Thursday 28 June 2018

Future Path Unclear for Loew

The return to Frankfurt will bear little resemblance to that of four years ago when Juergen Loew and the German national team landed as world champions. This time after just one win out of three matches at Russia 2018 – including a sensational defeat by South Korea – the silence at the Deutscher Fuessball Bund (DFB) given Loew’s newly signed contract – will be deafening. As will the crowd at the airport. But the silence surely to be broken given the insipid and lethargic performances at the World Cup by the national team. With key players from four years ago absent without trace in Kazan when faced with an industrious South Korean side that played until the final whistle. Withy many senior players looking on absolutely bemused and lost on the field. 

Undoubtedly as holders there is more pressure and Germany confirmed the sequence that afflicted holders previously such as Italy, Spain, Brazil – and making a first-round exit. Proving yet again that reigning champions usually fail to pass the test four years after winning. Making consecutive world cup wins virtually an impossible task. However, for Germany there were signs during the Champions League of problems with some of their key men: Manuel Neuer’s season truncated with injury and looking only a shadow of his former self; Matt Hummels looking past his sell by date when Bayern faced Real Madrid over two legs; as did Thomas Mueller and indeed Jerome Boateng. 

It may also reflect a growing concern about the strength of the Bundesliga as it now is just a two or three team league. Given then that the Munich club delivers the majority of the national squad it all seems too cosy and lacking a competitive edge. As it may for Spain with a number of the players now over cooked after a long season with Real Madrid and perhaps too many years at international level. Or simply aging poorly in the modern game where their club is the main interest. In Germanys’ case Thomas Mueller fell victim to a similar fate and is nothing close to the MVP of Brazil four years ago. Not unlike Boateng, who apart from suffering an injury in the second games, cannot operate any longer in an environment where the game is not played at Bundesliga pace. Indeed, against Mexico the quick feet seemed to show up his weaknesses. 

In midfield the loss of a generations of talent such as Bastian Schweinsteiger was very noticeable with Toni Kroos a different style of player. Or losing Philippe Lahm who was more often than not operating as a right-sided midfielder rather than right full back. Then up front the loss of Lukas Podolski or Miroslav Klose makes Mario Gomez look less than average as the Germanys strike force on Wednesday night. The number 9 usually the heartbeat of their teams from the days of Ui Seeler in 1966, Gerd Mueller in 1974; Karl-Hein Rummenigge and Hansi Muller in 1978; Pierre Littbarski, Klaus Fischer and Rummenigge again in 1982; Rudi Voeller in 1986; or as in 1990 with Klinsmann; then for years later in 1994 with Oliver Bierhoff; followed by arrival of Klose and Christophe Metzelder and then Podolski. Apart from a curious era where Carsten Janckers was the best Germany could offer up front. 

Yet Loew did not favour blooding new talent in the past four years and understandably after losing the first game against Mexico he did not have the luxury. Precluding nothing more than token opportunities for the likes of Julian Brandt, Jonas Hector, Sebastián Rudy or Nikias Sule. All of whom did show signs of a hunger that the senior players seemed to lack. But it was only a glimpse of a future that Loew did not seem yet to believe in. Clearly, the German squad reflected the tried and tested where the management remained comfortable since the departure of Juergen Klinsmann post 2006 world cup where Germany reached the semi-finals in their homeland. 

Although able to possibly irritate people, Klinsmann was always thinking and trying new things and his squads were always on their toes. But Loew operates the exact opposite and the predictability of not seeking inconvenience may have caught up with him. As did the qualifying where they won all their games with Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, San Marino and Azerbaijan. Arriving in Russia over confident and untested. Obviously in 2014 Loew worked with a hungry squad burdened with years of failure and desperate to win the trophy that the Franz Beckenbauer achieved for the nation - both as a player and manager. And never stopped reminding anyone who would listen. 

Then in 2014 the results of their national project started by the DFB post 2000-euro failure that moved the Bundesliga away from foreign players and in turn created centres of excellence at the clubs that delivered the world cup in 2010. The Nationalmannschaft’ S success had been patiently planned, engineered and inculcated as is the German way with nation by then waiting for such a victory for over a decade. 

"The lowest point came in Euro 2000 -- that was German football's nadir: very poor performances, a very poor team and very poor management," German football expert Ralph Honigstein told CNN in 2014. “It was Germany's performance in the 2002 World Cup, where they lost in the final to Brazil, helped papered over the cracks, but it would take another two years for the real changes to the national game to filter through. "The grass roots reforms were already in place by the time Jurgen Klinsmann took over with Joachim Low in 2004," added Honigstein.

