Manager: Bob Paisley
Schumacher, Fillol, Gatti; Cabrini, Junior, Camacho; Olsen, Stielike, Hansen, Krol, Bossis, Förster; Gentile, Neal, Gerets; Tardelli, Breitner, Schuster; Giresse, Socrates, Conti; Maradona, Bochini, Boniek; Dalglish, Keegan, Kempes; Cruyff, Fischer, Simonsen; Blokhin, Bertoni, Hrubesch
Best Player: Graeme Souness
Best Team: Liverpool FC 1977-1985
Best Club: Liverpool FC
Best Match: Liverpool – Roma, European Cup Final 1984
A preliminary remark: when people compile Teams of the Decade, they most often restrict the meaning of the term ‘decade’ to something like the 80s or the 90s. I don’t. When I say ‘decade’, I simply mean a time span of 10 years. This post is the fifth in a series of articles in which I compile Teams of the Decade. I will work my way back in time in 5 year steps. After this post, the next one will be about the 1970-1980 Team of the Decade, the last one was about the 1980-1990 Team of the Decade. I’ll work my way back in time until the 1950-1960 Team of the Decade. I will stop there because the lack of footage for players before 1950 makes it impossible for me to form an opinion about them that is truly my own. I chose to go back in steps of 5 years, because that seems to be a good compromise. Going back in steps of 10 years is unfair towards those players who have performed the best around the turn of a decade (take Xavi, for example). Smaller steps would mean a lot of repetition: the 2004-2014 Team of the Decade won’t be that different from the 2005-2015 Team of the Decade.
Inclusion in this team is based solely on quantity and quality of performance during the respective period of time. It’s not about whether a player has won a lot of trophies, or fits some artistic ideal, even whether a player was ahead of his time in itself isn’t a criterion. It’s about performance and performance alone. You don’t necessarily have to get top marks for both quantity and quality of performance to be included. If the quality of your performances was outstanding, you will have a chance to be included even if, for example, you only performed on that level for, say, 5 of the 10 years. But the lack of quantity of performance will speak against you. Also, the chances of any given player to be included, of course, heavily depend on the quality and quantity of performance of other players who played in the same position during the same period of time. This is all still a bit vague, but since fantasy football teams are far from being exact science to begin with, I think that’s okay. The main point that I want to emphasize is that both quantity and quality of performance matter.
I define the 1975-1985 decade as starting with the final whistle of the 1975 European Cup final and ending with the final whistle of the 1985 European Cup final.
Finally, massive thanks to Rob Fielder (@ademir2z). It’s an honour to have you on board as a guest author. Your contributions are much appreciated! Also, Rob has just published his book “The Complete History of the European Championship”. I’ll buy it right after I have finished writing these words and I’m sure you could do a whole lot worse than to do the same.
Peter Shilton by Rob Fielder (@ademir2z)
It takes a special character to usurp a legend. In 1967 Gordon Banks was widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the game, a World Cup winner just months earlier. Yet such was Leicester City’s regard for a young man called Peter Shilton that they first dropped their star custodian and then sold the 29-year-old Banks in order to accommodate the promise of the new man.
Such faith was vindicated as Shilton rapidly became an England international and demonstrated such ability that when he followed Banks to Stoke in 1974, the latter having lost the sight in one eye in a car crash, it was a world record transfer for a goalkeeper. Already Shilton was making a mark but it was with Nottingham Forest that he would enjoy his greatest success at club level. After joining the club in 1977 he was a league champion months later and over the course of the following two years Shilton would twice capture the European Cup; a remarkable feat for a club who had never previously been regarded as a global power.
The secret of Shilton’s success was hardwork bordering on fanaticism. His first autobiography was titled “The Magnificent Obsession” and it would probably be fair to say that no goalkeeper before had ever been so dedicated to his art. From hanging on bannisters as a child in order to grow taller to a rigorous analysis of every goal he conceded, Shilton would stop at nothing to become the best. Perhaps that was why it was hard to pick a discernible flaw in Shilton’s game. An able shot-stopper with a fine command of his area, the England star was unflappable under the high ball and was equally strong with his distribution. Arguably his best trait was spot-on positioning which made a striker’s job so much more difficult.
