Manager: Helenio Herrera
Bench: Banks, Iribar, Costa Pereira; Schnellinger, Marzolini, Gemmell; Beckenbauer, Schulz, Picchi, Figueroa, Germano, Shesternyov; C. Alberto, Jair, Jusufi; L. Suarez, Rattin, Rivera, Masopust, Gérson, Del Sol; Albert, Johnstone; Law, Altafini, Best; Seeler, Hurst, Greaves; Garrincha, Sivori, Amancio
Best Player: Pelé
Best Team: Santos FC 1960-1965
Best Club: Benfica Lissabon
Best Match: England – Portugal 2-1, 1966 World Cup
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 tenth 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 1955-1965 Team of the Decade, the last one was about the 1965-1975 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 1960-1970 decade as starting with the final whistle of the 1960 European Cup final and ending with the final whistle of the 1970 European Cup final.
Yashin is often considered to be the best goalkeeper in the history of the game. Whether he really was is a matter for another time. For now it suffices to say that he certainly was the dominant goalkeeper of his day and age.
What kind of keeper was Yashin? One helpful way to describe a historical player is to find a modern player that he resembles. In Yashin’s case that is easily done. Manuel Neuer, the man I named keeper of the decade for the years between 2005 and 2015, shares many characteristics with the Soviet legend. Both Neuer and Yashin combine two traits that are valuable on their own and priceless when combined: they were revolutinary for their time and outstanding at doing the timeless basics of goalkeeping. To have a goalkeeper who combines these traits is basically everything one can wish for. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Like his German descendant, Yashin was a goalkeeper who was not content keeping it simple but widened the scope of what a keeper does. His long throws and kicks were effective offensive weapons. He maximised their impact by not wasting any time. As soon as he had caught the ball he was back to his feet and scanned the field for interesting dynamics to take advantage of. He was his team’s first build-up player.
One of Neuer’s most eye-catching traits is his willingness to leave the box and act as a kind of sweeper. His performance against Algeria at the 2014 World Cup is the stuff of legends already. Yashin also left his box from time to time in order to clear long passes by the opponent. Now, Yashin didn’t do these things nearly as often as Neuer does. When it comes to acting as a makeshift sweeper he wasn’t ‘like Neuer’ but rather ‘the Neuer of his time’. Two different things.
Now to the basics of goalkeeping. As I said, Yashin excelled at them as well. One feature of his shot stopping caught my eye more than any other: not only did he save lots of them, but he managed to hold on to a surprising percentage of shots, among them many he had no right to hold on to. Very impressive indeed.
Yashin turned 30 before the 60s even started. This could raise the suspicion that I include an admittedly great player in a decade that came a bit too late for him. While I do see this point, I think his inclusion is well-warranted. Yes, he turned 40 before the decade ended, but he was at the top of his game as late as the 1966 World Cup. And when he was at his best, no one came close. His performances at the 1962 World Cup weren’t that great but that had everything to do with two concussions and nothing with him getting old.
If you want to watch Yashin at his best, take a look at the 1966 World Cup semi-final between Germany and the Soviet Union. His full range of qualities is on show in this match.
As with Bobby Moore, I’ve already written a longer profile on Facchetti for the ’65-’75 team. You can find it here. Facchetti’s main rival for inclusion in this team was the German Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, who played left-back for AC Milan. While Schnellinger always seemed to be the more well-rounded player to me, Facchetti simply was a force of nature. Being 1,91m tall isn’t that unusual for a defender today, but back than he truly was a giant of the game. Add to that his trademark offensive runs and you have a revolutionary player who just edges the German out.
Facchetti was a very young player when the 60s began, but he soon established himself as a starter for Inter and never looked back. He was a world class performer at both club and international level and remained so until the end of the decade. While I’m still not 100% convinced that he was as good as some people say (best fullback ever, basically), he wins his second starting spot in one of my Teams of the Decade.
I have already written a profile on Moore, so I’m trying to keep this as short as possible. The 60s (especially the mid and late 60s) mark the pinnacle of Moore’s career. The England and West Ham skipper was a great allrounder. He wasn’t as prolific with the ball at his feet as the likes of Beckenbauer and Baresi, but certainly a more cultured defender than your average 60s centre-back. He wasn’t as physically imposing as some of his successors, take Butcher or Terry for example, but not as lightweight as some early creative defenders like Armando Picchi. England manager Ron Greenwood famously said that he could talk about Moore, the fooballer, for days (in contrast to Moore, the man), but I think there is comparatively little to be said about his playing style other than calling him what he was: a very well-rounded defender whose strengths were considerable (although none of them haven’t been bettered) and weaknesses hardly noticeable.