"The 10-year development you've seen culminate in Brazil benefited from two changes being made at more or less the same time. Youth development was instilled to make sure young players were much better educated and had better facilities and coaching.” Honigstein explained, "And at the same time there was a change of philosophy and footballing ideas at the very top -- after 10 years these two elements fused quite brilliantly to deliver the World Cup. 

"You have to credit the chairman of the German Football Association (DFB) at the time, Gerhard Mayer, who realized the needs for reform. He was able to get all the Bundesliga clubs, including the big ones, on board. 

"They all signed up to create academies and there was a spirit of cooperation, which was especially pronounced in those years, because Germany had won the right to host a World Cup in 2006. There was a real fear the team and the footballing nation might embarrass themselves as hosts if they didn't make changes," said Honigstein. However, Germany's blueprint for change didn't come cheap and it needed the clubs to work closely with the DFB. 

"You need a lot of money and you need the commitment to do it. Very few countries could replicate what Germany has done. You have to consider they now have 366 centres of excellence for youth development throughout the country.” Albeit Bayern Munich has been the driving force of the national team because they produce the best youngsters, and they buy the best German players and hone them, to make them even better. It was no coincidence that when Bayern did well in the 1970’s, 1990’s and now, the national team has benefited. 

"Bayern, under former president Uli Hoeness, always kept the greater good of the national team at the back of their minds and that's an important factor for the success of German football," explained Honigstein. In Brazil Schweinsteiger would dedicate Germany's final performance to Hoeness, as the man responsible for many of the players being where they are. 

Such long-term planning and dedication to a single goal, by the time the last match was being played in Brazil in 2014, was in the final throes of its application. The squad and the 11 men on the pitch were the fruition of a design drawn up long ago. The path to glory sewn into the psyche of everyone involved as Honigstein explained, "The reality is, as soon as you start winning a lot of things people want to see you fail. You can play beautiful football, but people soon want another team to come to the fore and accuse you of arrogance if you win too easily. 

"Germany can still grow as a team with some really exciting youngsters, the likes of Marco Reus and Julian Draxler, coming through," added Honigstein, "I think the future is bright, but will Germany be adopted as the world's favourite team? I doubt it very much." The reality in 2018 shows that there is also matching declined from the top of a loss of hunger and a premature collapse. 

The truth is that a status quo has now developed where Loew was at his weakest it would appear form the outside. Underpinned by a declining talents and players that have become accustomed to having it their own way. With Mesut Ozil it was an error to persists with him and the team played better when he - and also Hummels and Mueller - were out against Sweden. Indeed, also Boateng was poor and quite rightly got suspended for a bad tackle in the second game. The ability of Draxler was never tested at this level despite doing it regularly at PSG, Schalke and Wolfsburg over the years. 

Others now need now to be given the chance over the coming four years and clear some of the deadwood. Five players are a carryover from South Africa and that reflects on Loew Teutonic system -which is far too rigid. 

Kroos as a midfield player is talented yet not in the physical and driving style of a Schweinsteiger or Lothar Matthaeus. Playing the role for Germany that Deschamps did for France - water carrying role. Albeit a bit more sophisticated one at Real Madrid - where Modric is the designated playmaker. For Germany that role is lost and the likes of Uli Hoeness, Rainer Bonhof or Michael Ballack types are missing. With Loew seemingly confused by his options and never sure whether up front Timo Werner is his best choice or Gomez. Pushing Mueller wider where he was truly ineffective. In Saami Khedira there was a lack of clarity for a game and a half. Yet as a tracking midfielder is what he does very well at Juventus 

Clearly the reliance on Ozil, a much-maligned player at Real Madrid, Arsenal and with Germany for his languid style, seems to have been a source of problems. Even outside the squad from past players; “Ozil’ s body language is like that of a dead frog, it’s pathetic,” Mario Basler, a Euro 96 winner with Die Mannschaft, told German television. Basler is known for being deliberately outspoken so Lothar Matthaeus’s criticism in his column with Sport Bild was considered more damning. “For a year or two, Özil has played much weaker and at a level that does not justify Jogi Loew's free ticket,” said Matthaeus, who played in five World Cups for Germany and won the tournament in 1990. 

"With Özil on the pitch I often have the feeling that he does not feel comfortable in the German jersey, almost as if he does not want to play. There is no heart, no joy, no passion.” 

Stefan Effenburg struck a similar tone and accused Low of making a “completely misjudgement” by starting Ozil over Reus against Mexico. Which would suggest that Loew has a limited future as the four-times champions, who have reached the last eight in 16 consecutive World Cups. 

