History is written, or at the very least it is influenced heavily, by the winners. The Romans are remembered as Empire building heroes – bringing roads, wine and civilisation to the barbarians. Whereas the Gauls, Celts and Numidiums were merely people whose place in history was merely to submit to the mighty rule of the peninsula. Little is said of the Gallic wealth that was plundered, nor the Greek intelligence that was treated with suspicion.
In football the accusation is frequently made, ad nauseum that it’s pointless playing beautiful football if you don’t win anything. The usual protagonist here is none other than Arsene Wenger. The criticism was thrown at him again from certain quarters following Arsenal’s humbling defeat to Birmingham in the League Cup final.
It is a point which was briefly touched upon by, Spanish Football journalist, Sid Lowe in a recent interview with Beyond the Pitch as well. Lowe spoke of the contrast in views between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, both of whom are men that are incredibly driven. The Barcelona coach’s comments speak of building a legacy, one that will be remembered beyond any results. Mourinho on the other hand makes his feelings on the matter very clear, for the Portuguese coach results and trophies are the bottom line.
I put it to you, that this simply isn’t the case.
Many sides have based their legacies by winning trophies. But there are also those who have broken records and made innovations in the game, but fallen short winning trophies and titles. Those sides that have fallen by the wayside haven’t all been forgotten, great losers have littered the archives for decades.
The Mighty Magyars were a side were heavily tipped to take home the World Cup in Switzerland in 1954, and yet they went home empty handed. The Hungarians went on a 36 game unbeaten run between 1950 and 1954, they won Olympic gold in 1952 and they humiliated England, twice. They boasted a forward line including Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti that plundered 27 goals in 5 games at the 1954 World Cup.
Arguably, the most important contribution this side gave us was the withdrawn centre forward. Used to devastating effect against England at Wembley, to suggest that they have been forgotten would be utterly laughable.
Occasionally you get a team of great individuals who fail to play as a team, or a team of average players that combined are greater than the sum of their parts. In the early 1970s Rinus Michels took charge of the Netherlands after a magical spell at Ajax.
The Netherlands football team that took part in games in and around the 1974 World Cup were a side made up of stars and played as a team. A lot of their interplay should be attributed to the fact that a majority of the players were team mates at Ajax and Feyenoord.
Michels’ side announced themselves internationally with performances that were full of speed, vigour and an incredibly intensity. Their pressing was something that had never been seen at International level, you could be forgiven for feeling sorry for the opposition as they were hounded and lynched by oncoming orange shirts.
This intensity changed football forever. The gentlemanly stroll that had been seen in Mexico City 4 years previous was gone, and it was being replaced by a fast paced game that demanded that players work more as a team.
The two sides mentioned above are memorable for the way they changed the sport. Foggia in the early 1990s were being managed by Czech coach Zdenek Zeman, he took the Puglian side from the Italian lower leagues into Serie A on a tiny budget and discovered some stars of the game.
Foggia brought through such names as Beppe Signori, Ciccio Baiano, Gigi Di Biagio and Dan Petrescu. The side finished 9th in the league in 1991-92, a miracle, and their best players were sold to the circling vultures in Italy and abroad.
Instead of spending the money bringing in other experienced Serie A performers Zeman chose to scout relative unknowns from Serie B and C. He was able to instil his philosophy into these players, his tactics remained unchanged – as they do to this day – and he got them to play with a high tempo and squeezed every bit of work rate out of his players while he chain smoked on the sidelines. This was a contemporary fairy tale that lacked a happy ending.
Foggia was eventually relegated but the excitement Zeman created has not been forgotten, owing to the frenzy when he returned to coach the Southern Italian side in July.
Reasons to remember
We are constantly reminded by the world of finance that past performance isn’t an indicator of future outcomes. Though it seems unthinkable to imagine a future where only the winners are remembered.
When we look back at sides from yesteryear, we have to rely heavily on secondary sources. For those who didn’t live through those times we are left at the mercy of hearsay and witness accounts from those that were there. We have to scrape around for newspaper reports or perhaps have a few poor quality newsreels to consult from decades gone by.
Today there is so much more material available if anyone wanted to revisit an entire game or see a few highlights. Certain kind folk are now even uploading pre and post match press conferences to YouTube so that we don’t have to take the papers take as gospel. Games are now written about from all angles and archived by the interweb.
As well as video there is also an endless stream of statistics now available. Chalkboards and average position charts for the majority of games in the top European leagues already exist and more will no doubt be added.
The archives will grow and grow and the list of non-winners above will remain in them – as well as Mid-90s Newcastle, Roma in the mid 00s under Spalletti, Ghana in 2010 and 1982 Brazil, the best loser of the lot. Even the current Arsenal era, if Wenger were to leave without winning anything, will be incorporated into the ill-famed roll of honour. They will be a side remembered for their youthful and thrifty approach in a time of gluttonous spending.
From this point, and indeed earlier, onwards football’s history is not just a list of classified results. Indeed it can be looked back on and re-imagined, the Zeitgeist will be captured through multimedia. Our losers will not be forgotten.