Die Vergessenen Manner?

The 1970's are often referred to as a decade of Dutch mastery. But as Matt Morrison argues, that version of history is somewhat selective.

Much of popular football history seems to labour under the misapprehension that only one nation bothered to play the game during the 1970s – the Netherlands. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth as the English showed the world exactly what they were capable of by failing to qualify for the World Cups of 1974 and 1978. And the West Germans were giving it a bash too.

Bayern Munich had not really got their trophy laden history underway in the early 1970s. In Europe, a 1-0 win over Glasgow Rangers in the Cup Winners’ Cup Final of 1967 was all they had to show for their efforts. Their first soirée into the European Cup ended with a first round defeat at the hands of St-Etienne in 1969, and their second appearance was abruptly halted in March 1973 when they were thumped 4-0 by Ajax in Amsterdam. A 2-1 return leg victory regained some pride for Bayern but did not appear to be a pre-cursor of what was to come.

Ajax had been all conquering in the late 1960s and early 1970s winning numerous Eredivisie titles and three successive European Cup wins between 1971 and 1973. Coach Rinus Michels’s much lauded ‘totaalvoetbal’ took football in the Netherlands to new heights following a period of stagnation after the Second World War. The Ajax side, and consequently the Dutch national side, had some extremely talented individuals. The likes of Johann Cruijff, Johnny Rep, Johann Neeskens, Piet Keizer and Arie Haan were great players in their own right but they also understood the team game. They needed to if they were to implement Michels’s tactical vision with any success. Michels had left Ajax for Barcelona in 1971 but returned to take the Dutch to the World Cup in West Germany in 1974. It would be their first appearance at the finals since 1938.

Bayern had just won their first European Cup in May 1974 after a 4-0 replay win over Atletico Madrid in Brussels - they had needed a 119th minute equaliser to make it to a replay at all. Their run to the trophy was an eventful one as they scraped past Swedish champions Åtvidaberg on penalties in the first round. They then emerged from an epic grudge match with Dynamo Dresden (then of the DDR) 7-6 on aggregate in the second round. More comfortable wins over CSKA Sofia and Ujpesti Dozsa saw them into the final as striker Gerd Müller top scored with eight goals.

West Germany then headed into the 1974 World Cup on home soil as favourites having triumphed in the European Championships in Belgium two years earlier. The Bayern side contributed the core of the national team. But the Dutch, though inexperienced in international tournaments, clearly had the ability to trouble the later stages. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the final pitted the two nations against each other with the Dutch having played some wonderful football en route. There was also the subplot of an underlying score to be settled following the German occupation of the Netherlands during the war. Most know what happened in the final, as the Dutch threw away an early lead to lose 2-1 with that man Müller netting the winner just before half time. The view that the best team did not win that World Cup has permeated football folklore ever since. Many Dutch fans are yet to recover.

But this popular view has never given the West Germans enough credit for their success. Bayern went on to match Ajax’s achievement by winning two more European Cups in 1975 and 1976, despite the replacement of Udo Lattek with Dettmar Cramer. Lattek had paid for Bayern’s embarrassing tenth place Bundesliga finish in 1975. Jimmy Armfield’s Leeds were defeated 2-0 in controversial circumstances in the 1975 final. The 1976 final saw Bayern avenge their 1969 defeat to St-Etienne with a 1-0 win in Glasgow thanks to a Franz Roth goal.

Libero Franz ‘Der Kaiser’ Beckenbauer and Gerd ‘Der Bomber’ Müller are the names most often recalled from the era, and rightly so, but both the national team and the Bayern Munich team were expert match and trophy winning units. Müller’s goalscoring record was, in short, phenomenal – 365 in 427 Bundesliga matches, 68 in 62 internationals and in excess of 700 goals in all competitive games. He was the model penalty box predator (not Francis Jeffers, contrary to popular belief) top scoring at the 1970 World Cup with ten goals and also top scoring in the European Cups of 1973 through to 1975. Put those alongside seven Bundesliga top scorer awards and a World Cup winning goal. Not bad. Beckenbauer led from the back with vision, poise and vast footballing ability. His ease at carrying the ball out of defence started endless attacks and led to a worthy contribution of goals.

It was consistency of personnel as well as performance that can explain much of Bayern’s success as seven players were in the starting line up for all three of their European Cup wins. Franz ‘Der Bulle’ Roth was the heart and driving force of the midfield and scored vital goals, notably in the 1975 and 1976 finals. These goals earned him the inspired second nickname of ‘Mr European Cup’. Sepp Maier became a legendary figure in goal during his 17 years at the club and Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck racked up over 400 appearances, mostly partnering Beckenbauer at the centre of the defence. Uli Hoeness was the foil for Müller’s goalscoring antics and Jupp Kapellmann brought stability to the midfield. Six of this Bayern side also started the 1974 World Cup final, including both scorers (Paul Breitner and Müller).

Bayern lifted the Intercontinental Cup in 1976 with a 2-0 aggregate win over Cruzeiro of Brazil but things declined soon after. They exited the European Cup at the hands of Dynamo Kyiv in March 1977 and there were no Bundesliga titles between 1974 and 1980. The loss of Beckenbauer to New York Cosmos of the newly formed North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1977 was a major blow. Müller would follow him to the NASL in 1979. While they recaptured their domestic form during the 1980s, it would be 2001 before they won the European Cup once more. Ajax suffered a similar slide as the likes of Cruijff, Rep and Neeskens departed. They continued to win Eredivisie titles throughout the late 1970s and 1980s but would not lift the European Cup again until 1995. They have slipped further since. The Dutch national side made the World Cup final again in 1978 (without Cruijff) but this time were humbled by Argentina and Mario Kempes.

Ajax and the Dutch continue to garner the attention when eyes are cast back upon this era, largely for their groundbreaking style of play and attacking zest, but the most important endorsement of their ability twice eluded them. Bayern equalled Ajax’s hat trick of European Cups immediately though the successes of the former are seemingly held in greater esteem due to the nature of the victories. The Bayern Munich and West Germany teams encapsulated, perhaps created, the ‘German efficiency’ that has been referred to so frequently (and lazily) ever since. They were strong, athletic and determined team units that could also boast real quality in Maier, Beckenbauer, Roth and Müller.

This era of German football is far from forgotten in the annals of football’s past though their success often feels overshadowed by the failure of another team to achieve on the highest stage. Feels like a bit of a shame.

Follow Matt on Twitter @iammoribund, and visit his blog: Eesti Jalgpall.