With the exception of his time at Forest, Shilton rarely appeared for teams gunning for silverware. As a result, it was probably his time with England for which he is best renowned. After an unusual error in a crucial World Cup qualifier with Poland, Shilton’s international career was somewhat sporadic and he was forced to share the national jersey with Ray Clemence, another man with a fair claim to be the best in the world. Indeed had Clemence not been a player of such tremendous ability, Shilton may well have ended his career with even more than the mammoth 125 caps he acquired over the course of 20 years.
Perhaps in common with other goalkeepers, Shilton is often remembered best for a goal conceded. Maradona’s “Hand of God” caught out the England man, understandably not expecting the diminutive Argentine to punch the ball into the net, but his record at World Cup level was an incredible one. Nobody in the history of the tournament has kept more clean sheets, a terrific accolade for a goalkeeper who was sometimes let down by the attacking players in front of him. Such a clear sign of brilliance is a fitting hallmark of a man whose desire to be the very best pervaded everything he did on the field.
I have a confession to make. I cheated a bit on this one. For most of the decade Marius Tresor played as a central defender. He did play as a left back for some time, but that was in his earlier years, before he really rose to prominence. No left-back really convinced me during the period in question. Tresor, on the other hand, did convince me and was the kind of dynamic yet powerful defender, who had few problems playing in wide positions. So that’s why I chose him, despite him not really being eligible given my own rules for selecting players. I hope you, dear reader, can forgive me.
Tresor grabbed my attention with an outstanding performance in the 1982 World Cup semi-final against Germany. It was one of these defensive masterclass performances that make you think the defender in question is a grown-up playing against teenagers. He looks both physically and psychologically superior to his opponents. No matter what the Germans throw at him, he deals with it in a calm and composed way. Literally nothing gets past him.
Lilian Thuram would be a somewhat obvious modern point of comparison. He, too, was a powerful, yet dynamic defender, who could play both wide and in the middle. Tresor was a very solid, reliable defensive player without any apparent weaknesses. (Having said that, it’s not like I watched dozens of matches with him on the field. Please feel free to correct me. But that goes for everything I write.)
The ferocity of Javier Mascherano, the marking skills and distribution of Leonardo Bonucci, the positioning of Thiago Silva, and the goal threat of… well, maybe Sergio Ramos and John Terry combined! Imagine that combination and you have an idea of what a player Daniel Passarella was.
‘El Gran Capitan’ captained the Argentinian national team that won the 1978 World Cup. At club level, he spent the first half of his career at River Plate before joining Serie A team Fiorentina and later on Internazionale.
There are several reasons why Passarella is one of the most extraordinary defenders to ever play the game. First, and perhaps most famously, he scored a lot of goals. 134 of them in league competitions only, mainly headers, free kicks and penalties. Apart from Ronald Koeman, he is the highest scoring defender in the history of the game.
A second reason why Passarelly is so special, is his overall player profile. The history of football saw quite a few extremely tough and ferocious defenders. Tough-tackling players who took no prisoners when fighting for a ball. Also, there have been some, although not as many, playmaking defenders in the history of the game. Playmakers in defense like Beckenbauer, Scirea, or Morten Olsen, who could pass the ball and orchestrate the game at least as good as any No.10. However, the intersection between these two groups is very, very small. Baresi was pretty tough, but not as tough as Passarella. The Argentinian was the kind of player who would knock you down with a (clean or semi-clean…) tackle, pick up the ball and play a beautifully lobbed inch-perfect 30 yard pass. Now, don’t get me wrong. Beckenbauer and Co. could defend as well. But their game was more about positioning than about ‘the dirty work’. They did that as well if they had to, but not nearly as prominently as in the case of Passarella.
