ISL Kicks Off : Atlético de Kolkata 3: 0 Mumbai City FC

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The first edition of the Indian Super League kicked off at the Salt Lake Stadium with a tremendous bang. The home of

Atlético de Kolkata was packed with a capacity crowd as almost 80,000 Indians cheered together. And cheer they did, but this time, the cheers were not for the game of Cricket, but for its cousin- Football, which has finally taken off in India! 

With a  plethora of Bollywood and Cricketing personalities attending the event, there were over 180 million eyes watching the spectacle unfold, both from their seats in the stadium, in pubs with pals, and the confines of their houses. Being busy playing football, I missed the opening ceremony. But I did manage to catch the start off the match.

It began well enough, though it was obvious from the heavy touches and quick break of plays that the Indian players were nervy and feeling the weight of all the eyes on them. The humidity didn’t help matters either. Nevertheless, soon the game settled into its rhythm, with Atlético de Kolkata playing in a manner reminiscent of their parent team – Atlético de Madrid – with their quick fire tempo of passing and counter-attacking coupled with defending deep and breaking play. Nabi, the Mumbai captain got a yellow in the first minute of the game, and that was surely a sign of things to come. The Kolkata offense managed to cut open the Mumbai midfield quiet a few times, especially along the flanks, and would have had a good lead in the opening twenty minutes but for the spectacular keeping by Subrata Paul, showing just why he’s held the number one spot as the Indian goalkeeper for such a long time. Friedrich along with his partner Pavel Cmovs, the Czech made quite a few important tackles to keep the game level.

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Soon, Nabi banjaxed his ankle and was replaced, and Mumbai looked a tad more assured on the right side. Stohanzl had a busy game, breaking up the Kolkata plays, winning the ball and moving the game ahead. An assured performance from the lad. The game continued in its staccato manner, with Mumbai trying to slow the tempo while Kolkata continued to rampage ahead in their quickfire style. Luis Garcia showed that he’s still got it, and he means business with some mazy dribbling and brilliantly played through balls which left the opposition gaping a number of times. On one such occasion, he put the Ethiopian Fikru through, only for the striker to be caught offside.

Fikru Teferra chips Subrata Paul

As the game approached the 26th minute, another brilliantly played ball put Fikru through on goal with the defenders nowhere near the striker. As Subrata closed him down and dived to steal the ball, Fikru chipped the keeper and lobbed the ball into the net, a sublime finish and the sweetest of goals the ISL could have begun with. The striker’s ecstatic celebrations showed what the goal meant to him. Soon after the goal, the Mumbai team managed to rally together and get a freekick, only for the powerful shot to be sent straight into the hands of the Kolkata keeper, Roy. Paul was easily the busier of the two keepers as the half approached, and Roy was playing on the emotions of the crowd, egging them on and milking each catch for all it was worth, the lad was truly enjoying his moment in the limelight.

The second half got underway with Kolkata beginning the proceedings, For a while, the game continued in the same vein, Mumbai trying their version of the tika-taka, but without any penetration. The crosses into the Ateltico D were easily held by Roy, while Didika cut a lone and frustrated figure up top. He soon began coming into the midfield to help build plays and shuffle things up, but the lack of an incisive pass hurt the away team. Props to the Kolkata defense for man marking the lone striker out, while covering the full back positions impressively as well. The introduction of Andre Moritz added some fire and Brazilian panache to the Mumbai gameplay. Just as it looked like Mumbai would sneak in an equalizer from somewhere, Subrata Paul made a hash of a clearance – he probably wasn’t too keen on getting close to Fikru after being kneed in the head just moments ago. From the ensuing corner, the Mumbai defender made a weak clearance. The ball flew to the Borja Fernandez, the former Real Madrid man, who chested it down and showed impressive technique to half volley it into the top right corner – an absolute belter of a goal. A screamer if I’ve ever seen one. The keeper had no chance with that one and the age old words came to mind, “He’s never gonna strike the ball as sweetly as that again”. Of course, with the league in just its initial stages, he may turn those words on their head and provide a repeat performance. Who knows?!

