We've rolled out the IBWM red carpet for the Total Soccer Show and in return they've invited us into a time machine...
Good news: you’ve just been handed the keys to a soccer time machine. Bad news: your soccer time machine is only good for two trips. You can travel back and watch one club team from the past and one national team, and then you have to give the keys to someone else. Who will you go and watch, and why?
Before you rush into it, don’t shout “Brazil 1970!” or “Netherlands 1974!” just because you feel like you have to. And don’t say “Honved 1954” because you think it makes you sound sophisticated. These is no correct answer, there’s just the team or teams that you would most like to see, and why. There’s no real wrong answer either, though setting the time machine to “Derby County 2007-8” would clearly be a mistake.
Having debated this very question on the Total Soccer Show recently I can offer a few suggestions based on the teams my co-hosts wanted to see, as well as some excellent listener suggestions.
If you want to see attacking football, you could do a lot worse than the 1967 Celtic team that won the quadruple. Jock Stein’s team played a “let’s do this thing” 4-2-4, even against Helenio Herrara’s Catenaccio-loving Inter in the 1967 European Cup Final, where they came from behind and had 41 shots at goal to win 2-1. And if you like wingers, then can it get much better than a man named “Jinky” Johnstone? Didn’t think so.
Maybe you enjoy some serious defending, in which case just rewind a little earlier to 1965 and catch that Catenaccio-tastic La Grande Inter team in its prime. But if successful systems are your thing then you may as well have the best of both worlds: the system and the style, which means Arrigo Sacchi’s dynamic double-European Cup winning high-tempo Milan team of the late ’80s, featuring Franco Baresi in his prime, Paolo Maldini in his youth and the Dutch trio of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten (and remember this is when foreign players were still somewhat exotic). Sacchi had these big names organized into a relentless machine that pressed high up the pitch when they didn’t have the ball, and then attacked with a vengeance when they inevitably won it back.
It doesn’t have to be all about teamwork and systems though. Given the choice, why wouldn’t you just go back and watch a whole season of one of the greatest players of all time playing a year of club football at the peak of his powers? Everyone talks about Pele with Brazil, but how about a 22-year old Pele at Santos in 1962, scoring five goals over two legs as Santos beat Benfica to lift the Intercontinental Cup? Or, of course, Diego Maradona at Napoli in 1987, fresh from his 1986 World Cup win, the undisputed greatest player in the world leading a previously middling team to glory with displays that had Neapolitans worshipping at his feet. Speaking of things that may never happen again, why not join 80,000 pus New Yorkers watching an older but still talented Pele play for for the Cosmos in 1977, complete with NASL shootouts where players dribble at the keeper and then everyone off to Studio 54 for champagne and dancing afterward? Drinks are on Giorgio Chinaglia. Maybe not American soccer’s most dignified moment, but definitely a spectacle worth seeing for yourself.
There are plenty more club teams worth choosing—Manchester United 1968 with George Best looking unbeatable, the Real Madrid team of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo di Stefano, Johan Cruyff’s Ajax in the late ’60s/early ’70s, which may actually be a better choice than watching the Dutch national team of the ’70s, since Ajax too played Total Football, and did so week in and week out. Plus they actually won some stuff.
National teams are a different beast. I found myself drawn to the beautiful losers, the teams who dazzled but ultimately disappointed. The Hungary team that shocked England with their revolutionary tactics and play in 1953 but couldn’t beat West Germany in the 1954 World Cup Final. The Total Football Netherlands team of 1974, who couldn’t past West Germany in the final. Maybe even Bobby Robson’s hallowed England team who fell to—you guessed it—West Germany in the 1990 World Cup. And as Peyton pointed out on the show, why go back in time to watch a German team, when you can go forward and enjoy what looks like being an incredible Mario Götze, Mesut Özil and co. Germany team of Euro 2012, World Cup 2014 and beyond.
The most attractive of all the beautiful losers might be already legendary 1982 Brazil team that played genuine joga bonito and set the stereotype of naive joy that follows Brazilian football to this day, heel flicks in airports and all. But if you want a Brazil team that wins, then it’s either the obvious—there’s no shame in wanting to see that 1970 team—or the previously only available in black and white beauty that was Brazil 1958, featuring a teenage Pele and a 25 year-old bendy legged dribbler named Garrincha.
So, one club team and one national team. Who would you choose? Listen to the Total Soccer Show debate, and find out which two teams we eventually decided to go back and see.