Team of the Decade 1965-1975

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Manager: Rinus Michels

Bench: Maier, Jennings, Zoff; Schnellinger, Pavoni, Krol; Vasovic, Hulshoff, Schwarzenbeck, Israel, Shesternyov, Perfumo; Vogts, Burgnich, Suurbier; Bremner, Netzer, Overath; Clodoaldo, Albert, Charlton; Dzajic, Johnstone, Keizer; Mazzola, Rivera, Best; Riva, Heynckes, Tostao; Jairzinho, Grabowski, Amancio

Best Player: Franz Beckenbauer

Best Team: Ajax Amsterdam 1970-1973

Best Club: Ajax Amsterdam

Best Match: Ajax Amsterdam – Independiente, Intercontinental Cup 1972

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 ninth 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 1960-1970 Team of the Decade, the last one was about the 1970-1980 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 1965-1975 decade as starting with the final whistle of the 1965 European Cup final and ending with the final whistle of the 1975 European Cup final.

Thanks a lot to Rob Fielder for his continuous contributions to this blog. They are greatly appreciated!

Gordon Banks by Rob Fielder

“What a save! Gordon Banks!” The immortal words of David Coleman just about summed up the spectacular brilliance of what has commonly been regarded as the greatest piece of goalkeeping in the history of the game. What made the moment even more remarkable was the brilliant build up. The pass down the right flank from Carlos Alberto, the pin-point cross from Jairzinho and the perfectly placed downwards header from Pelé. After Banks had miraculously flipped the ball over the bar he was mockingly chastised by captain Bobby Moore who observed: “You’re getting old, Banksy, you used to hold on to them.”

Some of the greats are defined by individual moments. Yet few of them better encapsulate the abilities of the protagonist than Bank’s most famous save. Originally there had been some doubts about whether Banks was really in the class of great England goalkeepers of yore; Sam Hardy, Harry Hibbs or Frank Swift. However, after assuming Ron Springett’s mantle as England’s number 1 the Leicester City custodian quickly proved any naysayers wrong with a series of outstanding displays for both club and country.

During England’s 1966 World Cup victory he was rarely overworked, but set a national record in maintaining a string of clean sheets before finally being beaten by a Eusebio penalty in a semi-final win over Portugal. Surprisingly Banks was let go by Leicester in 1967 as they sought to placate young prodigy Peter Shilton with first team football and he moved to Stoke City where he continued t impress. The 1970 World Cup arguably proved his finest hour as he held off Pelé and, perhaps more significantly, his tremendous value to the team was underlined by his enforced absence in a quarter-final against West Germany. With Banks suffering a bout of food poisoning (with various theories as to the cause), his understudy Peter Bonetti conceded three goals as England crumbled from a seemingly unassailable 2-0 lead. Had Banks been fit there are many who believe England would have claimed a second World Cup that summer.

Back home Banks was enjoying some of his best ever form, being named Footballer of the Year in 1972 and still a constant presence for England. Then in late 1972 he was injured in a car crash which did irreversible damage to his right eye, a major impediment for a goalkeeper which would ultimately call time on his professional career. It was a cruel end for one of the truly great goalkeepers.

By modern standards Banks was relatively short at only 6”1 and he potentially lacked some of the presence between the posts of a Pat Jennings or a Peter Schmeichel. Yet in terms of shot-stopping he was an outstanding example of agility and anticipation, he had a great understanding with his back four (particularly at international level) and was adept in his distribution. For many he remains the greatest goalkeeper of all time and a man who could have achieved so much more if he hadn’t been forced out of the game while still at his peak.

Giacinto Facchetti

When people talk about the Italian tradition of fantastic defenders, Facchetti is usually mentioned as the historic starting point. I don’t quite agree with that because of a certain Armando Picchi but Facchetti’s status as one of the best defenders of all time is rarely questioned. While I will be no exception to that rule, I will offer some qualificatory remarks. But first let’s talk about what made him great.

Several players are mentioned as being the first “attacking full-back”, the Brazilian Nilton Santos for example. But when you watch them, you’ll mostly find that they were quite conservative and got that reputation because they once scored a memorable, yet uncharacteristic goal. By today’s standards these players were very orthodox full-backs (which isn’t to say that they weren’t outstanding players in their own right).

