Posts Tagged ‘European Cup’

The Lisbon Lions from Glasgow
The Best Ever Local Side..?

by Richard DJJ Bowdery.

Global Talent

In today’s £multi-billion football industry players are drawn from all parts of the globe to play in Leagues as far apart as the USA, Great Britain and Japan. Even top teams in the English non-league pyramid have players who originated from overseas.

So when Juventus and Barcelona contest this year’s Champions League (European Cup) Final on Saturday 6 June, it will come as no surprise that both teams will field players drawn from far and wide: most notably Barca’s Lionel Messi, who hails from Argentina.

Although this is now the norm, it wasn’t always so. Indeed one team in particular, who once claimed Europe’s top club prize, hailed from a lot closer to home.

Glasgow Through and Through

Nearly 50 years ago in May 1967 Celtic FC became the first British club to lift the European Cup when they beat Italy’s Inter-Milan 2-1, in Lisbon, Portugal. Not only was this a great first for the British game, it also provided one other rather amazing statistic: all the Celtic players were born within a thirty mile radius of Glasgow. Some footballing commentators have hinted that it was closer to fifteen.

Whichever figure is true it was remarkable that such a ‘local’ side could take on and triumph over Europe’s best.

To cap it all even their manager, the late, great Jock Stein, came from within that 30 mile radius.

The Team

The Glasgow lads who made history that day were:

67LisbonLions1. Ronnie Simpson
2. Jim Craig
3. Billy McNeill (c)
4. John Clark
5. Tommy Gemmell
6. Bobby Murdoch
7. Bertie Auld
8. Jimmy Johnstone
9. Willie Wallace
10. Stevie Chalmers
11. Bobby Lennox

 

Compare that to the Celtic side who competed in this year’s Champions League competition. In addition to players from the British Isles, you had players from Honduras, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Sweden, Israel, Australia, Norway, Bulgaria, Ghana, and Serbia.

It is a fair bet that never again will such a local side lift a major club trophy which makes the Lisbon Lions victory, all those years ago, even more memorable.

 

@RichardBowdery

 

 

May 13th 1960: Madrid Put on Exhibition in Glasgow
Puskás & Di Stéfano run amock

On 13 May 1960 Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in front of a crowd of 135,000 people at Hampden Park in Glasgow to win their fifth consecutive European Cup Final.

Real had an easy enough route to the final although they did have to overcome La Liga rivals Barcelona 6-2 aggregate.

Frankfurt’s path to the final included a 12-4 aggregate demolition of Glasgow Rangers.

The final itself was initially in doubt as the German FA had banned their clubs from taking part in matches with any team containing Ferenc Puskás after the Hungarian had alleged the West German team had used drugs in 1954. Puskás had to make a formal written apology before the match could take place.

Frankfurt took an early lead in Glasgow with a goal from striker Richard Kress in the 18th minute. Real then opened the floodgates, and when you consider who they had up front it’s easy to understand how. Their seven goals came by the way of a hat-trick from legendary Argentinian striker Alfredo di Stéfano (27′, 30′ 73′) and four goals from their equally legendary Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskás (46′, 56′, 60′, 71′).

Puskas (centre) scores Real Madrid's fifth goal against Eintracht at Hampden Park.

Puskas (centre) scores Real Madrid’s fifth goal against Eintracht at Hampden Park.

Puskás and Di Stefano are two of only three players to have scored a hat-trick in a European Cup or Champions League final, with the other being Pierino Prati for AC Milan in 1969.

Frankfurt’s forward Erwin Stein scored two late goals (72′, 75′) in an attempt to add some respectability to the scoreline.

Although one-sided, the match is widely considered one of the greatest European finals in history due to the exhibition Real put on for the vast crowd.

 

Lions Rip Catenaccio Apart!
Jock Stein’s Spy Mission of ’63 was the Blueprint for Victory in Lisbon

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Celtic players rejoice at the final whistle in Lisbon.