Given that he was only 1,73m tall, one could think that Passarella was easily beaten in the air. In fact, the opposite is true. He had a tremendous jump that made him an excellent player both at offensive and defensive headers. To sum it up, Passarella was an utterly complete defender. Excelling with and without the ball, Passarella’s game had no apparent weaknesses.
His inclusion in the team was never in any doubt.
I already wrote a profile on him, so I’m going to keep this short: classic libero, legend, gentleman, the second coming of Franz Beckenbauer, key man in both Italy ’82 and one of the best Italian club sides of all time, the Juventus team of the early-mid 80s. When you watch Scirea, defending looks easy. Why do all these players run like they have some kind of hellhound on their trail, when you can defend just as well and even better by simply jogging to where the ball will be in 5 seconds? Because they’re not Scirea, because they’re not geniuses, that’s why. I have yet to see him play anything less than a very good game.
His place in the team is beyond any doubt. His inclusion is even more secure than his inclusion in the 1980-1990 team, because he was an active world class player for the full ten years. An all-time great.
Kaltz was a very modern, attacking full-back. He had pace, stamina, power and agility. If you give him some months to accustom himself to the modern game, I’m convinced that he could compete even today. Here’s Wikipedia describing his trademark move:
“Kaltz was famous for his right-footed crosses, which he hit with so much spin that they curved like a banana. They were affectionately called “Bananenflanken” (“banana crosses”). He often used this technique to set up hulking striker Horst Hrubesch, whose 96 goals with HSV included many from Kaltz crosses that Hrubesch headed into the opposing goal. Hrubesch once described their partnership when he explained one of his goals with the often quoted words “Manni Bananenflanke, ich Kopf, Tor”.”
But with the ball at his feet, Kaltz wasn’t all about crosses. He also was a decent passer of the ball. That enabled him to play as libero for the German national team in the 1978 World Cup (not the most memoral World Cup in German football history, though). From what I’ve seen, he wasn’t as good a passer as full-backs like Lahm and Zanetti were. But for the time and the position, he was above average. The fact that he took penalties and free kicks also indicates that he wasn’t your average right-back.
Kaltz was a very reliable fullback all things considered. Despite his frequent attacking runs, he made sure that there would be little chance for the opponent to exploit the space he vacated. Kaltz would often join his team’s second wave of attack. He carefully waited for the right moment to go forward. This habit enabled him to better calculate the defensive risks of him joining the attack. Tobias Günther, an expert on German football history, even called him “a stoic” because of his calm demeanour and sober decision making.
He’s not an all-time great in my book, but certainly one of the best right-backs in German football history and an obvious candidate for this team of the decade.
I’m sure most people will have expected to see Platini or Zico named ‘Player of the Decade’. Some others, especially those who have a heart for exquisite defending, may have hoped to see Passarella or Scirea given that title. Well, these four players have indeed played an excellent decade. Every one of them is included in the first eleven. But a different player has impressed me so much that I had to name him ‘Player of the Decade’. I’m talking about Graeme Souness.
The collective memory of Souness is one of a tough player. A strong-willed midfielder, a leader who was willing to outrun and outtackle every opponent if he needed to. In some ways he personifies the late 70s and 80s in world football. It was a time marked by physicality and sometimes brutality. To describe Souness in such terms is not necessarily wrong. But, and this is the main point I want to make in this little portrait, there is much, much more to Souness than just brawns and character. Souness was an excellent footballer. He possessed a fine, yet subtle technique. He wasn’t flashy but possessed a very clean first touch, evaded pressure well and played very precise passes. His biggest strength, though, was his tactical understanding of the game. His decision making was about 25-30 years ahead of its time. Very often you see him creating little passing triangles in order to solve situations. Most players of his generation, when put under pressure, tried to somehow fight their way out of it. With Souness it was all pass-and-move. Before I saw him play I never expected it, but Souness certainly was one of the most intelligent defensive midfielders ever to play the game. At least in this respect, he belongs to the same tradition of midfield players like Guardiola, Redondo and Busquets.