Facchetti’s case is different. Even by today’s standards he can be considered a rather adventurous full-back. Given the standards of the mid-60s, he was a revelation. While there were games when he stayed back because the opposing winger was considered to be too dangerous, he usually was an attacking presence. 12 goals in all competitions in the ’65-’66 season mark a high water mark for full-backs. For comparison, Roberto Carlos never scored more than nine.

Italia-DDR,_Napoli,_22_novembre_1969,_Giacinto_Facchetti
Facchetti during one of his trademark attacking runs. – La Presse

While revolutionizing the way a position is interpreted is not by itself something that makes someone a quality player it often enables these players to produce quality performances if they are used correctly. This is especially true in the case of Facchetti. The whole system of La Grande Inter relied on him (and Jair on the other flank) to cover the whole length of the field. The powerful and very fast Facchetti was one of Inter’s most dangerous weapons on the counter attack. His contribution to Inter’s collective success can hardly be overstated. This alone guarantees his inclusion in this team.

Now for the qualificatory remark. I have seen better full-backs than Facchetti. Paolo Maldini, Philipp Lahm, Javier Zanetti and a few others come to mind. Now, this shouldn’t be interpreted as some major criticism because those players are the top of the bunch. What they all have in common is that their playing style was just a bit more refined than Facchetti’s. His defensive actions weren’t quite as tidy as, for example, Lahm’s. He did commit quite a few fouls and relied more on tackling than most of the other greats. Also, being extremely tall for his day and age (1,91m), he lacked a bit of pace on the first 1-2 meters (great top speed, though). Maybe the fact that he was mostly used as a man-marker when his team wasn’t in possession had something to do with these shortcomings. Man-marking just is a bit more of a dirty business than modern zonal marking. And maybe it’s just that I picked some matches in which he wasn’t at his very best. But for now I’m willing to call him one of the best defenders of his time, if not of all time.

Bobby Moore

Bobby Moore is one of the great icons of English post-war football. This can be partly explained by his general personality. He was both the quintessential gentleman and a national father figure. However, there’s another reason why he is revered to this day: the captain of the only World Cup winning English side was the best defender in English football history.

Bobby Moore was basically a very cultured and extremely solid central defender just like you see them in some of the very best sides of today’s game. Think PSG’s Thiago Silva or Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci. Not as adventurous and revolutionary as Franz Beckenbauer, not a physical giant like Elias Figueroa, but simply a very well-rounded player who was very good at everything without having that one stand-out quality. He was all the things you see in the very best centre-backs of today, but he played like that 50 years ago. Teleport the ’66 Moore to 2016, give him a year of fitness training and he walks into any Champions League team.

Bobby_Moore_Statue
Moore’s statue outside Wembley Stadium. – Carlos yo

As far as I can see the five years between 1965 and 1970 might just have been his best. He was still majestic in the 1970 World Cup but the autumn of his career began soon afterwards. Still, five of the best years that any central defender ever played, including two excellent World Cups, mean that his inclusion was never doubtful.

Moore is perhaps most famous for his tackling and marking skills, several tackles against Brazil 1970 are his most iconic moments, but I want to point out that his passing skills were equally impressive. He wasn’t as spectacular as Beckenbauer or modern players like Hummels, but neither did he restrict himself to the short and simple pass. One of his specialties was the medium-long lobbed pass into midfield. A fitting choice.

Elias Figueroa

I’m having a hard time finding something to say about Elias Figueroa. Especially since he already was part of the Team of the 70s. For other players you can name their strengths and weaknesses, the ups and downs of their career. As far as I have seen, there are no weaknesses to his game and his career had few if any weaker periods (apart from the last few seasons and the 1982 World Cup, where he was no longer his usual self because of age).