Celtic’s meeting with Inter in the last 32 of the Europa League naturally stirs memories of when they overcame the Italian giants to lift the European Cup. Our Great Shot captures the moment of joy at the final whistle in Lisbon.

On May 25th, 1967 Jock Stein took a side that included the talents of Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox and Bobby Murdoch to Lisbon on a night that changed the face of British football as The Bhoys defeated Inter Milan 2-1 at the Estadio Nacional Stadium.

It was just Stein’s second season in charge, but his Celtic side achieved the impossible by winning every competition it entered that year. They claimed the Scottish League, Scottish Cup and League Cup as well as the Glasgow Cup – but all of that domestic glory was surpassed when they became the first British team to win the European Cup.

That heroic side become known as the Lisbon Lions, with many of the squad being included in the annals of Celtics history as the best to ever play for the club.

But the roots of that famous victory go back to the the autumn of 1963.

The then Dunfermline manager Jock Stein and his Kilmarnock counterpart Willie Waddell visited Italy to study the practices of Helenio Herrera, the groundbreaking Argentinian coach of Internazionale. Herrera was so obsessed by football and getting the best out of his players legend has it he slept with a model of a football pitch beside his bed – and his methods were working particularly well at Inter.

The notion of managers travelling all over Europe to observe the latest tactical trends was almost unheard of at the time, and the visit by Stein and Waddell changed both their  lives and their careers.

After returning from Milan both men would ditch the formal suits they wore and instead embrace the previously unknown concept of being a ‘tracksuit manager’.

Waddell found almost instant success, using the defensive template of Herrera’s to win Kilmarnock their first (and so far only) league title in 1965.

Stein would have to wait a little longer for his success, but when it came it would be ceaseless.

In December 1965, shortly after taking over at Celtic, Stein watched Scotland lose to Italy in Naples. Afterwards, Stein took Herrera’s most articulate player, left-back Giacinto Facchetti, to a hotel bar where, with the aid of diagrams scrawled on napkins, he picked the player’s brains into the early hours.

Stein was determined to find ways to break down Europe’s meanest defences and the lessons from that night with Facchetti would serve him well 18 months later.

In 1967, with a team made up of players all born within 30 miles of Celtic’s Parkhead ground, Stein’s Bhoys reached the European Cup final. Standing in the way of the Scottish side and the Holy Grail in Lisbon were none other than Herrera’s Inter.

Before the final, Stein put what he had learned to good use, instructing his left-back Tommy Gemmell: “Your job is to play like Facchetti, to think like Facchetti, to be Facchetti.”

The match began as many expected it would, with favourites Inter going in front early through Mazzola’s penalty kick. The goal seemed to galvanise Celtic rather than deflate them. Stein’s homework began to pay off as Celtic pinned the Italian Champions back with short accurate passing.

Inter’s Catenaccio system left gaps for Celtic’s full-backs Jim Craig and Gemmell to move into and exploit and Inter’s defenders were drawn out to the flanks to try and stem the threat. “It felt like there were 22 Scottish players shooting at us from every direction,” said Inter centre-back Aristide Guarneri.

So good was Tommy Gemmell at playing and thinking like Facchetti that he equalised just after the hour mark. When Stevie Chalmers finally put Celtic ahead with seven minutes remaining the game was over. The Inter players were almost relieved at the end with Captain Armando Picchi later confessing “Extra time would have brought a drubbing…”

It was a hard defeat to take for Herrera, one from which he never fully recovered.Between 1964 and 1967, ‘il Mago’ (the Wizard) had dominated the European Cup with Inter, winning it twice and leading them to another final and semi-final. After this mauling by the Lisbon Lions he moved on, becoming Roma boss in 1968, but he never won another European trophy.

Stein had been quietly confident before the final. “We don’t just want to win this cup, we want to do it playing good football, to make neutrals glad we won,” he said.