Its the first time Germany have failed to pass the group stage since 1938.

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Wednesday 27 June 2018

Germany Record Loew in Russia

Germany manager Joachim Low says his side deserved to go out of the World Cup after they crashed out in the group stage in "historic" fashion. The defending champions finished bottom of Group F after losing 2-0 to South Korea, the first time Germany have gone out in the first round of a World Cup since 1938.

"This is something for us to reckon with," Low said. "This is historic. I am sure this will create some public uproar in Germany."

Sweden won the group with a 3-0 win over Mexico at the same time, which meant Germany needed to win their game in Kazan.

"We saw Sweden had taken the lead so we needed to keep the pressure up but our team was missing the ease of play and the classiness we usually have. So, we deserve to be eliminated, yes," said Low, who had never failed to reach a semi-final before in his 12-year reign.

"At this tournament we didn't deserve to win again or move to the round of 16. We were eliminated not because we didn't want to win but we never had the chance to take a lead at any point - we were always lagging behind, trying to keep up."

Both of the South Korean goals came in injury time. Kim Young-gwon scored from close range, a goal initially disallowed for offside but then awarded after video assistant referee consultation. And with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer losing the ball in South Korea's half, Ju Se-jong found Son Heung-min with a long ball and the Tottenham forward tapped into an empty net.

This is only the second time that Germany have been eliminated in the first round at a World Cup, with the last occasion back in 1938 before the tournament introduced group stages. In fact Germany had reached at least the semi-final in their last four World Cups - getting to the final twice. This is only their third time not reaching the last four since 1978, with quarter-final exits in 1994 and 1998 their worst runs in the following 40 years

Germany are the fourth defending champions to be eliminated from the group stage at the World Cup in the last five tournaments (also France 2002, Italy 2010, Spain 2014). This is the first time Germany have not beaten an Asian team in the World Cup, winning the previous five meetings by an aggregate scoreline of 19-3

Germany lost their opener 1-0 to Mexico, but then beat Sweden 2-1, thanks to Toni Kroos' 95th-minute winner to give themselves hope going into the final game. Low decided to leave Thomas Muller - who has scored 10 World Cup goals in his career - on the bench for the first time in the tournament since the 2010 semi-final against Spain.

"According to what I saw today this was a good line up, Thomas Muller was not so convincing in the first two matches so I thought I would make a point. We had to take risks, we couldn't go on and wait and because of this we opened the doors in our defence.

"We had a good training camp, the team has worked well and we felt we would shift gears but we lost to Mexico when a point might have been different and we just couldn't make that switch.

"We were convinced that when the tournament started things would go well but that wasn't the case.

"We've been stepping up the pressure to score goals, certainly in second halves, but it didn't come together. We were dead, after their first goal. We realised there would be no opportunities for us.

"I'm shocked because we didn't manage to pull it off and beat South Korea. It wasn't my understanding when speaking to the team that they felt under pressure. They were ready to move ahead and qualify. We need to talk about it calmly and I think it will take some hours for us to come to terms with it."

Who is Florentino Perez

Florentino Perez Rodriguez splits his time between Spain's largest construction company, Grupo ACS (Actividades de Construccion y Servicios) and the world's most valuable sports team, Real Madrid. 

Perez essentially invented Real Madrid's modern business model, signing major stars like David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane in his first tenure as president, between 2000 and 2006, boosting commercial revenues and making the team number one in terms of worldwide sales. 

Re-elected in 2009, Florentino's Real Madrid outpaced Manchester United to become the world's most valuable soccer club in 2013. Florentino has also been president and CEO of Grupo ACS since 1997. 

He owns a 12.5% stake in the global construction company and his current net worth is estimated at $1.64b.

Pérez first ran for the presidency of Real Madrid in the 1995 election and campaigned on the poor financial situation of the club and the alleged mismanagement by the board. On that occasion he lost to the much loved incumbent Ramón Mendoza.

His second attempt was more successful when he took over as president in 2000, beating the current chairman at that time, Lorenzo Sanz. 

In his campaign Pérez also promised the incredible - to bring in Luís Figo from Barcelona – which played a key role in the outcome of the elections. He was then re-elected in 2004 on a similar platform – a policy to bring some of the best football players in the world to Real Madrid each season. 

The strategy became made the Real Madrid squad became known as Galácticos. 

In 2001, Zinedine Zidane was signed from Juventus for a then-world record transfer fee of €73.5 million. A move that was followed in 2009 with Ronaldo, after short periods of David Beckham and Michael Owen playing at the club in their later years. The Brazilian superstar Robinho was also signed in 2005 but failed to impress and was off loaded to Manchester City.