The description of his playing style in the English Wikipedia is pretty spot on in my opinion:

“Don Elias” was noted as a player for having a keen ability to neutralize attacks with his great reading of the game. Figueroa also had the ability to start counter-attacks from defence thanks to his vision and good range of passing. There were comparisons with Beckenbauer, but while the German often looked for long, killer balls upfield, Figueroa typically used shorter, incisive passes to spring his team-mates forward. Figueroa was also a threat in the final third of the pitch, often marauding forward to lay on goals for other players. Figueroa remembers: “when I played in Brazil, always we did a play in which the wing back and the winger retained the ball and all marked us until that I entered free by the center to attack”. A great technical footballer, Figueroa was also a physical presence, good in the air and strong in one-on-ones. He had a reputation of being a clean and fair player. Only once in his entire career was he shown a red card and was selected as captain for every team he played for. According to journalist Nelson Rodrigues, Figueroa was “elegant, as an earl dressed in suit, and dangerous as a Bengal Tiger. Elias Figueroa was the perfect defender.”

This sounds like hyperbole, but actually is about right. Everything about his game was tidy and controlled. Figueroa absolutely earned the title “Don Elias”. Just look at him, aged 19 (!!!), playing against the Soviet Union. Figueroa really was one of the giants of defending.

Carlos Alberto Torres

What do you think of when you hear the name Carlos Alberto Torres? Right, the same what everybody thinks of: that goal in the 1970 World Cup final. His strike against Italy is probably the most famous goal ever scored by a fullback. But as Tim Rieke from Spielverlagerung.de points out in his comprehensive portrait of the 1970 Brazil captain, that moment is hardly characteristic for Carlos Alberto’s game.

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Maybe the finest Brazilian side ever. Carlos Alberto, their captain, is the first player from the left in the top row. Gérson is second from left in the bottom row and Pelé second from right in the same row. – Source

Unlike the other fullback in this team, Carlos Alberto rarely participated in the final moves of his team’s attacking play. He was no Cafu or Roberto Carlos, but more like the mature Philipp Lahm. In a team without a true playmaker in central defense, he was responsible for big parts of his team’s build-up game. A playmaking fullback is a rare thing. Philipp Lahm, in my opinion, is the ultimate specimen, but when it comes to historical players, Carlos Alberto is basically the next best thing.

As you might have guessed by now, among his qualities were a precise (yet mostly unspectacular) passing game and rational decision making. Later in his career he became a central defender, but a conservative one, not an attacking libero.

Carlos Alberto is often mentioned as being the best right-back in the history of the game. He certainly was a very good player, hence his inclusion in this team. But I cannot help but think that most people rating him that high put a bit too much weight on his most famous moment and the fact that he was the captain of what is probably the most iconic national side of all time.

Franz Beckenbauer

This is the second Team of the Decade with Beckenbauer in it. He was one of the central defenders of the 70s team and Tobias Escher wrote a portrait about him and how he reinvented the libero position. Go check it out if you haven’t already! This time he features not in his trademark libero position but as a central midfielder. For those of you who aren’t that familiar with der Kaiser’s career, he played as a midfielder in his younger years, for example at both the ’66 and ’70 World Cup.

The most memorable years of Beckenbauer’s career came in the 70s, no doubt about that. Winning the World Cup as the captain of your country’s national team in your hometown  being the ultimate pinnacle. It’s hard to see how a footballer could have a better moment than that (maybe it could have been his birthday, too (it wasn’t, I checked)).

So the great successes of Beckenbauer’s career came in the 70s. But this shouldn’t make you think that he only then became a top class player. The opposite is true. For example, check out Germany’s 1966 World Cup semi-final against the Soviet Union. Beckenbauer was only 20 years old back then but already the best player on the field (except maybe for Lev Yashin who stopped the match from becoming a rout). Man of the match in a World Cup semi-final aged 20, there are very few players who can claim such a thing.

The young Beckenbauer was a great allrounder. He was fast, dynamic, with a knack for scoring important goals. His biggest quality, however, was his calmness with the ball. Almost never did he look hectic or nervous. (Here is a first-class example.) His understanding of the game and his technique enabled him to solve most difficult situations and his body language projected pure self-confidence.

Beckenbauer was a world-class player for the whole decade. He started very well and kept only getting better. Including him in the team was basically a necessity. I name him Best Player of the Decade because I think no other player matched his combination of quantity and quality during the time. At first I had some doubts regarding Beckenbauer’s early years, but as soon as I saw some of the matches those doubts quickly evaporated.