Mission accomplished.

@KGHof

 

Di Stefano: The Most Influential Player of All Time + Tributes & Quotes to a Legend of the Game

by Tim Vickery.

Who is the greatest player ever – Pele or Maradona? It is a question I get asked all the time. It’s a tricky one – and often seems to me a bit like two bald men fighting over a comb.

They were exceptional talents, to be enjoyed rather than compared, especially in the aggressive tone usually employed in the debate.

But the more I think about it the clearer my own answer, for what it’s worth, seems to be. They ask Pele or Maradona. I say Di Stefano.

Alfredo Di Stefano with Argentina, taken during the 1947 Americas Cup

Alfredo Di Stefano with Argentina, taken during the 1947 Americas Cup

The comparisons on playing styles are always difficult, especially when dealing with different eras. But I think I’m on safe ground arguing that there has never been a footballer more influential than Alfredo Di Stefano.

He never played in a World Cup, but club football belongs to him. The world’s two leading international club competitions bear his mark – one obviously and directly, the other indirectly.

Di Stefano was the last great product of the golden age of Argentine football, the 1940s, when he starred for River Plate. After the big players strike there in 1948 he was snapped up by Colombia’s newly-launched league, and helped get the professional game off the ground there as the star of the great Millonarios side. And in 1953, at the age of 27, he went to Real Madridand changed the course of history.

When the European Cup, as the Champions League was then known, was launched in the 1955/56 season there was no guarantee of success. World War Two was still very recent, though the continent was rebuilding and starting to pull away from post-war austerity. The English authorities were sufficiently suspicious of the whole thing to discourage Chelsea from entering the inaugural version.

In hindsight, such an attitude appears ridiculous – because it meant that English crowds were missing out on the Di Stefano show.

Bobby Charlton got a close look in 1957, when he watched from the stands in the first leg of the semi final, Manchester United away to Real Madrid.

“Who is this man?” was Charlton’s instant impression. “He takes the ball from the goalkeeper; he tells the full-backs what to do; wherever he is on the field he is in position to take the ball; you can see his influence on everything that is happening… I had never seen such a complete footballer. It was as though he had set up his own command centre at the heart of the game. He was as strong as he was subtle. The combination of qualities was mesmerising.”

All of Europe was going through the same experience. Di Stefano took the game of football up to a level the continent had never seen before. He was not the driving force behind Real Madrid winning the first five European Cups, he was also chiefly responsible for the quick success of the competition. Everyone wanted to see his Real Madrid side.

Alfredo-Di-Stefano

Di Stefano is the reason why Leeds where all-white.

Just as had happened after Uruguay won the 1924 Olympics in Paris, some South American talent had set off a fever for the game in Europe. If Leeds United wear white, if there is a club in the US called Real Salt Lake, and if the European Cup was an instant hit, then much of the credit belongs to Di Stefano.

Some would even argue that as the leading light in Real’s galaxy, Di Stefano helped improve foreign perceptions of Spain, thus encouraging the tourist boom and consequently hastening the country’s integration into mainstream Western European politics following the death of the dictator Franco.

That might well be going too far. But I don’t think that it is excessive to argue that, without ever intending to, Di Stefano helped bring into life the Copa Libertadores, South America’s European Cup equivalent.

There were serious impediments to launching such a competition in the continent of Di Stefano’s birth – South America is huge, and transport structure, far from perfect even today, was rudimentary.

An attempt had been made in 1948 to gather the continent’s best clubs for a tournament in Chile – Di Stefano played for River Plate – but although it was a success the timing was wrong; the players strike was about to erupt in Argentina, which had the effect of forcing the country into footballing isolation and driving Di Stefano to Colombia.

So there was no follow up, and no thoughts of a competition staged on a home and away basis – until an invitation arrived from Uefa.

