Our European guru educates and enlightens
1. Turn the match into a holy warJohan Cruyff had a messianic streak as a manager. And in 1994, as his Barcelona dream team reached their second European Cup final in three years, he was rash enough to bill the contest, against Fabio Capello’s AC Milan, as a battle for the soul of European football.
Attack vs defence, romance vs pragmatism, flair vs efficiency, good guys vs bad guys. If Milan won, Cruyff suggested, it would be the death of football.
Cruyff may have hoped such rhetoric would unbalance the opposition by enraging them. All it really did was ensue that such gifted professionals as Maldini, Boban, Donadoni, Massaro, Savicevic and Desailly were truly motivated.
Cruyff was so busy casting the final as a jihad he was undone by Capello’s surprisingly attacking game plan. By the 47th minute, when Savicevic lobbed Zubizarreta to make it 3-0, the contest was over.
Two trophyless years later, Cruyff was ousted from Camp Nou. His exit was a disgrace but his messianic conviction (“Before I make that mistake I do not make that mistake”) hadn’t always done his players any favours.
Desailly helps Milan destroy Barca
2. Misunderestimate the oppositionThe build up to a game as historic as a European Cup final is so tricky that even the masters can get it wrong.
Researching the 1970 Feyenoord vs Celtic final for the latest issue of Champions, I was astonished to discover that even the great Jock Stein could be caught out by the occasion.
Stein’s Celtic had thrilled Europe in 1967 with their demolition of Inter in Lisbon. But at Inter’s ground, the San Siro, his team came unstuck against Ernst Happel’s Feyenoord.
This defeat is such a sore point its causes are still being debated. Stein maintained that too many of his players had a bad night. Most of his players thought Stein had kept the build-up too low key and underestimated the Dutch champions.
Just as Inter coach Helenio Herrera had done in 1967, Stein set out his team in their usual way. As his players took to the pitch, his suggestion that the Feyenoord team would be “sh*tting themselves” rang in their ears.
But Feyenoord’s Austrian coach Ernst Happel did for Stein. Celtic, Happel said, did one thing better than anybody else: attack. Stop them attacking and you could beat them. Feyenoord did just that.
They triple marked Jimmy Johnstone, slowed the game’s tempo so much that Celtic could find no rhythm and then played some fine attacking football, deservedly winning 2-1 in extra-time. No Scottish side has made the European Cup final since.
3. Write your victory speech in advanceBayern president Fritz Scherer did this in 1987, believing that this European Cup final would mark “the dawning of a great new era” for the club.
With 77 minutes gone, and Bayern 1-0 up, such confidence seemed well placed. But in three minutes, Bayern conceded twice – the equaliser that superb nonchalant back-heel by Rabah Madjer – and lost the final. Scherer ripped up his speech.
Madjer back-heels home
4. Be outfoxed at half-timeRafa Benitez isn’t the only manager to turn a final with a half-time switcheroo. In 1962, Benfica returned to the dressing room 3-2 down to Real Madrid.
But their coach Beta Guttman just told Cavem to mark Alfredo Di Stefano in the second half, cutting off the supply to Ferenc Puskas, who had already scored a hat-trick. The ploy worked. Benfica won the second half 3-1 and the game 5-3.
5. Concede the initiativeLiverpool’s return from the living dead in Istanbul wasn’t just remarkable because it was the only time a team has comeback from 3-0 down to win a European Cup final.
Even more amazingly, this resurrection happened against Milan, a club with a glorious tradition of winning the European Cup so swiftly and mercilessly their shell-shocked opponents are left wondering ‘what just happened?’
In 1969, under Nereo Rocco, the Rossoneri abandoned the catenaccio that had stifled Manchester United in the semi-final, to shock Rinus Michels’ talented young Ajax side, going 2-0 up after 39 minutes and restoring their two goal margin in the 67th minute.
They did the same against Steaua (in 1990) and Barcelona (in 1994). Bizarrely, Inter and Juventus, who faced Ajax in the 1972 and 1973 finals, ignored Rocco’s successful attacking game-plan, stuck to counter and catenaccio and were comprehensively outplayed.
6. Be caught out tacticallyThere’s a lot to be said for approaching a final – as Barcelona will almost certainly do – with the attitude that: this is who we are, this is how we play and let the other team worry about us.
The risk is that the opposing coach will worry so much they find a way of beating you.
Happel did just that against Giovanni Trapattoni’s Juve in 1983 to win the European Cup for a second time with Hamburg. He simply switched his Danish striker Lars Bastrup to the left, so he would face Juve’s attacking full-back Antonio Cabrini.
Trap tried to neutralise this ploy by asking Claudio Gentile to follow Bastrup and man-mark him. That left a hole on the right which Marco Tardelli failed to cover and from which Felix Magath popped up to score the only goal.
When you watch the goal you can see, just before Magath’s great strike, a veritable prairie’s worth of space on that side of the pitch.
Stein’s demolition of Inter in 1967 was built on his use of attacking full-backs, the very weapon Herrera had perfected by schooling Giacinto Facchetti to bomb forward for the Nerazzurri.
And Milan’s victories in 1969 and 1994 were inspired by their coaches refusing to stick to the script as they set out their teams.
Magath lets rip from long-range
7. Go two goals downIn 53 European Cup finals, only three teams have recovered from a two goal deficit to win: Real Madrid (in 1956), Benfica (in 1962) and Liverpool (in 2005).
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