With the goal, the Mumbai hopes were drowned as well. Ralte, Bhutia and Moritz tried to rally the team, but it was too little too late. Mumbai did get a number of free kicks in dangerous positions, but they barely managed to trouble the keeper. Other than a speculative shot from distance, which was deflected off the head of an Atletico defender, resulting in an instinctive save from Roy, who showed great reflexes to pluck the ball out of the air, and a header which was hit point blank at Roy again, Mumbai didn’t do much to threaten. A few good moves and dribbles would have made it through, but the Kolkata line of defense proved too strong, and the the last man would always win the ball back, or make a solid clearance. There was another hairy moment, when Garcia put in a spectacular cross, only for the ensuing header to be again saved point blank by Subrata Paul.  Stohanzl made some crucial interceptions and tackes as well.

Then, Luis Garcia was replaced by fellow countryman Arnal Llibert, who got the armband. Kolkata were happy to pass the ball around, while other than a wayward shot by Peter Costa and crosses from Raju Gaikwad- who was lucky to still be on the field- which were easily caught by Subhashish Roy, Mumbai didn’t have much to offer. The absence of their marquee players had hurt them a lot. Anelka’s presence, both as a target man and a finisher would have made a world of difference, along with Freddie’s assured displays on the wings.

Of course, the script for this one couldn’t have been  any different, as with what was almost the last play of the game, a beautifully weighted ball from the right flank was put perfecty beyond the reach of both Cmovs and Friedrich, and into the path of the onrushing Llibert, who had charged 60 yards to meet the ball. With a simple touch, he put it beyond the reach of Subrata Paul, who was left to pick the ball out of his own net for the third time that night. The game ended 3-0 in favour of Atlético de Kolkata, and a mexican wave of over 80,000 fans rocked the stadium once more!

ATKvsMCFC

All in all, an assured display by Kolkata in all parts of the pitch, and they’ve put down their credentials as potential champions.

Mumbai City FC now have a week to lick their wounds before the Maharashtra Derby, where they face FC Pune City. They have it all to do in the next week, and Peter Reid is sure to make them work on their penetration, composure on the ball, and final ball. 

A great night for Indian football, one from which they are sure to learn a lot, especially about dealing with in-game nerves, jitters, and the importance of being calm on the ball. The telecast was on par with International leagues, while the commentators provided an enjoyable match and added to the enthralling atmosphere, and were much better than those seen in the Italian and Spanish leagues. There’s plenty to look forward to in the next few months, and Indian Football and footballers are sure to benefit and gain much needed exposure from this league.

Onto tomorrow now, lads. Let’s football!

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Frightening Mesut Özil

“Mesut Ozil will be a frightening prospect once he has completely settled into the team”, said Parlour, who is joining the Arsenal away fans on the Barclays Buses this Saturday to say thank you for their support.

“I think his best is yet to come. It says something when the likes of Ronaldo at Real Madrid were sad to see him leave because of the number of goals he set up there. He’s still learning about English football but when we see the best of Ozil he will be absolutely frightening.”

Mesut_Ozil_Arsenal_2014_The_Gunner_HD_Desktop_Wallpaper_citiesandteams.blogspot.com

 

 

Let’s hope the Romford Pele’s words turn out to be true sooner, rather than later.

Dawn of a new era or just the same old story?

It’s been sometime since the optimism has flown through the Kop chants as it has this season. With exile for 4 years from Europe’s finest competition, the Reds look all set to return to the European stage with a bang, unless the footballing Gods have a devious plan! The last time Liverpool FC played in the UEFA Champions league – in 2009 – was also the season they came close to challenging for the title under Benitez, which sadly was the Spaniard’s penultimate season in charge. Back then, Liverpool FC boasted a hitman in Fernando Torres. And now, Luis Suarez along with Sturridge is pulling similar strings for the Merseyside outfit. The two have complimented each other so meticulously this season that, they’ve earned the plaudits of being the best strike force in the premier league, period. The duo boasts a combined 37 goals between them. Suarez being the protagonist, by all fairness, with 23 goals to his name after missing much of the start to the season with a lengthy ban! The lad is head and shoulders above the rest, with Aguero, his nearest competitor, trailing him by 8 goals. But the fact of the matter is that, even after possessing one of the most deadly strike force in all of the league, and boasting the second best goal difference in the league, bettered only by Man City, the Reds find themselves sitting 4th in the table; 8 points adrift the table toppers – Arsenal.