Gérson

The metronome at the heart of the famous Brazilian side of 1970. In a team full of skillful flair players he kept a cool head and things ticking. Gérson is the closest thing to Xavi Hernandez Brazil ever had.

Gérson is perhaps most famous for his long passes. And indeed he was very adept at providing the long killer balls and floating diagonal passes to the wing. This video is testament to his skills. But unlike some other midfield generals of that era, Gérson never forced these passes. When a short simple pass would do you could count on him to keep things simple. Have a look at this video of his performance against Czechoslovakia at the 1970 World Cup. He ends up with two assists from long balls, but most of his actions are unspectacular, yet tidy and rational.

Gérson actually is my favourite player from that legendary Brazil side. When I first watched their matches I expected Pelé to do otherworldly stuff, but soon found out that by then he no longer was at or even close to his peak. Don’t get me wrong, he still was a world class player, but one among many, no longer towering above the rest. Players like Jairzinho and Rivelino were stylish, yet a bit erratic. One moment of genius was often followed by one rather weak action. But those weaker moments in the end didn’t matter that much because Gérson provided a solid base of operations for his more attacking teammates. He was a very grown-up kind of player.

I have only ever seen full matches with Gérson in them from the 1970 World Cup. Highlight videos have given me a glimpse of what he did at club level, but I can’t claim to be anywhere near expert status when it comes to this player. However, class is permanent and Gérson was one hell of a classy player. The stats also indicate that he played at a very high level for most of the decade in question. Brazil have a long line of outstanding central midfielders, with Didi, Falcao, Toninho Cerezo and Dunga being among the most famous, and Gérson is at least their equal.

Pelé

Pelé undoubtedly is one of the greatest players of all time. However, he only narrowly made this team. The reason why is that ’65-’75 mark the autumn and early winter of Pelé’s career. The fact that he won a place in the first eleven ahead of players who had their finest years during this timespan is testament to his quality as a player. (Or my poor judgement.)

This might be the first Team of the Decade with Pelé in it, but it will not be the last. No major spoiler here. I intend to write a big portrait on O Rei in one of these later posts. So please don’t be disappointed if this one turns out to be shorter than you expected.

Judging Pelé’s career is harder than might be expected. There’s a lot of footage available of him playing in different World Cups but very little else. Also, judging him by his statistical output isn’t easily done because there is widespread disagreement over the value of the Brazilian state championships he played in.

Having said that, here is my rough estimate of Pelé’s status during the years in question: from 1965 until and including the 1970 World Cup, Pelé was one of the strongest performers in world football, with the possibility of him taking the top spot on several occasions (most notably the aforementioned 1970 World Cup). But he no longer was as ahead of the rest as he was during the early 60s. During the early-mid 70s, Pelé continued being a classy player but was no longer able to keep up with the new generation of world class attacking players like Cruyff and Gerd Müller. Properly judging him during this time is even harder than before due to his retirement from the national team.

Some other players, for example Wolfgang Overath, only make the bench despite achieving a substantially higher performance level during the last few years of the decade than the aging Pelé. But I think Pelé’s performances during the first half of the decade and the 1970 World Cup were just good enough to earn him a spot. Also, there is always a possibility of underrating a declining uber-player. It happened to Messi in some of his weaker years. A lot of people only look at relative difference between the player’s current performance level and his very best and therefore lose perspective. Messi at 80% still has a very strong case for being the best player around. Something similar can be said of Pelé.

Pelé in his twilight was no longer the all-conquering force of the early 60s, but a world class player nonetheless. This will not be the last thing you have read about him on this blog.

Johan Cruyff

I intend to keep this short,  since I’ve already written a rather extensive portrait of the Godfather of Dutch football for my last blogpost.

Cruyff’s best time were the early-mid 70s. He was the key player of the Ajax team that won three consecutive European Cups, inspired a struggling Barcelona to a Spanish league title and masterminded the Dutch team that almost conquered the world.

The years between 1965 and 1970 were less memorable for Cruyff, but from what I’ve seen he was already a world class player back then. Less mature, sure, not the total footballer of later years but a deadly winger with an unbelievable turn of pace and very decent goalscoring statistics. Coupled with his outstanding 2nd half of the decade, this is enough to earn him a spot in the team.