In the mid-60s Ajax were an up and coming club. They had just won their first Dutch championship in 5 years, Piet Keizer was their star player and a young Johan Cruyff made it into the first team. The future looked bright for them but what they lacked was an experienced defensive leader. Somebody who knew all the tricks and had the personality and the footballing quality to win the respect of the dressing room. Ajax turned to the Yugoslav international Velibor Vasovic and they never looked back. With him marshalling the defense they continuously grew, first into a national top side and finally into the finest team in the world.
Although his time at Ajax was possibly the pinnacle of Vasovic’s career, we shouldn’t forget that he had some memorable years in Yugoslavia, too. He mostly played for Partizan and even reached the 1966 Eurpoean Cup final with them. They lost to Real Madrid but libero Vasovic managed to score a goal. It’s fair to say that success followed Vasovic wherever he went. He won 8 out of 10 possible national championships in the 60s. I’m not sure that is bettered by anybody during this period.
While Vasovic could be a cynical and tough player, he was by no means your typical hard man. Like Bobby Moore, Vasovic was an example of the early kind of cultured central defender that ultimately lay the groundwork for the liberi of the 70s and 80s.
If you want to experience him at or close to his peak, watch the 1969 European Cup final. Ajax are roundly beaten by AC Milan but Vasovic is a contender for the man of the match award (well, behind Rivera). Time and time again he shows his composure on the ball and plays rational, creative passes into midfield. Ajax wasn’t quite ready to keep up with Milan that day, but Vasovic surely was. Horst Blankenburg, his successor in the heart of the Ajax defense, was a good player but I’d say it took ten years before Ajax had a central defender of Vasovic’s quality in their ranks in Ronald Koeman.
Burgnich was an Italian defender of the 60s and 70s. His teammates gave him the nickname “La Roccia”- The Rock. Do I really need to tell you more about the kind of player he was?
Probably not, but it just happens to be the case that I want to tell you a bit more about him. I have looked through my notes to find out how many games with Burgnich on the pitch I have seen so far and my rough estimate is 20. In those games he rarely made a lasting impression on me. Burgnich isn’t the kind of defender who has that one outstanding attribute that makes you notice him right away. He was no Facchetti or Beckenbauer.
The surpremely knowledgeable Twitter user Vilarino described him as an “outstanding role player in the ultimate role-player tactic”. Now that tactic would be the (in)famous Catenaccio system of “La Grande Inter”, one of the greatest club sides of the 60s. Burgnich was their (rather defensive) right-back and later sweeper. He was a tough man marker. Neither tall nor fast, but powerful, focused and always willing to put in a well-timed tackle. As I said, he was no Beckenbauer but his decent understanding of the game became more obvious during his later years as a central defender. For a modern point of comparison, think Benedikt Höwedes or Javier Mascherano (albeit in a different position).
As I said, Burgnich wasn’t the kind of player you notice right away, but there was quality to his game. I don’t think he really ranks among the truly great right-backs of all time. Having said that, there aren’t that many of them anyway. Right-back might just be the position with the fewest stand-out players in history.
Never heard of him? No problem. Busquets of the 60s. Now you know enough to understand why I just had to include him. In the long line of defensive midfielders who excel due to their surpreme understanding of the game rather than their physical prowess (a line that probably started with the Hungarian Bozsik), Voronin is the finest example world football had to offer in the 60s.
Like Busquets Voronin is somebody who does the simple things with perfection. Quite a few players can receive and pass a ball under moderate pressure but to do so with one touch less than 99% of the other players can make a much bigger difference than most casual viewers will ever understand. But like Busquets, Voronin doesn’t always keep it simple. Once in a while he’ll use a little trick or start a little dribble if the possible gain is worth the risk. He was skillful, he just doesn’t want you to notice right away.
I’ll readily admit that I have a soft spot for players like Voronin, but I like to think that my sympathy is rooted in the correct observation that having a clever guy at DM really is of greater importance than most people think.
The final of Euro 1964 shows Voronin at his best. Spain is the much better team, but Voronin is my man of the match. “So calm, so composed, so classy” my notes on him in that match read. The same could be said about his game in general.
By Daniel Roßbach
Bobby Charlton is one of the great and wonderful players of the past that seem impossible now. He was involved in the totality of play, his influence in defensive midfield being as great as in creating chances or finishing them.