Who would’ve thought that a club which finished 7th last season would finish top of the league come Christmas and then be sitting quite comfortably in the 4th spot come January? But then again, that’s how open this premier league season has been in recent years, with this being the most open title race for some time. And this weekend could very well add fire to it. Liverpool host Arsenal at Anfield this week, knowing that a win would ascertain their top 4 credentials while a loss would mean that they are back in the midst of a fiery top 4 race.

But does Liverpool really look like a top 4 side? If Liverpool’s performances against the top sides is anything to go by then, they’ve faired really well, though at times they might not have earned the points to testify this claim. But it’s not how they’ve faired against the big teams, which is an issue, as much as how they’ve performed so abysmally against the lesser sides, is a cause for concern! A week ago, a certain Liverpool side thrashed Everton, another team vying for the top 4 spot, at Anfield, with an emphatic 4-0 score line. Fast forward to the following weekend, and you’ll find the same starting 11 draw a game at The Hawthorns against a lowly West Brom side. The performance was as contrasting as Ebony and Ivory! They were so shabby, lethargic and lost that one may argue whether they really are a top 4 contender. Resting on their laurels, perhaps?

They’ve quite mysteriously failed to add a new face in the January transfer window and with injuries aplenty, Liverpool look to be walking a tight rope. With an injury prone Sturridge, and lack of quality on the bench coupled with a lack of squad depth, an injury to Suarez or any of the other playmakers could really hamper their top 4 chances this season, let alone challenging the title. The returning [from injury] players will only aid their top 4 push, esp. Enrique, without whom the left back position, currently occupied by Cissokho, looks jaded.

Liverpool fans will be hoping that the lapses in concentration like the ones at The Hawthorns or that home draw to Aston Villa don’t come to haunt them come the end of the season. As of now; the optimism has ebbed a bit, but make no mistake, it’ll be flowing like a river if they manage to beat the current table toppers at the reinvigorated fortress that is Anfield. With both sides going for a pass and move football philosophy a.k.a the 21st century football unlike some others who prefer playing the 19th century one, one can hope to witness a mouth-watering clash; A beautiful game of football. So sit back and be entertained, in what could turn out to be a deciding week in the title race and a race for the top 4. With Everton hosting Spurs, in another of weekend’s fixture, it’s a chance for Man United to make some ground or risk losing a place in top 4 since 1990-91. The season is still far from done, though.

The problem with Liverpool is that, you just can’t write them off, but given their unpredictable performances so far this season, you might want to think twice before taking them seriously.

A loss at home against Wenger’s boys would mean that Liverpool fans are up for a long hard season, again.

~Guest Author, Gauresh Khanolkar.

The Fickle Nature of Football

These days when we say a footballer went from hero to villain we tend to mean that he scored a goal and then, say, gave away a penalty. So that cliche seems a trifle inadequate when referring to Alex Villaplane, as you’ll gather from even the starkest summary of his life:

13 July 1930 Captains France in their first ever match at the World Cup finals, a 4-1 victory over Mexico.

26 December 1944 Shot by firing squad having been condemned as one of the most despicable traitors in his country’s history.

 

The beginning

 

Born in Algeria in 1905, Villaplane was the first player of North African origin to represent France. At the age of 16 he had moved to live with his uncles on the south coast and joined his new local club, FC Sète. The club’s Scottish player-manager, Victor Gibson, recognised his talent and fast-tracked him into the first team. Professionalism was not yet permitted in the country but clubs nonetheless found ways to pay players and in 1927 Villaplane was lured to Sète’s rivals, Nîmes, by the promise of a spurious job for which he would receive a generous salary.

It was at Nîmes that he would first earn nationwide admiration – not only was he the sort of high-energy, tough-tackling performer whom fans have always loved, but he was also hailed as the best header of the ball in the country and one of the most perceptive passers of his generation. He won the first of his 25 France caps against Belgium in 1926 and was appointed captain just before the inaugural World Cup. Leading France out against Mexico in Montevideo was, he said, “the happiest day of my life”.