Gerd Müller

Since I’ve already written about him in the last post, I will try to keep this short. Gerd Müller’s most memorable achievements took place in the mid-70s, so one can be forgiven to question whether Müller really did enough in the first half of the decade to win a place in this team. This question is especially relevant since there are several legends of the game, who only make the bench. George Best, Jairzinho, and, of course, Pelé come immediatly to mind. My opinion is that Müller did do enough to warrant inclusion. His first five years of the 70s were obviously outstanding (his goalscoring record in ’72-’73 stood for four decades before Messi bettered it). Those were the best years of his career and rank among the best years any centre forward has ever had. But his very early years in the late 60s weren’t half bad either. He won three Bundesliga topscorer titles before 1970 and was at 20 international goals in as many appearances. Therefore, I think he more than deserves his second call-up.

If you want to see him in action, look no further than this highlights video. You will not regret it.

A few words on the players who missed out on a first team spot are warranted: George Best at his best was brilliant. A very creative and skillful player. What he lacks is consistency. His career was rapidly declining during the last few years of the decade and even before that his form tended to fluctuate. An icon, surely, but when it comes to quality and, especially, quantity of performance others were better.

Muller,_Beckenbauer_en_trainer_Schon_1974
Three of the key people behind Germany’s triumphs in the early 70s: Müller, Beckenbauer, and Helmut Schön. – Nationaal Archief

I feel bad for not finding a spot for Jairzinho. He could be a bit hit and miss, but over the course of his career these things evened itself out and he became a true world class winger. He had technique, strength and pace to burn. Also, he was a reliable goalgetter, averaging slightly less than 0.5 goals a game. Very decent for a winger. The highlight of his career undoubtedly was the 1970 World Cup. He wasn’t the topscorer, that honour goes to Gerd Müller, but scored in every game of the competition he took part in. He only makes the bench simply because of the brutally competitive situation upfront.

Eusébio

Eusébio is arguably the best Portuguese player of all time. From what I’ve seen he was better than Luis Figo and C.Ronaldo (although it’s a close call between the latter and Eusebio… and we shouldn’t forget about Mario Coluna either).

I don’t think Eusébio ranks among the best 4-5 of all time, but he’s not that far behind. But hey, what do I know? Alfredo di Stefano called him the best of all time. So maybe you should stick with his opinion. Don Alfredo knew a thing or two about football after all.

What kind of player was Eusébio? Like most GOAT candidates he played as an attacking allrounder. Depending on the system you could call him a second forward, inside forward, false nine, 9 1/2 or even a No.10. The label really isn’t that important.What you need to know is that Eusébio was a versatile attacking player who created danger for the opponent in lots of different ways. He could dribble, shoot, pass and receive passes inside the box. Among these traits, dribbling and scoring were probably his two single biggest strengths. He was an enormous athlete, too. He could run the 100 metres in 11 seconds, which is even more impressive when you remember that the world record at the time lay above 10 seconds. He was also a very physically strong player.

You can describe Eusébio’s playing style and physique as a cross between the original (pre-injury) Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo. He wasn’t quite as agile and as good a dribbler as Ronaldo, but he too combined the playing style of a dribbler with a surprising amount of strength. Eusébio too, was “a herd” rather than a man, to quote Jorge Valdano.

Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Eusébio was a fiercely determined competitor and produced very good goalscoring statistics throughout his career (while both of them arguably took too many shots for themself). He didn’t quite reach Cristiano’s roboter-like reliability, but made up (or made more than up) for that by being a more complete footballer all things considered.

Eusébio’s goalscoring statistics are a bit inflated because he played most of his career in the 2nd rate Portuguese league. If you want a more realistic estimate of his goalscoring prowess you can look at his goals per game ratio in international competition for both club and country. That ratio is somewhere between 0.6 and 0.8 which is of course very, very good (but bettered by a select few players).

The best years of Eusébio’s career came in the mid-late 60s, but he continued to be a reliable top class performer well into the 70s (40 goals in 28 games in the ’72-’73 league speak a clear language). If you want to watch him at his peak, the ’66 World Cup which he finished as top scorer is a decent pick. His performance against Brazil is especially noteworthy.

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