This was of course made possible by the relative slowness and stasis of the game of that time, which allowed the in many ways modern Charlton to transcend his position. While that scope of influence (which Charlton maintained even aged 33 in the heat of Mexico’s ’70 World Cup, playing centre mid in a 442) could hardly be replicated now, what was modern about the Manchester United *Lichtgestalt* would let him fit in at top level in any era.
His intent and ability to play passes with few touches allowed him to open space and speed up play in ways the dribblings of famous wingers couldn’t. Charlton meanwhile could play and shine on the wing, even though using him in this way, as England did in 1962, was suboptimal. Wherever he played, the Ashington-born Northumberland man regularly made intelligent runs to vacate and open space. And he could play defense splitting passes over any distance, while his own skill and shooting acumen made it perilous to let him have to much space (as exemplified by his two goals in the ’66 semi final against Coluna and Eusebio’s Portugal, both scored from arriving late at the edge of the box).
Charlton also knew how to use his strengths strategically. He would regularly seek out narrow space, which he could navigate with his technique and awareness to play passes which released teammates into open space.
Similar remarks can be made about his defensive contributions: Charlton was always quick to adjust his positioning when possession was lost, and prepared to track back deep into his team’s half, actually making the whole pitch his sphere of influence.
Especially in the light, or rather, dark shade of recent events – the devastation of Brazilian club Chapecoense – the achievements of Charlton and his teams in the 60s have to be put in the context of the Munich Air Disaster in 1958.
It was of course the central event in the history of Manchester United and grimly necessitated the remarkable rebuilding effort lead by Matt Busby and Charlton, which culminated in the 1968 European Cup win over Benfica. But it also had an impact on the England team that won their sole World Cup in 1966 (also having met Coluna/Eusebio en route to that controversial final) without the likes of Duncan Edwards, who – if reports are to be believed – may well have featured in this XI.
Professional football is usually played by adults. Young adults, mostly, but still adults. But every once in a while you watch a player who makes all the other players look like kids. That’s the kind of player Mario Coluna was.
The great Eusebio certainly is the most famous player of the very succesful 60s Benfica side and he indeed has a fair shout for being their MVP. But he isn’t the only one. I think that Coluna was at least equally important for theis success. Eusebio was their star man, Coluna was their heart and soul (and lungs and muscle and brain).
In my mind I’d like to call Charlton and Coluna “Di Stéfano’s disciples”. While the increasing speed of the game made it impossible to play just like Di Stéfano did in the 50s, both Charlton and Coluna adopted many elements of his game. Both of them were “total” players. Outstanding allrounders, who participated in the attacking and defensive game in equal measures. Coluna was bit more defensive than Charlton but both of them were really complete players.
For a true Coluna masterclass performance, look no further than this match against Brazil in the ’66 World Cup. Coluna plays relatively deep for the most part but shows his talent for popping up all wherever he is needed. He shields the defense and orchestrates Portugal’s game.
Coluna certainly was one of the most physically imposing players of the 60s. I can hardly believe that he was just 1,72m tall. I’ve never seen him being outmuscled by anyone. Among the most surprising aspects of his game were his dribbling skills. I remember thinking “Okay, now I know what Coluna was about: an intelligent enforcer with a tidy passing game who mostly kept things simple… oh, now he dribbled past four opponents.” Truly a complete footballer. I can’t really think of a modern players who comes close to him. Maybe a cross between Gündogan, Gattuso, Makélélé and Modric. Not too bad, eh?
It’s been a while since I’ve watched all the Grande Inter matches I could find, but I still know which two players impressed me the most: their veteran sweeper Armando Picchi (more on him in a later blogpost) and their most famous attacking player, Sandro Mazzola.
The son of the late Torino legend Valentino Mazzola spent his whole career with the Nerazurri. From what I’ve seen, his career peak came quite early, in his early-mid 20s (although he came second in the 1971 Ballon d’Or). During those days he helped Internazionale become one of football’s great superpowers and was a key man for one of the most memorable (and arguably infamous) sides, La Grande Inter.
Managed by Helenio Herrera, La Grande Inter liked to sit rather deep and hit their opponents on the counter. However, this applies to high profile matches rather than to ordinary Serie A games against lesser opponents. In these matches Inter had to be more proactive in order to avoid a 0-0 stalemate. Yes, Grande Inter was a more defensive side than, for example, 70s Ajax or 08-12 Barcelona, but a look at their statistics will show you that they actually scored plenty of goals.