Already by this stage the way he led that life was agitating tongues. In 1929 he had been recruited by Racing Club de Paris, who under a new president were attempting to become the biggest club in the country and had made signing Villaplane their priority. Formal professionalism was still three years away but Villaplane made no attempt to hide the fact that he was earning a fortune, and swanked it up in bars, cabarets and, most of all, at horse racing tracks, where he began fraternising with underworld connivers.

When professionalism was finally legalised in 1932, little Antibes decided to make a bid for the big-time and their first step, as Racing’s three years previously, was to secure the services of Villaplane. At that time the championship was divided into southern and northern sections, with the winners of each playing off for the title of champions. Antibes won the southern section and then beat SC Fives Lille in the decider – only for it to emerge that the match had been fixed. Antibes were stripped off their title and the team’s manager banned, though it was widely believed he was a scapegoat, Villaplane and two team-mates with whom he had previously played at Sète suspected of being the real plotters. All three players were soon let go.

Nice snapped up Villaplane but soon regretted it. Several times he was fined for missing training, and when he played, the one-time dynamo trudged around the pitch looking unfit and uninterested. Nice released him, after which the only club who wanted him were second-division Bastidienne de Bordeaux, now managed by his former mentor at Sète, Gibson. After three months during which Villaplane rarely turned up, the Scot sacked him. So Villaplane was lost to football. But in 1935 he popped up again in the sports pages – after being imprisoned for fixing horse races in Paris and the Côte d’Azur.

 

The war

 

In June 1940 Paris fell to the Nazis. The occupation spelt doom and despair to many, but for some it spawned new opportunities. The conquerors needed help getting established and forged links with assorted local black marketeers to procure what they could not themselves plunder, anything from gas to food to fine art. One local criminal emerged as particularly useful – Henri Lafont, an illiterate orphan turned rampant ne’er-do-well, who would thrive during the occupation to such an extent that he could have described himself in much the same way as Signor Ferrari did in the film Casablanca: “As the leader of all illegal activities I am an influential and respected man.”

Some of the Nazi top brass wanted rid of Lafont – the austere old Prussians who believed the Reich’s honour was being besmirched by consorting with shabby crooks. So Lafont proved his worth by personally hunting down and torturing the leader of the Belgian resistance.

The more Lafont’s influence grew, the more he recruited. He toured the Parisian prisons, arranging the release of old associates and anyone else who could help consolidate his powerful place in the perverted new social order. Pierre Bonny, once the most famous police officer in France before being disgraced and jailed for corruption, became his right-hand man. At some point they hooked up with Villaplane, whose assorted activities by now included gold smuggling. The gang set up their head-quarters at 93, rue Lauriston, probably the most infamous address in Parisian history, the home of the gang that became known as the French Gestapo.

 

The French gestapo

 

The gang’s aim was to get very rich and they did so, providing the Nazis with whatever they wanted and keeping plenty for themselves. They were not ideologists but to be sure of retaining the trust of their overlords, who provided them with SS uniforms, they regularly tracked down Jews, resistance fighters and various other enemies of the Reich. In the cellar of 93, rue Lauriston, many people were tortured.

Throughout 1943, French resistance to Germany intensified. The local Gestapo was ordered to help exterminate the rebels. Since Hitler had been funding an Arabic-language newspaper that depicted the Führer as the great liberator, intent on freeing downtrodden peoples from the twin evils of colonialism and communism, Lafont had the idea of reinforcing the German and collaborationist ranks by forming a squadron of fighters drawn from the immigrant population. In February 1944 the German authorities gave the go-ahead. The Brigade Nord Africain (BNA) was set up with instructions to cleanse the Périgord region. At its helm was Villaplane, promoted to the position of SS sub-lieutenant.

Villaplane’s unit quickly became notorious for its cruelty. On 11 June 1944, for instance, they captured 11 resistance fighters in Mussidan, a small village in the Dordogne. Aged 17 to 26, the maquisards were marched to a ditch and shot. As well as giving the death order, Villaplane is said to have pulled one of the triggers.

