard. Defeat to Roma was perhaps inevitable given that everyone surrounding the club was in mourning but game week 10, and the visit of the champions Milan, was to prove a cathartic release for Sampdoria:
For Gullit in particular this was an emotional game – hitting the winner against the club that had made him famous the world over. However, the match was a significant one for the whole of Italy. It was the first time the all-conquering Milan had been knocked off the top of Serie A in an incredible 72 weeks. For the remainder of that season there was no doubt who Italy’s most exciting side were. Sampdoria scored 64 goals to Milan’s 38. Unfortunately, the boys from Genoa also conceded 39 goals compared to the Rossoneri’s miserly 15. Too hit and miss to claim the title, Samp were able to have a tilt at the Coppa Italia that year.. but they did it the hard way..
Things began in ignominious fashion with a penalty shoot out victory over Pisa after two 0-0 draws. There was another struggle against Roma where goals from Lombardo and Platt took Samp to another shoot-out where they edged through 7-6 on penalties. Next it was Inter, with Lombardo securing a 1-0 win at home before Gullit scored to earn the draw needed in the San Siro. Wins home and away over Parma in the semi-final, with Lombardo, Platt & Gullit grabbing the goals, meant Sampdoria had negotiated a tricky path to the final where they were huge favourites to defeat midtable Serie B outfit Ancona. A 0-0 draw away was not quite part of the plan but there was to be a glorious finale:
It was only appropriate that there should be some silverware for the club at the end of a thrilling and emotional season. Unfortunately, this particular team was not one that would stay together and go on to reach greater heights. Gullit, after a brief return to Milan, exited for good in the summer of 1995. Platt and Lombardo also moved on. The side was broken up, seemingly for good, but the memory of that team has been reignited by Mancini’s reign at Manchester City. As a coach, he has a reputation for his cautious approach. Maybe this will serve City well, but if a more progressive approach should be required then Roberto will only have to glance across the bench to his old friends Platty and Attilio to be reminded of how exciting a team can be.
Stjarnan FC is an Icelandic football team founded in 1960. They play at Stjornuvollur, a ground with a capacity of just 1,000, and have never won the Icelandic league title. In short, there is very little about Stjarnan that would indicate the club’s on field activities could ever be the subject of international discussion. Until that is, some of their players hit upon the idea of injecting a little fun into their goal celebrations…
The world sat up and took notice when striker Halldor Orri Bjornsson hit the winner against Fylkir last month and his post-goal celebration was caught on camera, blazing a trail across the world wide web. Johann Laxdal is the man doing an uncanny and frankly unnervingly accurate representation of a fish:
Laxdal is now the subject of a fan page on Facebook and is presumably being contacted by unscrupulous agents working out how best to cash in on this new found fame as we speak. For now though, the Stjarnan boys are content to spend their time building up their repertoire of new moves – there has been a ballroom dancing celebration, a marching parade and a Rambo style shooting spree but thus far this, the Human Bicycle, is probably the best of the rest:
Everyone now has a new favourite Icelandic team, and who’d have thought they’d be saying that a month ago.
The men pictured above are arguably the greatest club side in the history of the Italian game. Either side of the Second World War, Il Grande Torino won 5 consecutive Serie A titles, setting a whole host of records, many of which still stand today. Between 1943 and 1949 they went a Mourinho-esque 93 games unbeaten at home, winning 19 of their 20 home games in 1947-48, a season in which they scored 125 goals and conceded just 33.
Their greatest player of all was captain, Valentino Mazzola. Indeed, Italy’s World Cup winning Coach of 1982, Enzo Bearzot labelled him “The greatest Italian player of all time, he was a man who could carry his whole team”. An attacking midfielder, Mazzola appears to have been a player who had it all. He certainly won it all, claiming 5 championship titles in his 5 seasons with the club. Revered Italian sports journalist Gianni Brera neatly sums it up: “He could take off like a sprinter, run like a middle-distance racer and shoot with either foot like a striker. He could leap like an acrobat, win the ball back for the defence and then set up attacks which he often finished off himself. He was both a playmaker and a match-winner.”
Aside from Mazzola, the team was littered with great players. For a friendly against Hungary in 1947, the Italian national team’s starting XI included a staggering 10 Torino players, only the goalkeeper not coming from the Il Granata ranks. Other notable players from the team were midfield presence Eusebio Castigliano, acrobatic striker Guglielmo Gabetto and the defender Aldo Ballarin. Together they regularly infilicted devastating defeats on their famous rivals. Perhaps the most notable was the April 1946 defeat of Roma in the capital – 6-0 up after just 19 minutes, the Torino stars were advised by manager Luigi Ferrero that there was no need to humiliate their opponents and the match ended 7-0 with the Roma fans applauding Torino from the pitch.
Tragically, of course, we will never know what Mazzola and his team mates could have gone on to achieve following their dominance of the 1940s. On the 4th May 1949, the plane carrying the entire Torino first team back from a friendly in Lisbon, crashed on approach to Turin, killing all 31 on board. The disaster was seemingly the result of pilot error. The city of Turin was in mourning and the small town of Superga on the outskirts of Turin, where the accident occurred, serves as an ongoing reminder of the tragic loss. The genius of the players remains an unfinished symphony.
Obviously, it is impossible to say how much more this team could have won, but with most of the victims under the age of 30, it is tempting to say they would have dominated the early 1950s at least. This era would also see the advent of the infamous ‘floodlit friendlies’, where the behemoths of European football regulars locked horns. One English newspaper labelled Wolverhampton Wanderers the best team in the world following their victory over Honved at Molineux in 1954, leading to the development of a more organised European Cup inspired by Frenchman, Gabriel Hanot. The label was soon to be proven erroneous as Real Madrid came to dominate European football but it would have been fascinating to see how Torino’s attacking 4-2-4 formation, that would later be used so brilliantly by Brazil a decade on, would have fared against the giants of the game at that time.
Unsurprisingly, the Superga Air Disaster would also have massive ramifications on the Italian national team. A heavily depleted Italy, who were reigning World Champions, failed to progress past the second round of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. The loss of the back bone of their team and the economic conditions following the Second World War made Italy reluctant to attend at all, only being persuaded weeks before. The poor performance of the holders can be put down to the loss of the Torino players, but also to the fact that in fear of another disaster, the team travelled to Brazil by boat, a two week journey, which needless to say was far from ideal preparation. Bizarrely, following their early exit, the team flew back to Italy.
Torino would never relive the glory days of the 1940s, with only one Serie A title since, in 1975-76. One of the poignant legacies of Il Grande Torino was the success of Alessandro Mazzola, son of Valentino. Sandro spent his entire career at Inter Milan, winning a mass of titles and accolades, including back to back European Cup wins, in what was Inter’s greatest era in the 1960’s. He made 70 appearances for Italy, taking part in the 1966, 1970 and 1974 World Cups. Despite his success, Sandro Mazzola found it hard living up to his father’s legacy..
“It was tough for me as a boy because everyone who came to see me play thought I was going to be as good as my dad – and I wasn’t that talented.” – Sandro Mazzola (4 Serie A titles, 2 European Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups, 1 European Championships & World Cup Final runner-up)