When you want to watch Souness at his best, look no further than the 1984 European Cup final between Liverpool and AS Roma. Since I’ve named this match as my ‘Match of the Decade’, I think I should say some words about this match. When you’re accustomed to the average speed of the 80s, this match looks like it is played in fast motion. Both teams play very modern and attractive football. The percentage of one-touch-actions in this match is just staggering. I wouldn’t be surprised if a statistical study found that the next match with an even higher one-touch-quota took place in the 2000s. The players one the pitch have very little time and space to work with. It simply is the most high-class game of the decade. And who’s the best player on the pitch? Right, Souness is. While his direct opponent Falcao, who nevertheless is a great player and makes this team, struggles to adjust to the breakneck speed of the game, Souness revels in it. Matches like these are the ultimate test for every top-level footballer. That night in Rome, Souness proved to be a player of the highest calibre.
One of the best thing about watching historic football footage is checking out players for yourself that so far you had only heard about. Sometimes they disappoint you, sometimes they prove to be worthy of what is said about them and in some cherished cases they simply blow you away.
The latter happened to me when I first saw a highlights video of Falcao. This video, to be precise. After having watched the video, Martin Rafelt from Spielverlagerung.de asked “What the hell was going on with Falcao? Crazy. Most complete midfielder ever?” Watch the video and you will understand why he felt like that. Everything that’s good about Falcao is in that clip. He was a marvellously creative player. Basically every aspect of his game is in some sense creative and artful. His passes, his dribblings, his trickery, his combination play, but also his positioning and even his defensive actions. Falcao is a player who will constantly surprise you. Positively surprise you, that is. Well, at least most of the time.
He very much epitomises the Brazil team of ’82. They’re a joy to watch, they’re inspiring as hell and they’re simply very, very good at football. Most of what is good and beautiful about football can be found in their way of playing. The only thing that keeps them from being the very best all things considered is that their art comes at a certain price. The same goes for Falcao. Sometimes his decision making is a touch too idealistic, if you know what I mean. He sometimes initiates passing combinations that are just too risky. Keep in mind that this is mild criticism of a player I like very much and rate very highly. If one wants to go for the cliché, one could say that he just was a bit too Brazilian.
By 1985 Falcao’s career was on its way down, but he gets very good marks for quantity of performance nevertheless. The fact that his international career reached from 1976 to 1986 already tells you that ’75 to ’85 was the most important period in Falcao’s career. The 1982 World Cup and his first few seasons with Roma mark the pinnacle of his playing days. Together with Souness and Ardiles he was the best central midfielder in the world during that time.
Martin Rafelt from Spielverlagerung.de called him “the Gündogan of the late 70s” and also compared him to Luka Modric. This seems a decent fit and not just because Ardiles, like Modric, had a stint at Tottenham Hotspur. Ardiles was one of those players who were ahead of their time. The little Argentine thrives when he has little time and space. He is very pressing-resistant, got an excellent first touch and has the technique and the agility to dribble his way out of trouble. In a way it’s a shame that he played during the 70s and 80s. Back then midfielders had way more time and space to work with than they do now. You didn’t need to have the qualities Ardiles had to succeed at the highest level. Nowadays you do – or, to opt for a weaker statement, you will do in the near future. Now, the fact that Ardiles was ahead of his time made him an excellent player in his time. Close control, good decision making and pressing resistance are uniserval values in football after all. But he would have been more appreciated had he played at a later point. (Having said that, we still live in an age where players like Modric and Busquets are generally overlooked for awards and stuff like that…)
Ardiles was a key player for the Argentina team that won the 1978 World Cup. This team is sometimes looked down upon. There are rumours of bought matches and they played the final against a Dutch side that is seen by many as a better and more ambitious side. Without being able to comment on the manipulation allegations, I have to say that from what I’ve seen, Argentina ’78 was a very strong and interesting team. They played ambitious attacking football and didn’t rely on man-marking all that much. They weren’t tactical revolutionaries but the same can be said about the Dutch in ’78. In my opinion, they were quite a bit worse than their ’74 predecessors and a weaker side than the Argentines. Ardiles, together with Passarella and Kempes, was the key player in that Argentina side. His presence alone ensured a cultured midfield play. Ardiles is one of these players that are seemingly unable to play really badly (aka a member of the ‘Philipp Lahm Society’). There’s just too much quality in his playing style.