In Philippe Aziz’s authoritative 1970 book on the Lafont and Bonny gang,Tu Trahiras Sans Vergogne, the following story is told. “Following a tip-off from a source in the Périgueux Gestapo, Alex and three of his men burst into the home of Geneviève Léonard, accused of harbouring a Jew. They ransack the house … Alex seizes the 59-year-old mother of six by the hair. ‘Where is your Jew?’ he shouts. The lady refuses to answer … Alex picks her up brutally, pushes her into a neighbouring farm, hitting her with his rifle butt on the way, and there he forces her to watch an appalling scene: men from the BNA torture two peasants in front of her.” After being beaten and set ablaze, the two peasants were machine-gunned from close range. “Alex laughs. During this time some other men from the BNA had located the Jew, Antoine Bachmann … They bring him to the farm. Alex hits him and then arrests him. He then orders Geneviève Léonard to give him 200,000 francs.”

 

The downfall

 

“They pillaged, raped, robbed, killed and teamed up with the Germans for even worse outrages, the most awful executions,” said the prosecutor at Villaplane’s trial after Paris had been liberated. “They left fire and ruin in their wake. A witness told us how he saw with his own eyes these mercenaries take jewels from the still-twitching and bloodstained bodies of their victims. Villaplane was in the midst of all this, calm and smiling. Cheerful, almost invigorated.”

Despite the barbarity of the BNA, resistance fighters became more numerous. Villaplane began to realise that Germany may not win the war. He started to hedge his bets. He staged public acts of mercy, allowing many of the people he was supposed to be pursuing to escape, cultivating the appearance that he was only working with the Nazis to help save his compatriots. According to the prosecutor, his greed undermined this artifice.

“His psychology was different to that of the other gang members,” said the prosecutor. “He himself admits he is a schemer. I would say, having studied his file, that he is a con-man, a born con-man. Con-men have a sense that is indispensable to their trade: the sense for putting on a show. This is necessary for blinding their victims and getting them to give up what they want. He used it to commit the worst form of blackmail – the blackmailing of hope. … [A witness described him] arriving in a village in a German car and wailing the following: ‘Oh, in what times we live! Oh, ours is a terrible era! To what harsh extremes I am reduced, me, a Frenchman compelled to wear a German uniform! … Have you seen, my brave people, what terrible atrocities these savages have committed? I cannot be held responsible for them, I am not their master. They are going to kill you. But I will try to save you at the risk of my own life. I’ve already saved many people. Fifty-four, to be precise. You will be the 55th. If you give me 400,000 francs.'”

In August 1944, with Allied forces closing in, Parisians rose up. Troops from the French Army, over half of them African, arrived to complete the liberation of the French capital. Reprisals against suspected collaborators were swift and bloody. The heads of the French Gestapo were not lynched, however. They were tracked down and put on trial. Then sentenced to death. On the day after Christmas in 1944, Villaplane, Lafont, Bonny and five others were taken to Fort de Montrouge on the outskirts of the city and shot dead.

 

~Guest writer, Hriday Sharma.

The Best German Goalkeeper Never to Play for The Manschaft.

The story of war is that of nations, but the stories of war are those of individuals

Noted journalist and author Ulrich Hesse-Lichetenberger quoted the aforementioned lines to delineate how the breakout of a macabre war failed to douse the spirit amongst certain aspiring German footballers and how their lives changed forever, for good as well as for bad.

A player of Helmut Schön’s stature, who later led Germany to the final of World Cup 1966, was deemed unfit to take part in the war(in the beginning that is to say) owing to his chronic knee injury and had it relatively less difficult than a few of his colleagues during wartime.

Adolf Urban, a member of the Breslau Elf and of the all-conquering Schalke team of the ‘30s and ‘40s, whose last contribution to football was participation in the final of Tschammerpokal in 1942 where Schalke lost 0-2 against 1860 Munich, never left Stalingrad alive.

However, there was one footballer who tasted both bitter and sweet pills of the war. A footballer who became the first ever German to play in an FA Cup final, the first foreign winner of FWA Footballer Of The Year Award(1956), a footballer whom legendary Lev Yashin described with the following words

There have only been two world-class goalkeepers. One was Lev Yashin, the other was the German boy who played in Manchester

His name was Bernhard Carl Trautmann.

A Bremen native, Trautmann started his short football career with Tura Bremen. Owing to the great depression, his family shifted in the neighborhood of the working class locality of Gröpelingen. Trautmann, a sports enthusiast, enlisted to the cause of YMCA and later just like other kids of his age group, Trautmann enrolled himself for an erstwhile facet of Hitler Youth, the Jungvolk.