In the first Perez Presidency Real Madrid won two Spanish Championships and a record ninth Champions League trophy. The club also sold the valuable Ciudad Deportiva training ground in central Madrid and cleared the club’s outstanding debt.

In the 2002–03 season, Pérez decided not to renew Vicente del Bosque's contract, despite Real capturing a 29th La Liga title. The move led to the departure of a number of the old guard including Fernando Hierro, Fernando Morientes, Steve McManaman and Claude Makélélé.

Regardless increased financial success came the club’s way as it exploited marketing potential around the world, especially in Asia and North America. However, increasing criticism for the marketing of the brand and not enough success on the football pitch, saw Perez resign in 2006, acknowledging that the team and the club needed a new direction.

Amidst the economic crisis Pérez was the only one able to provide the €57,389,000 guarantee necessary to run for the presidency in 2008

In 2013 Pérez was awarded a fourth term as the Real Madrid president and brought in PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti – one of only six people to have lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup as both a player and coach. Also the second manager, after Bob Paisley, to win the trophy three times. As a player he won back-to-back European Cup triumphs in 1989 and 1990.

Pérez also brought Welsh footballer and PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur for €100m - again breaking the world record. 

Florentino also announced Real is seeking to sell the naming rights for its stadium and looking for a sponsor for the €400 million project. The proposed design of the stadium renovation, produced by German architects GMP, was unveiled in 2014. 

The new design includes a retractable roof, with the overall cost of around €400m likely to be met half via the sale of naming rights and half via a bond issue to Real members. 

"We want to make the Santiago Bernabéu the best stadium in the world".

The same season proved a resounding success, as Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey and its much sought after tenth Champions League title – La Decima

In 2015 Ancelotti’s contract was not renewed and his replacement was former Liverpool, and Napoli manager Rafa Benitez – and local boy come good - who joined last June.

On January 4th 2016 Zinedine Zidane replaced Rafa.

It has been a long-time dream of Florentino Perez that a former Galactico manage the Galacticos. The most decorated French footballer now gets that chance and Perez will hoe that he does not have a Materazzi moment.

Factfile - Florentino Perez
Age: 68
Source of Wealth: construction, Self-Made
Residence: Madrid, Spain
Citizenship: Spain
Marital Status: Married
Children: 3 
#12 billionaire in in Spain

Last five Real Madrid managers
Win percentage
Juande Ramos 2008-2009 66%
Manuel Pellegrini 2009-2010 75%
Jose Mouirnho 2010-2013 72%
Carlo Ancelotti 2013-2015 75%

Rafael Benitez 2015-2016 68%

Footie Quotes - Franz Beckenbauer

"The trouble for today's footballers is they have too many distractions. We used to get our old players coming to watch training with football magazines in their hands. Now, more often than not, they are checking the share prices."

Franz Beckenbauer

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ARCHIVE - German Football in Crisis

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There is a serious crisis afoot in Germany and it has been worrying the nation for many years, and this week raised it’s ugly head once more in the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv as the "The Mannschaft" readied to face the old enemy, Holland. 

Even in the deepest Ukraine the German football team would have been aware that 1996 was the last time the national team held the European Championship trophy, and 1990 since last seizing the World Cup title. So the two nil defeat from the Netherlands was efficient and effective, done with flair and no little skill, and followed by the minimum of celebrations as nothing has yet been won to solve the crisis. 

With a team averaging 23 years of age the German Football Federation DFB is now looking to reap the rewards on July 1st in Kiev for some of their long term planning. For them it is no surprise that four of the current team played in the EURO 2008 final, with a number of the others on the subs bench. 

But for Germans the crisis arose not after that loss in Vienna, but many years before when the game was actually on a high in 1997 with Borussia Dortmund winning the Champions League and Schalke 04 becoming UEFA Cup champions. Just a year after the win at Wembley in EURO 1996 final against the Czech Republic. The crisis identified at the time, was a lack of quality players in the Bundesliga

Part of the problem being that the ready supply of former east German professionals – arriving since unification in 1989 – and products of those specialised sports schools which they joined at a young age in the old German Democratic Republic were no longer in existence. To compound the problem Bundesliga clubs were busy with the newly discovered TV money and were spending their budgets on big name players from abroad – a number that grew from 17 percent in 1992 to 34 percent five years later. Then reaching 50% by the year 2000. 

All leading to a crisis for the national manager Berti Vogts who was faced with a serious lack of German strikers in the Bundesliga to select for major tournaments. 