Liga de Quito win the 2008 Copa Libertadores

Back on the other side of the Atlantic, the success of the European Cup was making people curious. Could there conceivably be a better team than Real Madrid somewhere out there? Did the continent that produced Di Stefano have any more where that one came from?

Uefa, then, proposed to the South American Federation that an annual game be staged between the champions of the two continents. All South America had to do was find a method of deciding its champion. And thus was born the Copa Libertadores, whose 50th version kicks off in earnest this week.

Without Di Stefano’s exploits with Real Madrid it would not have got off the ground so soon.

 From Tim Vickery’s BBC Blog, originally published in February 2009 (@Tim_Vickery).

 

Here are some quotes on the great Alfredo Di Stefano who passed away on Monday having just turned 88;

Soccer - European Cup - Final - Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt

Alfredo Di Stefano (left) scored three goals, and Ferenc Puskas (right) four in the 7-3 win against Eintracht Frankfurt at Hampden Park

“Alfredo Di Stéfano was the greatest footballer of all time – far better even than Pelé. He was, simultaneously, the anchor in defence, the playmaker in midfield, and the most dangerous marksman in attack.”

Helenio Herrera, legendary former coach of Inter Milan.

“I don’t know if I had been a better player than Pelé, but I can say without any doubt that Di Stéfano was better than Pelé. I am proud when one speaks of Di Stéfano. Pelé would have flopped had he played in Europe, whereas Alfredo has played very well throughout the world. I can say that Maradona could be worse than Pelé. But I emphasize Di Stéfano was better”.

Diego Maradona, World Cup winner, speaking to Italian television in 1997.

“To his strength, stamina and electric change of pace, Di Stéfano allied superb ball control on which he put a premium. He score goals in superabundance yet made so many for others. If there was a King in the European Cup, it was surely Alfredo Di Stéfano.”

Brian Glanville, world famous soccer writer.

“Di Stéfano was a great player and saw things others didn’t see. He knew the game back to front and was always physically and mentally well-prepared. Di Stéfano ranks among the greatest players for me.”

Ferenc Puskas, former teammate and one of the all time greats.

“When Madrid fans said I was the heir to Di Stefano’s role in the Real team, I was more apprehensive than pleased. For Di Stefano was the greatest player I have ever seen. The things he did in a match will never be equalled.”

Luis Del Sol, former teammate and Juventus legend.

 

ALFREDO IN HIS OWN WORDS;

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Alfredo Di Stefano; July 4th 1926 – July 7th 2014

“A soccer game without goals is like an afternoon without sunshine.” Di Stéfano scored over 800 goals in his career.

“We are all footballers, and as such should be able to perform competently in all 11 positions.”

“The best player I saw in my life was Adolfo Pedernera. Undoubtedly Maradona was exceptional, fantastic. The best for years. One can also not ignore Pelé. For heaven’s sake, although it is difficult to make comparisons, Pedernera was a very complete player who can play in the whole pitch.” 

“The ball gave me prestige, gave me fame, gave me riches. Thank you, my old friend. Because the ball I have a wonderful family, I have a son that plays soccer…” 

“I was right-footed, so my father didn’t let me play unless I would shoot the ball with my left foot.” Di Stéfano explains why he had such a powerful left-footed shot.

 

 

AC Milan of 50 Years Ago…
The Rossoneri are Campioni of Europe for the First Time

Milan1964-VctorBentezGilbertoNolettiJosAltafiniGianniRiveraCesareMaldiniDarioBarluzziGiovanniTrapattoniAmarildoBrunoMoraAmbrogioPelagalliGiotop: Víctor Benítez, Gilberto Noletti, José Altafini, Gianni Rivera, Cesare Maldini, Dario Barluzzi; bottom: Giovanni Trapattoni, Amarildo, Bruno Mora, Ambrogio Pelagalli, Giovanni Lodetti.

