Domm Norris looks at a figure whose impact on the football of the Soviet Union shouldn't be underestimated.
If you were to mention the name Gyula Limbeck - or Jules for short - to the average football fan you would likely receive a shrug of the shoulders; 'never 'erd of the fella mate'. Gyula Limbeck isn't a person that one would describe as a household name of the Soviet Union - but his obscurity does not undermine his importance to the development of the game within the vast nation.
The history of football within the Soviet Union is dominated by locally developed talent - which is essentially a prime reason why the nation achieved significant, if not brief and sporadic, levels of success in the international scene. The implementation of foreign coaches in the Soviet Union was not widely utilised as - in a similar manner as with players - it was felt that foreign influence upon Soviet sociological development would be hugely detrimental. Let's not forget that Spartak Moscow's formation - and their adoption of an attractive attacking style of play - led to suspicions that the club supported the bourgeois values that the Soviet Union accused the west of holding so dearly. However as the Soviet Union began to contemplate sporting successes as a means of bolstering the level of the nation's global recognition - the USSR State Committee for Physical Culture and Sports began taking previously unheard of actions in order to aid such developments.
Jules Limbeck arrived in the Soviet Union in Dnepropetrovsk before being appointed coach of Dinamo Tbilisi - who now play in the Georgian Top League - via a playing career which saw him feature in the thriving footballing cities of Budapest and Vienna with stints in charge of Lyon and Racing in France and Turkish side Galatasaray. For a man of Hungarian descent, the move across to the Soviet Union was not as daunting as many other Frenchmen would have felt. Although Limbeck managed to adapt to the surroundings of his new nation - his new nation, or more appropriately it's football, struggled to adapt to him.
Limbeck brought a method of coaching that was entirely alien to the Soviet Union's footballing culture. It was a method of work that had simply not been transported from the growing technicality of coaching in western Europe - as the game was moving away from a world where players were able to dictate proceedings. Training consisted of copious levels of physical exercise, technique based drills and - importantly - lessons in a fresh form of tactical thinking. The Frenchman also made sure that his players knew that while he was in charge they would be training come wind, rain or shine.
'We will train, no matter what the weather, because we can not allow the team's success to depend on the weather ... They can, and will play better.'
The manner in which Jules Limbeck had taken it upon himself to ruffle the feathers of Soviet players, who were well set within their ways, shows the stature of the man. Not only was he intent on adapting the game - he also sought to spread his ideas and experiences to other managers in the Tbilisi region. Limbeck's initiatives led to the organisation of a course which provided contemporary training to coaches in the local vicinity and the process led to some 22 participants being given a diploma for their successful efforts. Such foresight in the coaching of coaches had never been previously witnessed in the Soviet Union and shows the gravity of Limbeck's forward thinking.
Despite the positives of Dinamo Tbilisi finishing in 3rd place in the Autumn edition of the 1936 Soviet Top League and a strong run in the Soviet Cup - which saw his team defeated by Lokomotiv Moscow in the final - Limbeck found himself out of a job. It was felt that Jules Limbeck's approach was simply not to the liking of the Tbilisi players who felt that the role of the coach in football was not in line with the Frenchman's vision.
But through leaving Dinamo Tbilisi, Limbeck found himself in Moscow, with Lokomotiv - the club he suffered a Soviet Cup final defeat to the previous season. Limbeck implemented his European styled methods upon his new squad of players who again struggled to cope with the demands. The team finished in a worse league position than the year before and only managed to reach the semi finals of the Soviet Cup. Limbeck would have likely survived the disappointment for another year had Lokomotiv's tour to the Spanish Basque country not proved to be such a disastrous affair.
It was expected that with Limbeck's knowledge of European football and the methods that he had attempted to implement within the Soviet game, he would have formed a side capable of competing with the Spanish teams. However such optimism was soon blown away as Lokomotiv slumped to a 5-1 humiliation. Why - the Soviets suggested - should we place so much confidence in a coach who cannot even beat the teams he claims to know inside out? Obviously the case against Limbeck was compelling. The questions about whether he had actually managed to move football forward in the Soviet Union were not simply knee jerk reactions. However the methods Limbeck imposed were truly elements of forward thinking. He implemented far greater emphasis upon physical conditioning and tactical progression and awareness which are key components of the game today. That the public of the Soviet Union were unaware that the game was heading in such a direction was simply Limbeck's downfall.
The tragedy of the story comes in the fact that in the wake of Lokomotiv's poor results against Spanish opposition, Limbeck became a victim of politics and was arrested and executed for reasons unknown. In a time that the Soviet Union was determined to show a unified position of strength, such failure could not be tolerated. However it is testament to the man that football has moved in the way that it has. So in the years that have progressed people may not widely know the name Gyula Limbeck - but his legacy still simmers along to this day.
Domm writes regularly for IBWM and if you would like to read more from him please visit the excellent football ramblings.