When war broke out, Trautmann served to its cause and at first served as a motor mechanic. Later on he joined the Luftwaffe as an intern radio-operator first and then as a paratrooper. He was soon drafted out to the eastern front, first in Poland and later in Ukraine. There his unit of thousand men had the primary objective of disrupting the supply of ration for the Soviet Army.

The unit initially executed the objective to an extent. But an early onset of winter and the opposition’s counter-offensive measures left this unit in disarray. And only three hundred men of the actual unit were left. Trautmann’s contributions were acknowledged and he was rewarded with five medals including an Iron Cross. He was also promoted to the post of a corporal.

Soon he was promoted to a sergeant and relocated to the western front to negate the advances of the Allied forces. He survived the bitter house-to-house gun fighting that took place in the battle of Arnhem in The Netherlands. During this period, Trautmann also endured the absolute deprivation for three days under the rubble of a school building, with only his right arm in a movable condition and an entire regiment of dead compatriots as companions.

The rescue party saved him from that open crematoria and gratuitously threw him into another inferno, to the battle of Bulge through the densely forested Ardennes mountain range, to give shape to operation “Watch on the Rhine” so as to safe-guard the receding western front.

Surviving a slew of inenubilable circumstances he landed in the hands of the British army and was detained in Belgium. Later on he was transferred to England in a prisoner-of-war camp.

Football was one of the recreational activities in the camp and Trautmann was a regular outfield player. Once during a game against a local side Haydock Park, Trautmann injured himself and swapped position with the goalie, Gunther Luhr. That was indeed the beginning of the most unexpected twist in the tale of the quondam Nazi.

Alongside working on farms, bomb disposal squads or building roads to an airport, Trautmann started taking his love for his hobby of goalkeeping seriously and was soon found representing amateur club St.Helen’s Town. In a year his ability with the gloves started earning him accolades and rumor has it that a crowd of 9000 assembled in the final of a local competition, Mahon Cup, to witness Bert’s (Anglicized version of Bernd) goalkeeping.

And an unheralded development took place the very next season. Several first division sides were reportedly interested in acquiring his services. Manchester City were the first club to come calling with a contract offer in hand and the German could not say no to that. That was the beginning of a bond that lasted for over 15 years (1949-1964) where Trautmann played 545 professional games for the club, winning the FA Cup once.

The start to his first division career was not a partie de plaisir. There were two reasons behind that – 1) He was replacing Frank Swift, a club legend who retired the previous season. So, expectations were high and 2) His Luftwaffe background created furor amongst the fans. A certain section of the fans, including the Jewish groups, were vocal against his signature-selection-participation and threatened to boycott games. They jeered him from the terraces, put up demonstrations and flooded the club mailbox with hate mails targeting Trautmann.

Under such circumstances it would have been difficult for any footballer to keep his composure and with Trautmann it was no different. He displayed an inspired performance in his debut game against Bolton. But his concentration soon gave way to the protestations and Manchester City conceded seven goals against Derby County in a league game.

In January, 1950, Manchester City travelled to London to play Fulham. The city bore the result of the Luftwaffe’s many attacks and the fans from both sides greeted him with hatred. Manchester City were not playing particularly well at that time and were staring down the barrel for a humiliation. But the fighter in Trautmann refused any further personal capitulation.

The Flying German
The day when protests turned into admiration.

His side lost the game 1-0, but he won the hearts back by pulling off save after save to keep a respectable losing margin. While leaving the pitch at the end of the game, Trautmann received a standing ovation. After the game he attended a long autograph session with the fans. When asked why he entertained the fans despite the ill-feelings, he remarked that he received so much forgiveness and friendship therefore he wanted to give something back and prove that there are good Germans. Trautmann then went onto play 245 of the next 250 Manchester City games at a stretch.

Within two seasons Manchester City embraced a tactical approach, Revie Plan, an inspired version of the tactics with which Hungary mutilated England 6-3 at Wembley. Using that system, Manchester City reserves remained unbeaten for 26 games and soon coach Les McDowall introduced the senior team to this tactical variation.