Here is a fantastic photo of the AC Milan team from 50 years ago. At the time they were European Champions having beaten Benfica 2-1 at Wembley in 1963. It was Benfica’s third successive final and they quickly took the lead through the brilliant Eusebio, but José Altafini scored twice in the second half to give the Rossoneri the first of their seven European Cups.

Milan had made it to Wembley by defeating Ipswich Town in the earlier rounds before coming up against the might of Dundee, managed by Bill Shankly’s brother Bob, in the semi finals. A 5-1 triumph in the San Siro proved too much to overhaul for the Scottish Champions but they did win the second leg 1-0 through an Alan Gilzean goal in front of over 35,000 packed into Dens Park.

The Milan side featured two future Azzurri managers in Giovanni Trapattoni and Cesare Maldini, father of another Milan legend Paulo Maldini.

 

Clough Was Taylor Made – The Story of Peter Taylor

October 4th is the anniversary of the death of Peter Taylor, Brian Clough’s right hand man throughout the most successful spell of his managerial career. Here KARL HOFER pays tribute to the often unheralded number two.

“I’m not equipped to manage successfully without Peter Taylor. I am the shop window and he is the goods.” Brian Clough.

Sport. Football. pic: circa 1980. Peter Taylor, Nottingham Forest Assistant Manager (who had a successful career at "Forest" working with the Manager Brian Clough).

Peter Taylor

You have to wonder if there was ever a better number two than Peter Taylor..? Assistant managers are not the men that go down in the history books as the ones who delivered success to a club or have their names sung by the adoring crowd, but those in the game will appreciate what they bring to the table.

It’s a strange existence for sure, never heralded when times are good but just as culpable as the boss when things go wrong, the number two rarely stays when the manager exits…

But every great man needs a rock behind them and that’s exactly where Taylor, who died on October 4th 1990, came in.

Brian Clough is universally regarded as one of the truly great managers and arguably the most fascinating character in English football history. He has roads and stands named after him, statues erected in his honour, countless books written and films and TV documentaries made about him.

And rightly so.

It would be wrong to say that Taylor’s role in the success story that was Brian Clough’s career has largely been ignored, but it cannot be over stated.

As a player, Taylor’s career was pretty uninspiring. He played less than 250 games as a goalkeeper for Coventry, Middlesbrough and Port Vale before hanging up his gloves and taking charge of Burton Albion in 1962.

The most significant period of his career was his spell at Boro, that was where he met an up-and-coming striker by the name of Brian Clough. When Clough’s career was curtailed by injury he took over as manager of Hartlepool and Taylor was quick to join him.

Perfect Partners

They quickly established a successful partnership, and soon found themselves at Derby County, where they won promotion to the First Division in 1969 and incredibly brought the Championship to the Baseball Ground two years later, the first league title of the Rams’ 88 year history.

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The pair celebrate Derby’s first ever league title

So it was quite a coup for third tier Brighton & Hove Albion to have the pair take charge of the South coast club after Clough’s mouth led to them leaving Derby. After eight not so successful months Clough left to replace Don Revie for an ill-fated 44-day spell at Leeds United, but Taylor stayed on the south coast, building a team that went on to win promotion the season after he left to join Clough at Forest.

Much as they are now, Forest were struggling in the second tier when Clough arrived in January 1975. A little over five years later, they had won the European Cup. Twice.

Clough had enjoyed a steady first season at the City Ground with Forest finishing in 8th spot in Divsion Two, but when Taylor joined him in July 1976 the clubs fortunes enjoyed a meteoric rise.

Forest were promoted the next season and in their first season back in the First Division Forest romped home to the title, finishing seven points clear of runners-up Liverpool. The next season they won the European Cup and would go on to retain it the year after, going down in history as the only club in Europe that has won the European Cup more times than their domestic league.

