Fifty years ago, Celtic made history when they became the first British team to lift the European Cup when the defeated Internazionale in Lisbon.
The Hoops’ achievement was memorable for a number of reasons. Of course, in simplistic terms, the Glaswegian giant’s victory was a true underdog story. Internazionale, managed by the legendary Helenio Herrera, had won two of the last three European Cups. Nicknamed la grande Inter, many saw them as being the best side on the continent at that time and were heavy favourites going into the final.
Celtic’s victory also helped usher in a new era for football, one that would free itself from the shackles of catenaccio. As Jonathan Wilson wrote in his seminal book on tactics, Inverting the Pyramid, “catenaccio didn’t die with la Grande Inter,but the myth of its invincibility did. Celtic had proved that attacking football had a future.” Not long afterwards, the more offensively minded 4-2-4 and then the 4-4-2 become the default formation.
However, what Celtic’s triumph is most famous for is that the squad, collectively known as the Lisbon Lions, were all born within a thirty-mile radius of Celtic Park. From goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson to centre-forward Stevie Chalmers and club captain Billy McNeil, they all had their roots in Glasgow. They were all from working-class stock and the fans could easily identify with the players and vice versa. To this day, that Celtic side of 1967 remains one of football’s greatest fairytale stories.
Given that football is now a truly global game, it is unlikely that we will ever witness something like the Lisbon Lions ever again. Yet at football’s heart, the game remains incredibly localised, especially in the Czech Republic. For the most part, people support their local football team. Youngsters enrol with local sides and progress through the ranks, hoping to make it one day. And fans want to see those youngsters, those people that they can identify with, thrive.
But the price of success has put this link in jeopardy. Much has been written about Slavia and Sparta Prague’s recent spending sprees, but some of the biggest casualties of this money-fuelled summer are the academy graduates who are being eased aside in favour of high profile signings from abroad.
Lukáš Juliš and Václav Kadlec have both been linked with moves away from the Generali Arena in recent days. Sure, many fans won’t be too sad to see them go, but it isn’t that long ago that Juliš was lighting up the Stadio Olimpico and Kadlec was terrorising defences and looking like he might (finally) fulfil his promise.
Further down the pecking order, we have seen Matěj Pulkrab and Filip Havelka joined Slovan Liberec on loan. And after an impressive Under-19 European Championships, Daniel Turyna has been sent to České Budějovice, rather than be given the chance to force his way into the equation alongside David Lafata and Marc Janko.
At Eden, it is a similar story. Jaromír Zmrhal looks to have lost his seemingly secured place in Slavia’s starting line-up, with Jaroslav Šilhavý opting to go with Danny out wide and Ruslan Rotan alongside Josef Hušbauer in the centre of midfield. And last season, in the midst of their title-winning campaign, Tomáš Souček and Alex Král had to leave to find first-team opportunities.
Sure, the fans might be excited about the arrival of Tal Ben Chaim and Danny, but where is the local link that unites the supporter base? At the moment, it’s either sat on the bench or missing from the match day eighteen entirely.
And so, the reports that emerged on Monday morning, a few hours before Sparta’s tie with Mladá Boleslav, that Michal Sáček could be on his way to Zlín should have signified another depressing chapter in this particular tale. Instead, Sáček, just twenty, pulled the strings as Sparta rebounded to record a 1-0 win.
Many of the Tuesday morning headlines will be focused on the arrival of another high profile signing, Jonathan Biabiany, who finally completed his long-awaited move from Internazionale prior to the game. But make no mistake, it was Sáček who stood up and controlled everything from the centre of midfield. It was he who set things in motion for Sparta’s goal. With a hop, skip and a jump he bypassed Marek Matějovský and created space for himself near the centre circle. Then, without even looking, he played a delightful crossfield ball over the top of the Mladá Boleslav defence for Biabiany to chase, giving the French winger time to pick scan the area and pick out David Lafata, who headed in from six yards. Lafata celebrated and people noted Biabiany’s pinpoint cross, but it was Sáček who set it up.
“After the friendly with Vitesse Arnhem, I decided to go with other players,” Andrea Stramaccioni said of his decision to omit Sáček from Sparta’s first eleven thus far. But, he added, “today I saw a completely different performance,” hinting that the midfielder might just have worked his way into contention for the rest of the season.
In an age where cash and big names are kings, Michal Sáček could well claim the crown as his own.
A terrible week for the coefficient (but it’s not all doom and gloom)
It can’t have escaped anybody’s attention that it has been a rough couple of days for the Czech coefficient, which took a hammering as all four Czech sides in Europe lost this past week.
Mladá Boleslav and Viktoria Plzeň’s capitulation against Skënderbeu and FCSB were really something to watch (preferably from behind the sofa), whilst Sparta’s defeat to Crvena Zvezda was to be expected given the first-leg in Belgrade.
Slavia provided some solace by progressing to the Champions League Play-Off Round, but even they managed to lose away in Belarus to BATE Borisov. Thank heavens for the away goals rule.
Luckily, the two remaining Czech sides in European competition were handed winnable ties, with Slavia drawing APOEL in the final round of Champions League qualifying and Plzeň getting AEK Larnaca. Given that they could have faced Celtic or a buoyant Utrecht side respectively, Silhavy and Vrba should be pleased with their opponents.
A weekend of late drama….sort of.
It would be fair to say that not much happened this weekend. For those that decided to spend a full Sunday watching the football, my condolences, as three games for little action of note and a solitary goal represents a poor return.
Most of the newsworthy stuff happened on Saturday when there was a flurry of late drama. Ten-man Zlín scored twice after the hour mark to come from behind to defeat Zbrojovka and Bohemians’ Milan Jirásek netted in the eighty-fifth minute to sink Karviná.
But it all kicked off in Olomouc as Pavel Moulis scored within a minute of coming on as a substitute to give Sigma the three points against a visibly frustrated Slovan Liberec side. So frustrated in fact, that Filip Havelka picked up two rapid-fire bookings to be shown a red, just moments after the restart. And to make things worse, Liberec had a very, very late penalty shout turned down.
HET Liga Results
Saturday 5th July
Bohemians 1905 2-1 Karviná
Sigma Olomouc 2-1 Slovan Liberec
Teplice 3-1 Dukla Prague
Zlín 2-1 Zbrojovka Brno
Sunday 6th July
Baník Ostrava 0-0 Slavia Prague
Jablonec 0-1 Viktoria Plzeň
Vysočina Jihlava 0-0 Slovácko
Karviná 2-0 Vysočina Jihlava
Sunday 29th July
Mladá Boleslav 0-1 Sparta Prague
- Posted by Chris Boothroyd
- On 16th August 2017