Consequently the Deutsche Fussball Bund [DFB] went through an emergency phase of chasing anyone with a vague German background, offering citizenship to South African Sean Dundee playing for Karlsruher, and then Brazilian Paulo Rink of Leverkusen. Neither of whom proved a long term solution forcing the DFB in 1999 - under their vice president of day - Franz Beckenbauer to seek a better alternative. For that purpose he collected the input from a number of key football people in Germany. The result of which were two key initiatives. 

The first was to create 121 national talent centres to help 10 to 17 year-olds with technique, and a requirement for all 36 professional clubs in Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 to build youth academies. Fortunately their initiative also coincided also with the liberalisation of the citizenship laws and a willingness by the DFB to actively integrate young footballers from the new immigrant groups. In 2000 when Germany were named hosts of 2006 World Cup it accelerated that vision as the country came together to boost the national footballing effort. 

But perhaps the biggest happenstance in the domestic game – which at first appeared a major crisis – was the collapse in 2002 of Kirch TV, the company that been funding the Bundesliga for over a decade. Not unlike the ITV Digital’s collapse in 2002 in the UK, it left many clubs with over-geared budgets, huge wage bills that would have only been possible through TV money - and could not be honoured anymore. As result many players were then released. 

In Germany the Kirch collapse meant that the imported players, all attracted to the Bundesliga by the generous pay scales, were on their way out. The result being that it then propelled the unknown younger local talent into the first team of many Bundesliga clubs - by default. Ironically it has been onward and upward in German football ever since. 

In Spain the history is probably slightly different, but in the same vein, as the academies of Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona and Real Madrid are producing talents such Ces Fabregas, Xavi, Lionel Messi, Raul, Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres, all learning to play a system at Barcelona for instance, which was a legacy of Johan Cruyff's affinity with the club since 1973. 

The result of which has been La Liga teams dominant in the European Cup competitions, including this year as the Europa League final was played between Valencia and Atletico de Madrid, with Athletic Bilbao eliminated in the semi-final. Which in away addresses the misnomer that Spanish football is just about the two top clubs – Real and Barca. 

Let us not forget either the French successes in the 1998 World Cup and the EURO 2000 were a product of the French Football Federation [FFF] blueprint at Clairefontaine which cultivated players of the calibre of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, David Trezeguet, and so on. With a number of high profile coaches like Gerard Houllier also establishing reputations all over Europe. 

All long term development and a story often told by former Republic of Ireland manager, Brian Kerr, given that he came across many of those names during his time at under age tournaments he attended all over the world for the Football Association of Ireland. The amazing thing being that most of them made it through to the national team, as the new players continue to do for France to this day.

All of which some how will lead us back to the undoubted recriminations for the Republic of Ireland, the Football Association of Ireland and manager Giovanni Trapattoni, after the team became the first side to be eliminated from EURO 2012 after the 4 – 0 rout by world champions Spain in Gdansk. 

More worryingly however for Irish football, is what good is the Premier League in England as ot offers little of the learning apparent in the German Bundesliga. In fact it is is evidenced every time an England manager gets injuries in his squad ahead of a major tournament as there seems little strength in depth.

For all the good Peter Scudamore CEO of the Premier League might claim for the domestic game the facts do not bear that benefit out in real terms as young English players are failing to get into their club sides given the competition from the increasing number of overseas players. Which is not a jingoistic observation, but a factual one as at least 65% of the players in English game are now foreigners. 

The top source for players being France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – and in that order. 

When it comes to the English national team and injuries occur to players like Frank Lampard or Gareth Barry, there always appears to be no replacements at hand or even being blooded. Yet an English team has either won or appeared in the Champions League every other year since 2005 – the top club competition in Europe – too often three quarters overseas players. 

But if all the young talent from the club academies was blooded correctly then it would not be an issue for the national team. This proclivity highlighted even more when clubs announce their transfers in the close season, as the chances are few players are being chased. Unlike the days of the record breaking signings of Alan Shearer, Gary Lineker and Roy Keane. 

Soon it will;  be difficult to justify the costly club academies when agents keep providing cheaper overseas options, and clubs are unable recoup their investment with regular transfer fees of the players they have developed since 15 or 16 years of age. Also, domestic players appear to be more costly – given the valuation of Andy Carroll at £35m last season as an index.
No doubt some day there will be a Kirch type moment when fans, sponsors or pay-tv subscribers find the Premier League no longer attractive. Or value for money and the income slows down. 