Fall Out

The twin European Cup successes were the pinnacle of the pair’s relationship. Relations began to deteriorate and Clough and Taylor had an almighty falling out following the publication of Taylor’s autobiography in 1980, that was entitled “With Clough by Taylor”. Clough was incensed that Taylor had not consulted him over the book

Six months after retiring Taylor became manager of Forest’s biggest rivals, Derby County.  And when Taylor signed John Robertson without informing him, Clough was incensed, seeing this as the ultimate act of betrayal. Clough and Taylor never spoke again.

When their teams met in the third round of the FA Cup in January 1983, the two managers ignored each other.

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Cracks in their relationship were starting to appear

In a tabloid article, Clough called Taylor a “snake in the grass” and declared that “if his car broke down and I saw him thumbing a lift, I wouldn’t pick him up, I’d run him over.” Taylor retorted that Clough’s outbursts were “the sort of thing I have come to expect from a person I now regard with great distaste.”

One of the most incredible double acts in British football was no more. Taylor once described their working relationship like so: “We just gelled together, we filled in the gaps… My strength was buying and selecting the right player, then Brian’s man management would shape the player.”

Following the falling out Clough’s Forest side, although often successful, would never hit the heights of the halcyon days of his partnership with Taylor. Just a year before his untimely death, Taylor wrote an article encouraging Clough to retire gracefully, before he was either forced out by his chairman or his ill-health got the better of him. Clough responded that Taylor’s comments were not fit to be in the “wrapper that we used to eat fish and chips in Middlesbrough.”

Taylor proved to be right.

Remorse

Peter Taylor died suddenly whilst on holiday in Majorca at the age of 62. Sadly the rift between the pair had not been repaired, and when Clough was told of his death on the telephone he fell silent, hung up and wept.

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The statue of Clough and Taylor outside Pride Park

Clough attended Taylor’s funeral but couldn’t bring himself to sit near the front. The grief he felt at the death of his great friend was palpable. It’s hardly a coincidence that Clough turned to the bottle a lot more in the years immediately after Taylor’s death, the deterioration in his health was public and obvious.

You can hear what Clough truly thought about Taylor from his words. He later said of Taylor’s knack of finding players: ‘He was always 24 hours ahead of me when it came to seeing things and spotting players. I don’t like to name drop, but Frank Sinatra once told me that the written word is the first thing in his business and the music comes later.

‘Well, in football, the man who picks the players comes first. All the bullshit comes later.’

Clough later dedicated his 1994 autobiography to his former assistant. “To Peter,” it read. “Still miss you badly. You once said: ‘When you get shot of me there won’t be as much laughter in your life.’ You were right.”

 

Manchester City v Bayern Munich + City’s European Cup Heartache of 45 Years

Wednesday night sees Manchester City mix it with the big boys again as they continue in their Champions League adventure – And they don’t come much bigger than the reigning European Champions Bayern Munich.

City won their opening game 3-0 at Viktoria Plzen, but this encounter will provide a first real test for City under Pellegrini. Under his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, City failed to get out of the group stages in the last two campaigns and if they are to establish a serious reputation for themselves in Europe they will have to improve upon that this time round.

Those last two European campaigns were City’s first in the quest for the cup with the big ears since way back in 1968. That time England had two representatives in the European Cup and both were from Manchester; City represented England as champions and United were there as holders.

But back then, just as it has done lately, Europe’s premier competition brought little cheer for the blue half of Manchester and sadly for City they succumbed to Fenerbache in the first round 45 years ago this week.

Tony Coleman

Tony Coleman gave City the lead in Istanbul

It all began well enough in Istanbul, Tony Coleman giving City the lead after 11 minutes. After a goalless first leg City were now in the driving seat and they were doing a decent job of navigating their way through this tricky tie, Fenerbache looked a beaten side as they went in for the break.

The Guardian’s Albert Barham described it like this: “Ercan, the big, burly strong man of the defence shaped to head it back. Then he made mistakes. He decided to fox Coleman and anticipated that the ball would carry to Yavuz. It did not. Coleman, quick to spot the chance, pounced on it and as Yavuz came out to him, trying to tackle waist-high, Coleman popped the ball into the net. From then until half time the game was City’s to have if they could hold it. Oakes was playing superbly and Young did great work as City fell back on defence.”