Ardiles had some injury problems in the early 80s but by and large gets very good marks for quantity of performance. Since the other two outstanding central midfielders of the time, Falcao and Souness, are also part of the team, there weren’t that many players left to endanger his place in the first eleven. Proto-Modric walks in the team.
The White Pelé, in my humble opinion, actually wasn’t that much like the original Pelé. The following statement is an attempt to summarise the differences between them two: Pelé was a forward with some characteristics of a midfielder and Zico was a midfielder with some characteristics of a forward. Or in other words: Zico was pretty good at scoring goals but was at his best when he created them for others. Pelé was pretty good at creating goals for others but was at his best when he scored them himself.
For me, Zico is Mr. Throughball. I have seen no other player of that age play so many and so well-executed defense-splitting passes. Some modern players played as much or even more “killer passes” than Zico, Messi being an obvious example, but hardly any of his contemporaries did. The reason for that (apart from the fact that these passes are hard to pull off) is that the old offside rule made these passes very difficult. Offside was called when the receiving player was level with or closer to goal than the last defender. And most referees decided to err on the side of caution and declared everything offside that came close to being an actual offside situation. So if you wanted to play a defense-splitting pass, you had to pick out a teammate who was obviously not offside in order to succeed. Quite a tough task. Zico mastered it.
The most tragic match of Zico’s career was probably the 1982 World Cup match against Italy. He was, famously and violently, marked by Claudio Gentile and the favourites Brazil lost to the Azzuri. Watching that match, I kept thinking that although it ended tragically for Zico, it was a match that showed what an excellent player he was. Yes, he was brutally marked by Gentile, but the Italian defender didn’t really manage to mark him out of the game. On several occasions Zico showed his surpreme first touch and close control to evade Gentile’s pressure. That match ended badly for Zico, but it certainly wasn’t a bad performance from him. As I already said in my portrait on Souness, high-class matches are the ultimate test for every player. And you don’t need to win the match to pass the test.
Zico, as a player, was more about his passing, his general technique and touch, than about his dribbling and goal-scoring prowess. He scored a lot of goals (although his statistics are a bit inflated because of the Brazilian state championships) and was a very decent dribbler, but his best qualities were very much those of a midfielder and not of a forward or winger. For a modern player who resembles Zico a bit, Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a decent choice.
What’s left to say about him? Well, two things maybe. First, he was a dead-ball specialist. Certainly one of the best free-kick takers of all time. In an age when a lot of teams still tried to somehow hammer the ball into the goalkeeper’s corner, Zico elegantly guided them over the wall and into the top corner. Secondly, I feel like I should say a word or two about why I didn’t choose him as Player of the Decade. Well, the fact that Graeme Souness greatly impressed me may have played a role. But apart from that here’s my summarizing assessment of Zico: From what I watched, he was a world-class player. Absolute world class. Certainly among the 1-3 best playmakers of his era. But I’m not quite convinced (yet) that he – like Messi, Pelé, Di Stefano, Maradona and maybe a few other players – truly transcended the category “world class”. (The same goes for Platini, by the way.) A great, but not among the greatest.
Michel Platini by Rob Fielder (@ademir2z)
When great international tournaments are talked of, Michel Platini’s Euro 84 must rank among the very best. Nine goals in five matches as he carried his side to victory demonstrated a transcendent level of performance from the French captain, claiming the nation’s first major silverware and doing it on home soil. Those heady weeks displayed so much of what made him so special; prolific goalscoring from midfield, utter mastery of free-kicks and an ability to perform when it mattered most. But what set Platini apart was his rare vision, the ability to see angles and openings that eluded others and then to provide the perfect pass at the perfect time.