Key to that was their transition game. Once they managed to win the ball they would launch highspeed counter attacks. While players like Luis Suarez Miramontes, Jair and Facchetti were vital parts of Inter’s attacking game as well, Mazzola, in my opinion, was the most important of them all.
What kind of player was Sandro Mazzola? Mazzola was an attacking allrounder who was blessed with pace, stamina, a certain degree of robustness and a fine technique. I thought about which modern player could serve as a point of comparison and I eventually came to think of peak Kaká. The Brazilian is a bit taller than the Italian and has a higher top speed but then again, football players in general are taller and faster today. All in all Kaká’s and Mazzola’s qualities are quite similar.
Both of them aren’t true strikers (or even forwards). They are midfielders but as attacking as one can be while still remaining a midfielder. At their peak they both scored lots of goals (Mazzola was the Serie A top scorer in 64-65) and were outstandingly dynamic players. While Mazzola was a fine attacking midfielder in the classic sense (good technique, spatial awareness, intelligence), his physical constitution and allround abilities were vastly superior to most of his contemporaries.
Eusebio was a phenomenal player – not just in the sense of exceptional quality, but also of that quality being very visible and apparent to any observer.
As such, his most readily emergent strength was a ferocious shot, which he was able to deploy in very few, concise, and surprising movements. If I was forced to make a modern comparison, I might say that Eusebio had the shot that Hulk thinks he has.
But crucially, Eusebio had *more* than that. Along with his powerful finishing (also from headers), the Mozambican could dribble creatively and with equally great speed, agility, technique and strength in holding off defenders. The attributes contributing to his style flowed from a particular, dense yet slight physique, and were paired with world class technique, accompanied most of the time by spatial awareness.
Eusebio would also at times drop back from his centre forward position into the ‘ten space’ or even deeper to (start solo runs or) play decisive passes, or optimally high-velocity one-twos.
All of these faculties combined to Eusebio being immensely prolific, with especially astounding volumes and consistency for Benfica, for whom, from 1960-75, he scored 473 goals in 440 games. That tally, which is better than even that of Gerd Müller for his club, includes a five-year streak of better than 1 goal/game league seasons, culminating in 1967/68 at 42 in 24.
What is perhaps more surprising in looking back at Eusebio’s performances, for instance in the final of the 1962 European Cup against Real Madrid, is that he was also a functional part of a pressing unit in Bela Guttmann’s Benfica, and would not just block passing lanes in the opposition defense, but also track back deep inside their own half.
That Eusebio – maybe the greatest African *and* Portuguese player of all time got to play all through his career at the highest level of European and World Football, and that he did so at Benfica in Portugal, is inextricably linked with colonialism. His achievements and capabilities may as such be seen equally as an expression of the potential of the African nations under colonial rule, and as a prime example of the cultural appropriation that was part of colonialism.
Part of this context is also Mario Coluna, who rightly also features in this team and was essential for Eusebio’s development both as a precursor on the way from Mozambique to Benfica, and in footballing terms as the midfield omnipresence he played off of.
What is, by all accounts, unambiguous, is that Eusebio was not just an exceptional player, but also a very good sport (occasional bursts of exasperation with murderous – or just desperate – tackles notwithstanding). While that, just like socio-historical significance, is not among the criteria for inclusion on these lists, it does add to the appreciation of one of the game’s greatest.
Sorry, but I think I have to disappoint you. The big (and I mean BIG) portrait of Pelé will be a part of the next Team of the Decade. I hope the implication that Pelé will win a starting spot in my next team isn’t too much of a spoiler. It shouldn’t be, really. If you have any knowledge of football history at all, it should be obvious that Pelé will be a part of the ’55-’65 team, too.
For now, let me just say this: During the early 60s Pelé reached one of the highest peaks in football history. He didn’t stay at that level for the whole decade, but remained a world class performer right until the end of the decade. Judging his evolution isn’t that easy because there isn’t that much full match footage of him outside of the World Cups. The fact that he was kicked to shreds in the ’66 World Cup makes judging the mid-late 60s Pelé not easier.
His early 60s peak alone basically secures him the Player of the Decade title. Players like Eusebio, Coluna and Charlton are true footballing royalty too, but peak Pelé just was something else. As I said, more on him next time.
To close this blogpost, here are some notes on players that didn’t make the first eleven: Beckenbauer – > already a world class player at WC ’66 but a bit too young to be included; Garrincha – > very high peak in the early 60s but his career soon trailed off; Best – > you’ve got to be as good as Pelé to be that individualistic and be included, he wasn’t.