At least one of the highest earners in the world Wayne Rooney is eligible for England and his salary of £17.6m will see some return as long as Manchester United remain a top Champions League club. The striker also scores for the national team regular. However the salaries for Sergio Aguero at Manchester City of £14.7m and Yaya Toure on £13.9m or indeed, Fernando Torres at Chelsea are costly to the game as it’s currently structured and that income that is leaving the English game. 

In Germany, Philip Lahm is the highest paid player on £11.9M, and in fairness it’s a right earned after a nearly a decade playing for his national team – and his German club Bayern Munich. 

With the new BSkyB and British Telecom deal worth £3.018 billion to the Premier League - a substantial increase on the current £1.178 billion three-year UK deal that runs until the end of the 2012-13 season - it would be naive to believe that this increased money will not be spent by club’s to increase wages for some players. Or allow clubs chase some up to now unobtainable targets on the continent. Which all only adds to the long term problem 

In the more modest Irish case, the cost of Trapattoni and his backroom team, does not come cheap either - albeit it is subsidised between the FAI and a leading businessman. 

With qualification for Poland and Ukraine accruing significant prizemoney from UEFA - of about €8m - the costs of that are covered in many ways. However the poor results on Thursday and Sunday show that the same money could be used for a longer term strategy, as at the age of 73 Giovanni Trapattoni is hardly the future for the next batch of Irish players for the Brazil 2014 world cup campaign. 

Unless, Marco Tardelli is the automatic replacement and the continuity – in the German style of Klinsmann and his assistant Joachim Loew - by the Football Association of Ireland. Otherwise we just repeat the problems that have beset the FA in England over the years with managers and other countries 

In the meantime the short term chasing qualification for tournaments with no real longer term, strategy seems wasteful - and Gdansk proved that point beyond doubt. Indeed, even if Pep Guardiola was managing Republic of Ireland there is only so far guile, guts and gusto can get a team at this level. 

The absence of a serious domestic league – as exists in every other country in Europe – truncates the development of Irish players into the hands of clubs in Scotland, England and Wales. With all the quirks that managerial changes at any given club can have on a player's long term career. 

Which in effect will always dictate the Republic of Ireland’s future and always be the limitation on the ability to improve much beyond 18th place in the current world rankings. 

In the short term though, and like the Dutch FA, Irish football needs to accept a series of strategic objectives as the DFB started in 1997, if the fans are to travel to far flung destinations of Poznan, Suwon, New York and Stuttgart. Just carrying the torch of hope for moral support is no longer a "plan". Or indeed blueprint for anything other than nights singing Ole Ole Ole.

As part of Irelands’ strategic goal there must be real targets in place  and the involvement of former players - like Roy Keane – who should be asked to help on some key deliverables from English clubs where they have influence. As former managers too they could work for the long term gain of Irish football and in return ensure a minimum target is met of qualification every two years to the major football tournaments. After all, the next EURO will have 24 teams qualifying and the world cup is already extended to an inordinate number of teams, which makes it unfeasible on both counts for any Republic of Ireland manager as it is 

What the EURO 2012 has shown that an absence of ten years since the last time Ireland qualified for Korea and Japan, a generation of fans missed out on Germany 2006, Euro 2008 and South Africa 2010. Meaning the expectation for fans this time around in Poland was based on the folklore handed down by those who had actually been in Stuttgart, Genoa or New York. All grossly exaggerated and bearing no reality to the real task at hand in a tough 16 team tournament where the opponents in Group C were Croatia, Italy and Spain. 

Which barring an upset offered little chance for Ireland to further progress. 

Sadly the BSkyB deal maybe the death knell for development of future Irish talent and will mean that the days of seeing the likes of Liam Brady, Roy Keane, Niall Quinn, Kevin Moran, Ronnie Whelan, Paul McGrath – in large numbers - at major clubs may never be repeated in our lifetime. The national team will be the loser of that experience and reliant on players battling it out in the championship Or at best the struggling Premier League teams. 

All very unlike the EURO 1988 squad where the Irish players were stars at major clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Aston Villa, or Celtic - and to boot were all winners in their own right of League titles, FA or League Cups. But those days too seem of a bygone era. 

And the Germans think they have a crisis?

Republic of Ireland, EURO 1988 team 
Packie Bonner: Celtic 
Scottish League: 1979, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988, Scottish Cup: 1980, 1988; Scottish League Cup: 1983 

Chris Morris, Celtic 
Scottish League: 1988, Scottish Cup: 1988; 

Chris Hughton; Tottenham Hotspur 
FA Cup: Winner 1981 & 1982), UEFA Cup 1984; FA Charity Shield: Winner (1981), runner up (1982). 

