The tradition of the old European Cup vs the untold riches of the Champions League. A great football debate brought to the masses with the help of two TV pundits.
Gary Neville is, on balance, a far better commentator than he was international defender. As a fullback, let's be polite and say he was lucky to have been born in England.
This week, as a pundit, he entertainingly ran his studs down the shins of old foe Jamie Carragher, questioning the true merits of victories in the old European Cup.
European Cup vs Champions League
Okay, slapping down the Liverpool stalwart isn't like you just dropped Carlos Monzon is his heyday, I mean he's not Oscar Wilde! But the line was still a good one. And, more importantly, worthy of reflection.
"Oh you mean the passback cup, that you won with only 4 victories." Boom.
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For those of us deluded souls still hoarding pristine copies of Shoot in the loft, in the hope that our children may one day dust them down for a read, this comment hurt more than it should. But on reflection, it is crass, and it is wrong.
It is actually very wrong.
Football reflects trend
Today we live in a globalised, multi-cultural homogenous world of diluted national traits and values. We can all have our views on that. But for sure football reflects the trend, and perhaps leads it.
The big clubs in England no longer have any local community identity. They have a great selection of players, assembled like an elite mercenary army, paid handsomely to carry the colours for a brief transient moment. A league of extraordinary gentlemen, financed by the riches of petrodollar from Arabia and Eurasia.
Listen, if that's your bag, good luck to you. The Premier League has marketed more successfully than proctor and gamble. No doubt.
Others prefer to remember those years of the "passback" Cup, and understand what they meant for the sport. In those days, our daily bread of football was our local national leagues, full of boys from the next street who had made it big.
True football men
Where teams were built over years in a boot room led by "football men" from that very same culture. Miners, dockers, labourers - who could put together a dressing-room of young men and lead them to become a great team? Shankly, Stein, Busby, Clough, Revie. People could truly relate.
Clubs represented their local footballing and national cultures with honour. Crucially, the football traits of each country was distinct. And largely undiluted by foreign imports. You knew what a German side was all about. The Italians. The emerging Dutch.
Exposure to overseas football was reserved for these European club competitions and the national teams. And it was welcomed more for both for the different taste and the rarity.
Only for champions
The European Cup was thus the distinct moment where your best met their best. Like in the school yard. Only for true champions, dear Gary. So yes, there were fewer games, but they were the games of superiority, and sometimes the shifting plates of power.
To win in those days was like holding the belt. You were the top dog, and everyone knew it.
So to study the rise and fall of footballing dynasty, and their importance, look no further than the passback cup. Our version of Sid Meier's Civilisation. It's our Lifetime Achievement Award. The hardcore definition of cream rising to the top.
There were no shortcuts, no flashes in the pan. The glamour of Alfredo de Stefano's Real, challenged by the colonial beauty of Eusebio at Benfica, then superseded by the high fashion ruthlessness of Herrera's Inter. The paradigm shift of Cryuff's Ajax, squeezed out by Beckenbeuer's Bayern. And eventually to carragher's beloved Liverpool, ending the German dominance, and ushering in years of English dominance only ended by heysel.
That's an honourable narrative.
Those teams were each culturally representative of their footballing roots, and they were historically important. In their moment, they carried forward the world game. As Aristotle followed Plato who followed Socrates.
This (I think) is Carragher's point. Liverpool occupies a distinct and significant role as a key protagonist in the tapestry. Something Manchester United can never really claim. But that's a debate for another day, as the team that fell on a snowy runway may have been the daddy of them all.
Celtic vs Inter
In that romantic context, Celtic v Inter represents a memory of one of those end of empire moments. For the best part of 10 years, Celtic were among the game's Titans and in 1967 they ended the catennaccio school of the Grande Inter.
Whilst today it may seem one of those warped memories of an old codger, rest assured that between the mid-sixties and mid-seventies, Glasgow Celtic was there. Two finals, two losing semi-finals. And, a comprehensive defeat for possibility the greatest club side England has even known. History in intact, all done by local boys. 11 Glasgow lads.
How tragic it is that such national champions, and football traditions, have fallen to the mighty globalisation game. Lead by the likes of Mino Raiola, a football agent trying to get his hands on FIFA.
Football at its best is local and national.
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