Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Scottish Daily Mail article

This article was written By Martin Greig and appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on May 25, 2012. It is reproduced with their kind permission.

IT IS 45 years to the day since Celtic beat Inter Milan to become the first British club to lift the European Cup. The passing of time has leant Lisbon a mythical quality, but it should be remembered for more than just the heart-tugging romance of the story.

Some of what we know about Lisbon has been exaggerated, but that is not to diminish the impact of what Celtic achieved. Rather, it demands a more refined appreciation.

The defeat of the Nerazzurri has been cast as the ultimate triumph of attack over defence; the day a ragtag bunch of swashbuckling Scots stuck their false teeth in a bonnet and sucked the life out of Inter's catenaccio system; out of the darkness and into the light, so the Lions ensured European football emerged from its defensive stranglehold.

It is an assessment that fails to do justice not only to the feat itself but, more importantly, the man most responsible for it. Without Jock Stein, there would have been no Lisbon. It is his story. And it is through him that many of the grand claims about it can be sustained.

Graeme Souness once spoke of 'the dawn of Stein', alluding to the profound influence he had on European football after his emergence. Sir Alex Ferguson, of course, is the most high-profile disciple.

In 2007, before his Manchester United team played Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League, the most successful club manager of all time made an emotional pilgrimage to the Estadio Nacional. It remains his touchstone. But Stein's legacy is much greater than those 90 minutes under the Portuguese sun.

Celtic's European record under him was remarkable. In the seven years after Lisbon, they reached the final of the European Cup once more (where they lost 2-1 after extra-time to Feyenoord in 1970) and also made the semi-finals (1972 — lost on penalties — and '74) and quarters ('69 and '71) twice apiece.

So what about Lisbon? To fully appreciate what Stein achieved, we must understand what came before. Most of the players who would go on to become legends were already at Celtic when he arrived in March 1965, but it was a club in disarray.

As Cyril Horne, of the Glasgow Herald, later wrote of the player who would be voted the greatest-ever Celt: 'Jimmy Johnstone was at such a low ebb early in 1965 that it was probable he would revert to Junior football again — and sink without a trace.' Billy McNeill had also thought seriously about abandoning a rudderless ship.

'To be honest, everything was a joke at Parkhead,' he later said. 'We did nothing that could be described as proper training or preparation.' Stein immediately began to use players in positions where their talents could be fully exploited. John Clark was moved from lefthalf to sweeper, beside McNeill. Bobby Murdoch was shifted from inside-right to wing-half. Bertie Auld was eventually moved from outside-left to form a formidable central partnership with Murdoch.

Bobby Lennox's role changed from being a traditional insideforward to an outside-left with a requirement to get into the box and score goals. Johnstone was told in no uncertain terms that his parlour tricks must contain end product and that he should occupy a more advanced role within the new 4-2-4 formation. Chalmers was told to play further forward to better utilise his lightning pace. They were all masterstrokes.

As far as Lisbon was concerned, Stein's genius was not in unearthing gems, but in polishing the ones who were already there. Very quickly, a team of world-beaters emerged.

With domestic supremacy achieved, he set his sights on Europe and the 1966-67 season represented a raising of the stakes. The dramatic win over Vojvodina in the quarter-final was later regarded as 'the final before the final' — several Lions claim the Yugoslavs were the best team they faced — but there could be no underestimating the challenge presented by Inter, who had won the trophy two out of the previous three seasons.

It has since been presented as the ultimate clash of ideologies — embodied by the attack-minded Stein and the defensive Helenio Herrera — but that was not strictly the case. For example, there were plenty of aspects that united Stein and Inter's Argentinian coach.

In November 1963, while manager of Dunfermline, Stein travelled to Herrera's Italian boot camp to observe his methods and left impressed by what he witnessed. It was a militaristic regime, with a strong emphasis on preparation and discipline — and it firmly established in Stein's mind the need for full autonomy as a coach. To a modern audience this may be a given but, as a player, Stein had watched on as the Celtic board picked the team ahead of boss Jimmy McGrory.

As Luis Suarez, Herrera's playmaker for Barcelona and Inter, said: '[Herrera's] emphasis on fitness and psychology had never been seen before. Until then, the manager was unimportant. He virtually slapped the best players, making them believe they weren't good enough, and praised the others.

They were all fired up — to prove him right or wrong.' Although Herrera did not invent catenaccio, he became its chief exponent. Contrary to popular belief, though, his version was not bereft of creativity. Neither was Herrera a defensive obsessive.

At Barcelona, he won the Spanish title in 1959 and '60, with his team rippling the net 182 times. It was a side for the city to be proud of and, after the Argentinian was dismissed when Barcelona lost to Real Madrid in the 1960 European Cup semi-finals, he was carried down the Ramblas by appreciative fans.

He then moved to Inter later that year, where the country's defensive culture forced him back to the drawing board. With Serie A rivals intent on containment at all costs, Herrera set himself a challenge of beating them at their own game. Catenaccio — where four defenders mark the strikers and a sweeper is used as the launchpad for counterattacks — was his chosen system. There was attacking verve within it.

Giacinto Facchetti was transformed into a rampaging full-back. In season 1965-66, he scored 10 goals and netted a total of 75 times overall for the club. The Brazilian Jair brought pace to the right wing and Herrera also enticed Suarez to Inter from Barcelona in 1961 for a world-record fee of £142,000. Both Jair and Suarez would miss the '67 final. Then there was legendary Italian striker Sandro Mazzola. It was far from a team built only for defence.

Stein's victory over Herrera was tactical. He correctly identified the game would be won on the flanks. Midway through the 1966-67 season, he had switched Tommy Gemmell to the right and moved Jim Craig to the left. It was to prove the key change in finally breaking Inter. Up against two full-throttle wingbacks, Inter could not create in the wide areas.

For the first goal in Lisbon, rightback Craig squared for left-back Gemmell to unleash a venomous drive into the net. After that, and without Suarez, their creative font, Inter's system shut down. The outcome became inevitable, despite goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti's impressive show of resistance.

It is not as simple as saying that Celtic rescued European football from its defensive shackles. It was subtler than that, but their victory did mark an important shift in emphasis away from containment systems and back towards individual talents.

A year later, George Best scored in the 1968 final for Manchester United and was crowned European Footballer of the Year. Then came the Total Football era of Johan Cruyff's Ajax, who won three consecutive European Cups from 1971 to 1973.

Football was evolving. The spark was lit one evening in Lisbon.

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