The system would revolve around Manchester City’s forward Don Revie who would play in a deep-lying center-forward’s role, dropping deep to receive the ball to attract opposition defenders and use the space left by them to channel the attack. Trautmann literally had an important hand to play in this strategy. Trautmann closely followed the Hungarian goalie Gyula Grosics’s role in this strategy for Hungary. Instead of carrying out long goal-kicks, his job was to pick out a pass for the center-half or wing-half. His past experience with Handball helped him direct long throws towards his wing-halves Ken Barnes or John McTavish, thus putting the Revie Plan in motion.

Manchester City’s tactical éclat brought about an improvement in the club’s stature. In 1955, the Citizens played in the final of the FA Cup against Newastle United and Trautmann became the first German player to play in an FA Cup final. The Citizens lost 3-1. The next year they finished fourth in the league. Because of his immense contribution, Trautmann won the FWA Footballer of the year, the first goalkeeper to win it. This boosted his confidence and inspired Man City to win the FA Cup, defeating Birmingham City 3-1.

Trautmann was nonpareil in his position in the team. The Luftwaffe’s training played an important role in the German’s fitness, reflexes and acrobatics. His experience in Handball helped him contribute to the team’s attacking movements through long throws. He was particularly good at shot-stopping. So much so that legendary Sir Matt Busby once remarked in a pre-match conference, when asked about the man who saved 60% of the penalty-kicks in his life,

Don’t stop to think where you’re going to hit it with Trautmann. Hit it first and think afterwards. If you look up and work it out he will read your thoughts and stop it.

Death before Defeat
The save that went into the history book

Trautmann’s finest hour came in the FA Cup final of 1956. After Man City were up by 3 goals to 1, the Citizens were stretched by Birmingham City. 73 minutes on the clock, Trautmann made a one-on-one stop by diving into approaching Peter Murphy’s legs. Trautmann won the ball but a collision of his neck with Murphy’s right leg knocked him unconscious on the field. Since no more substitutes were permitted, Trautmann had to continue the remaining agonizing minutes in a feat of dizziness. He managed to pull out a slew of saves in the dying moments to keep it 3-1 to help his side win the FA Cup.

Broken Bones

Broken Bones

A few days later, Trautmann went to Professor David Lloyd Griffiths, an orthopedic surgeon at Manchester’s Royal Infirmary, to find a remedy for the growing discomfort in his neck. The X-ray revealed that five vertebrae were dislocated in his neck, the second of which was broken and if the third one had not wedged against it, he could have died on the field or even later. Thus, the save became the greatest ever save in the FA Cup, a save which could have cost Trautmann his life.

Despite his growing reputation worldwide (Schalke urged to sign him but Man City did not budge), Trautmann never represented Germany. In a meeting held with the legendary Sepp Herberger, he was told that the coach was primarily looking for a player playing in the German league only. Moreover, the political implications surrounding Trautmann’s involvement with the Nazis was another reason why Herberger chose not to select him for the Mannschaft.

His testimonial match too was a fitting farewell gift to his ceremonious service to the club. He captained a combined Manchester side which included Manchester United legends Bobby Charlton and Denis Law against an English national team which included the likes of Tom Finney and Stanley Mathews.

Post retirement, he engaged himself with DFB’s project of aiding countries without national football structures. In his first assignment as a coach, he helped Burma qualify for the Olympics in 1972 and also helped them win the President’s Cup. Before bidding farewell to all forms of football in 1988 Trautmann trotted to and from places like Tanzania, Yemen, Pakistan, Liberia for various developmental work.

Bert Trautmann

Bert Trautmann

Sir, you have earned our respect. May your Legend hold strong against the ravages of time.

~Written by Arnav Bose for ‘The Hard Tackle’, editing and additions by Late Night Kickoff.

Quirks of Fate

Today exactly 15 years ago, Xavi made his first team debut, in a Catalan Cup game against Lleida, Puyol also played in that game, Mourinho coached the team, Vilanova played and scored for Lleida, Barcelona won 2-1.

How times have changed.

To Madrid, with Love

To Madrid, with Love

94233-footboll-barcelona-carles-puyol

The Catalan Caveman

Tito's now at Barca

Tito’s now at Barca

In football, almost nothing is permanent. Enjoy the losses with the victories and let the game take you for one helluva roller-coaster ride!