But the second half couldn’t have started worse for the Blues as they conceded almost immediately after the restart, Abdullah the scorer after Ogun had squeezed the ball through a tiny gap in City’s massed defence.

City faced wave after wave of attack as the reinvigorated Turkish champions, roared on by a huge partisan crowd, tested their English counterparts resolve to breaking point. That point came with only 12 minutes left as Can’s free-kick was prodded home by Ogun.

It was a hostile environment the likes of which City had never encountered before and Fenerbahce in the end would not be denied.

Barham gives us an insight into what it was like that night in Istanbul: “They had begun the game, as was only to be expected, in a flurry of action which was almost hysterical, and from Can’s pass, Ogun put the ball into the net after six minutes. He was offside but not a Turk in the stadium – crammed to overflowing three hours before kick-off for this, Fenerbahce’s greatest match – would believe this. Players jostled the referee and hustled him in the general melee, but the official stood firm. He had a similar moment of embarrassment only seconds before the crucial goal. Again it was Ogun who got the ball into the net. Again he was offside. The scene was a repeat one.”

So City’s hopes of emulating their near-neighbours triumph from the previous May disappeared after just 180 minutes of football.

United on the other hand made it all the way to the semi-finals before losing out to eventual winners; Milan.

Arjen_Robben

Bayern’s Robben is 13/2 to open the scoring

THE ODDS

Manchester City v Bayern Munich

Man City:  2/1  The Draw: 12/5   Bayern Munich:  23/20

Selected Bets:

Correct Score: Man City 1-1 Bayern Munich at 13/2

First Goalscorer: Arjen Robben at 13/2

Scorecast: Aguero to score 1st, City to win 2-1: 70/1

BOBBY’S BET OF THE DAY: Halftime/Fulltime:  City/Draw at 14/1

 

Odds courtesy of William Hill

 

The Group of Champions

by Rob Shepherd

The Champions League is back

Over the past decade what used to be know as the European Cup has evolved into a de facto European Super League.

With the Super Clubs virtually guaranteed participation, a sense of embarking on a weird and wonderful mystery tour has to a large degree been lost.

Given the seeded format of the Group stages so too has the spine tingling cut and thrust of sudden death in the early stages.

But Group H – Celtic’s Group – throws up a spicy taste of the past. If not ‘The Group of Death’ – that could be Arsenal’s – its more like ‘The Group of Romance’;
Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax & Celtic.

Billy_McNeill_with_the_trpohy

Billy McNeill was the skipper of the first team from these shores to win the European Cup

All four are steeped in the colourful heritage of the competition. Celtic of course were the first British side to win the European Cup when they beat Inter Milan in Lisbon in 1967.

This season’s final is in Lisbon, but not even a New Romantic could expect history to repeat itself. In the hard nosed football world where money DOES buy success it’s too far fetched to hope for Lisbon Lions II.

But there will be a few teary eyed Green Glaswegian granddads who will well up over the next few weeks as The Bhoys play it out on the big stage. They won’t be able to resist recalling the exploits of McNeill, Johnstone, Auld et all to their bairns.

And while some bookies make Celtic 750/1 no-hopers to lift the trophy there is every prospect of them causing an upset or two on the way.

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It worked out nicely for AC Milan when they went Dutch

AC Milan, who boasted one of the all time great European Cup teams in the late Eighties, have already expressed caution ahead of their opening game against Neil Lennon’s side in the opening game at the San Siro.

That Milan are 50/1 emphasises they are a long way from being the force they were when they had the three Dutch masters, Rijkaard, Van Basten and Gullit, in their team.

Ajax, who had the dominant team of the early Seventies with Cruyff, Krol and Neeskens are 200-1 outsiders and could be vulnerable.