Born to Italian parents, Platini’s gifts were evident from an early age with Nancy and he was widely regarded as the most talented player the nation had produced since Raymond Kopa. Winning the club’s first major trophy, the French Cup in 1978, was evidence of an ability to compete against the big boys and that indomitable spirit was a hallmark of Platini’s play, despite previous doubts about the strength of his heart.
Inevitably, such fine form at Nancy earned him a move to French giants St Etienne, though Les Verts were probably just past their best on his arrival. Despite that he was commonly regarded as among the Continent’s leading stars and was a mainstay of the Ballon d’Or’s upper echelons.
On moving to Juventus in 1982 Platini finally had a club that could match his ambition and that was almost immediately reflected in an elevation in his profile across Europe. Named as the European Player of the Year in 1983, he was the darling of the Italian and French media, claiming the title in both of the following years and becoming the first man to receive the Ballon d’Or three times in a row.
Yet the awards were mere trinkets to accompany the multitude of trophies he won in Turin. The Coppa Italia arrived in his first season, the Scudetto in his second and the third saw the Old Lady finally claim the holy grail as they captured the European Cup, Platini scoring the only goal from the penalty spot in a 1-0 win over Liverpool naturally overshadowed by the Heysel disaster.
The only major prize missing from Platini’s collection was the World Cup and that reflected a lack of fortune to never be quite at full fitness when the tournaments rolled around. Despite that Platini was twice a semi-finalist (in 1982 and 1986) even if he never hit peak form in either Spain or Mexico.
After such an illustrious playing career the Frenchman took charge of the national team and was then responsible for organizing the 1998 World Cup which ended triumphantly for Les Bleus. Sadly such an array of achievements in so many footballing fields was rather undone by recent revelations about suspected corruption during Platini’s tenure as President of UEFA. Yet even those allegations can never truly besmirch the memory of one of the game’s greatest players. In the pantheon of legends, Platini’s grace and guile, his vision and majestic control, will always earn him a place at the top table and a fond recollection from anyone who had the good fortune to see a master at work.
I watched quite a few matches of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. All in all around 25, I guess. So I wouldn’t call myself clueless when it comes to judging ‘KHR’. But since Tobias Günther is an authority on German and FC Bayern football history, I asked him to tell me more about the player Rummenigge. This is a paraphrase of what he said:
Rummenigge was not one of those players who played at a constant level for many years. His career had a well-defined peak. It roughly reached from 1979 to 1982. During that period he was simply the best striker in the world. Before and after that he was a capable player, but nowhere near as good as he was at his best. During his best years he came pretty close to being the perfect striker. He could do it all and excelled at it! He was powerful, fast, possessed the technique of a classy midfielder and they eye for goal of a classic penalty box striker – and that without scoring many “easy goals”! Well, like every other striker he also scored plenty of easy goals, but also he scored quite a few nobody else would have scored at that time. At the same time, he did his fair share of playmaking duties, often dropping deep into midfield. His extraordinary physique enabled him to fullfil the roles of a striker, a winger and a midfielder. Certainly a valuable asset for every team. As soon as his physique was gone, in his later career due to age and earlier one due to injuries, he became a shadow of the player he could be. Sadly, Rummenigge never played a World Cup or the European Championship while being fully fit.
Rummenigge often played as a winger during his earlier years. He only really hit the heights when he was moved into a more central position as a second striker, but his stint near the sideline helped him become a very good dribbler for a player that strong and powerful. Not that he did many fancy tricks, his dribbling was more about one short body feint to win that yard of space to shoot or pass.
Obviously, given what I already said, Rummenigge does not get top marks for quantity of performance. Having said that, his goal tally alone means that his quantity of performance wasn’t that bad. Add to that that the fact that he was the best striker in the world for several years and his inclusion is well justified in my opinion.