Mick McCarthy; Celtic 
Scottish Premier League 1988; Scottish Cup 1988 

Kevin Moran; Manchester United 
Dublin GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (2): 1976, 1977; Leinster Senior Football Championship (3): 1975, 1976, 1977; Manchester United FA Cup 1982–83, 1984–85; FA Charity Shield 1983 

Ronnie Whelan; Liverpool 
League Championship 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988; FA Cup 1986; League Cup 1982, 1983, 1984; Charity Shield; 1982, 1986, 1988; European Cup 1984 Super Cup 1986 

Paul McGrath, Manchester United 
FA Cup: 1985 

Ray Houghton; Liverpool 
League Championship 1988; League Cup 1986; 

John Aldridge; Liverpool 
Newport County Welsh Cup 1980; Oxford United, 3rd Division Winners 1984; 2nd Division, Winner 1985; Football League Cup 1986; League Championship 1988; Charity Shield 1988; 

Frank Stapleton; Manchester United 
Arsenal FA Cup 1979; Manchester United Charity Shield 1983; FA Cup 

Tony Galvin; Tottenham Hotspur 
FA Cup winner 1981; FA Cup winner 1982; UEFA Cup winner 1984 

First publshed June 15th 2012

In the Summer of 1974

In late summer 1974 Panathinaikos played Real Madrid in a testimonial for Ignacio Zoco - a club stalwart – and holder of 7 La Liga Titles, one European Cup, two Copa’s del Rey and a UEFA Cup medal winner to boot. A regular in those great sides of the 1960’s with his final La Liga trophy won just two years previously in 1972. So an emotional night for this great player and ultimate club man whose skills were also rewarded with 25 caps for Spain - and a place on the EURO winning side of 1964. Another trophy secured like many for his club, at his beloved Santiago Bernabeu stadium, the venue for his last outing in the all-white strip.

That warm summer night in the Spanish capital also saw the debut of some of the newer generation, including world cup medal winner, Paul Breitner. Who only weeks after scoring a penalty at the Olympia Stadion in Munich - against the clockwork Orange – made the move to play in La Liga. All memories still vivid today of the changing of the guard at Real, but also how valued a player like Zoco was to the club and honoured when his playing days were ending. Reflective perhaps of another era in football where a man so polite and friendly could also be a fierce competitor on the field of play. Earning such adulation that the stadium was full to its 100,000 capacity for his goodbye. A far cry from today when players are inaccessible and lengthy stays at any one club rarely exceed beyond three seasons.

Zoco was perhaps that first encounter with a footballing god from a previous era and so his passing last month due to illness - thirty years after seeing him retire - resonated. As did the memory of meeting Breitner after the match, alongside compatriot Gunter Netzer, who was already established at the club following his move from Monchengladbach. Both living legends at the time and hard to believe that I was in the presence of greatness that just weeks previously were mere coloured images on the TV screen. Those memories have this week been resurrected for a number of other reasons. And not all them good ones. 

As Germany 74 was the first world cup for which there are clear and distinct recollections. Or the first one also that I fully comprehended given that Mexico 1970 was just still too early on my timeline. Albeit I remember watching it in black and white during a typically hot Madrid summer and the first sight of the brilliance of Edson Arantes do Nascimento in all his splendour. A man I came to learn my Father saw in the street one day when we lived in Sao Paulo, but unfortunately never asked for his autograph. An error for which forgiveness has now been granted having met the man in person outside the Rose Bowl at the 1994 world cup final. 

The year Roberto Baggio gifted Dunga’s dreadful team their first FIFA World Cup trophy and fourth win in total.

But it was the news that Johan Cruyff faces the toughest battle of his life that served as a timely reminder of those halcyon days. As well as unstoppable march of time as Cruyff is now 68 years and requires more tests following his lung cancer diagnosis. A news story that shouldn’t be surprising since I first saw him smoking on the Barcelona team bus after match with Real Madrid in 1973. A story that no one would believe for years given it was unimaginable and tarnished his role on that mesmeric 74 Dutch side - that marked the start of my love for the beautiful game. As well the first contact with total football as his work at Barcelona was less fully appreciated given it was coloured by a Real Madrid bias that is still virulent to this very day.

However his contribution at Camp Nou was ably supported by other Johan – the tireless Neeskens – who for a number of years was the willing counterfoil to the majestic stride of his club and national captain. Both of whom it was also great to meet before one of those famous Derby’s when Jose Antonio Camacho would almost hunt Cruyff down for a full ninety minutes and on to the team bus. In tough games that never needed Sky Sports to brand as Clasicos as in most cases were far from it as so much more was at stake now. Yet in those days up until the death of General Franco in late 1975 the visit of Barcelona to Madrid was a major event. Only sufferable if the Whites vanquished the Azulgrana on home soil thus making it always a matter of national importance. 