As for Barcelona, will the great team of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and now Neymar, bounce back after the disappointment of last season..? Barca are 9/2 second favourites behind holders Bayern Munich.

What is for certain is the atmosphere at Celtic’s three home games especially will be a throwback to the days when on the big European nights even the poshest punters would drink Bovril not Bollinger.

And as for the away trips; well for this generation of Celtic supporters it will be a bit like the Yellow Brick Road.

The Odds:

Chelsea to win it all? With Jose Mourinho on an unfinished business mission to win the CL with The Blues 9/1 is decent punt.

Dark Horse: The latest mega bucks side Paris St Germain are interesting at 16/1.

As for a decent long shot: Napoli are worth a go at 40-1.

 

The Trophy Room with Graeme Souness

Graeme Souness is a man carved half from granite, half from marble.

GraemeSouness1As a player he was both a rugged midfield enforcer and a sophisticated schemer. He scored great goals too. There was also an aura about him which, given the way he strutted about the pitch,  could be mistaken for arrogance, but was actually the mark of the supreme leader and winner Souness was in THE great Liverpool teams of the late Seventies and early Eighties.

So you might expect he would have built and extension to his house in order to accommodate all the memorabilia in a fancy Trophy Room. Not so. Since the Sky Sports pundit lives on the outskirts of Bournemouth in a property he rents most of his gongs from the golden days are in storage.

But some are more precious than others which is why he arranges to meet me outside the bank in Bournemouth High Street. Upon arrival it is clear Souness still cuts a suave figure with the hint of menace. He looks a cross between a mature model for Giorgio Armani and the lead actor in a Martin Scorsese movie, as he leans nonchalantly against a lamp post dressed immaculately in a lightweight charcoal suit, wide collared white shirt (top button open, of course) and a pair of wrap-around Raybans.

“Stay there for five minutes, just let me nip into the bank, there’s a few things from the deposit boxes you might like to see” says Souness.

Half an hour later we are sitting on the veranda of the Harbour Heights hotel which overlooks stunning Poole Bay harbour. After ordering Earl Grey tea and slice of Madeira cake (not quite so tough at the bar, but then it is afternoon) Souness, 59, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tuft of tissue paper. He unwraps the little parcel then places down on the table three very small, not much bigger than cufflinks, but very stunning thick  gold coins.

SoueyMedalsSeeing three European Cup winner’s medal in a row, in the flesh, touching them, is verging on football porn. For the record Souness won five Championship medals and four league cup medals for Liverpool, plus a stash of trophies with Glasgow Rangers as both player and manager as well as playing in Italy and competing at three World Cups (it was nearly four) for Scotland but clearly the three he had just put on the table are the ones he most cherishes.

“Winning the European Cup was the ultimate. These medals are very special to me. It proved you were the best team in Europe and I would say it was harder then than it is now” said Souness.

“Yes there are more games to play to get to the final in what has become the Champions League but remember you don’t have to be the best team in your country to qualify like we did back then. That is why I would say there are more occasions when the best team in Europe doesn’t win the trophy. That said, as great a team as we were back then, the Barcelona team of this era is the best I can recall seeing given the football they play from back to front. We played that way but they have taken it to another level.”

Indeed while Souness despairs about some aspects of the modern game he is not one to look back with rose tinted glasses. When I ask his what he thinks about the emerging Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal midfielder who shares many of Souness qualities, his eyes light up.Wilshere

“Oh yes, I like the lad a lot, he can become a really top player for Arsenal and England.” Souness asserts. So I venture, how does he think Wilshere compares to Liam Brady, the great Arsenal and Ireland midfielder of the Seventies and Eighties who, like Souness, was also a successful export to Serie A.

The answer was somewhat surprising. “I think Wilshere can become better than Brady…”

By Rob Shepherd

Look out for the full interview with Graeme Souness coming soon to Bobby.