In all clashes Cruyff played a major role as leader, captain and talisman, doing all the things for which he had become renowned globally in that summer of 19774. The foundation too of legacies to follow at Barcelona, Ajax and Holland as the younger players he coached became disciples of his footballing methods. None more so than Pep Guardiola who now ply’s his trade at Bayern Munich a club that accumulated the same pedigree as Cruyff’s first club Ajax. Both dominating the European Cup with three consecutive wins a piece in the early seventies. Mr Paul Breitner winning those medals, as he did his world cup one, alongside Franz Beckenbauer. Sadly another legendary figure who has not enjoyed the best of weeks either.

Although it took me a few more decades to meet Der Kaiser, after a close call at the old Real Madrid training in Ciudad Deportivo before a 1976 EURO qualifying match saw me watch the German team bus leaving – with himself waving courteously out the window. However the wait was worthwhile and a nicer, or more patient person I have yet to meet. Indeed a man who found a way to deal with global stardom like no other and never really straying from his Bavarian roots. Except when it came to his finances and settling in neigbouring Salzburg once his work commitments at FC Bayern came to an end. A club he ensured fond roles for many of his world cup winning team mates after they retired, such as Uli Hoeness, Sepp Maier, and Gerd Mueller. Sadly Der Bomber is suffering from Alzheimer’s and Hoeness is in prison for tax evasion.

In an outstanding career that sees him remain one of only two winners of world cup medals as a player and manager – with Mario Zagallo of Brazil the other. Albeit Beckenbauer was the captain in July 1974 and lifted the trophy with manager Helmut Schoen on their home ground in Munch. With Beckenbauer then steering his nation to a one nil victory over Argentina at Italia 1990, in a rather torrid affair that was finally settled by Andy Brehme’s penalty in the 85 minute.

This week though the Kaiser has become embroiled in torrid affair with a difference as some difficult allegations about the 2006 World Cup in Germany enter the public domain. A matter that has unravelled the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, and also swept in its wake the current UEFA President, Michel Platini. Another graceful and skillful footballer who faces major difficulties which will tarnish those great days on the field for Juventus and France. Just as we had perhaps started to forgive him for replacing Liam Brady in 1986 at old Stadio delle Alpi. Now though Platini may see his dream of running FIFA slipping away. 

The memories of meeting him – again in the bowels of the Bernabeu in 1985 - as part of the press pack when he was in his full pomp on one of those famous European nights in Madrid can’t be tarnished. Platini playing with Michael Laudrup as the two permissible foreigners in Sere A with a cast of Italian including Antonio Cabrini, Stefano Tacconi and Sergio Brio. Which now all seem names now from the distant past. Although not as far back as those great names I never witnessed, like Stanley Matthews. A man that John Toshack so fondly recalls whenever great players are mentioned. Or indeed the full span of George Best’s talents as he retired so early and Sir Bobby Charlton who was in his latter playing days at United when Shoot magazine was my literature of choice. 

In those days the top names were Peter Marinello and all the “H’s” at Chelsea - Hudson, Harris, Houseman, Hollins, Houston and company. Almost all of whom I recall played a role in the 1971 Cup Winners Cup final in Piraeus against Real Madrid. With Zoco scoring in what ended up a one all draw before Chelsea won the replay two days later 2-1. For younger football fans today, those names mean little. 

As no doubt that of Howard Kendall – another footballing great both as a player and manager – who also left the field of play in recent days. Nicely remembered by Gary Lineker on BBC’s Match of the Day reminding us all that we are all just time passengers. 

The names of Puskas, Di Stefano and Gento would have meant nothing had I not been around the Real Madrid club so often that you either met them, or saw them about at some point. In that way the legend live on in some ways. With Di Stefano I attended a post-match press conference in 1985 at Logrones when he was in his third managerial stint at Valencia. A funny man, but very prickly with certain questions and very fond of one word answers. Still well able to intimidate all those around him even without his boots.

For Zoco it was no coincidence that Panathinaikos were the opponents for the testimonial that August 29th in 1974 as Ferenc Puskas was the Greek club’s manager at the time. The game providing one more gathering for those members of the superb sixties winning European Cup winning generation. In those days everyone at Real Madrid seemed to be a European Cup winner. 

So thanks for the memories! 

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