About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #10 - Vittorio Pozzo

Only one manager has won back to back World Cups, Vittorio Pozzo, who led Italy to consecutive wins in 1934 and 1938 which established the Azurri as the dominant European national team. Known as il Vecchio Maestro (the old master), the foundation of Pozzo’s triumphs were in his Metodo formation which emphasised the need for strong defence, presaging the Catenaccio style for which the Italians became renowned in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Pozzo grew up in Turin in the late nineteenth century and was an academic who studied languages. As well as travelling abroad to study he played football in France, Switzerland and England. In 1906 he returned to Italy and helped to found Torino where he spent the last five years of his playing career, becoming technical director in 1912. He led the national team at the 1912 and 1924 Olympics, winning bronze in Paris at the latter games. In between in World War One he served in the Italian Alpini an elite mountain warfare military corps. Following the death of his wife in 1924 he moved to Milan and managed AC combining his job with the Rossoneri with writing for La Stampa.
At the end of the decade Pozzo became the national team’s Commissario Tecnico, the first to be appointed to the run the Azurri free of interference from the FA. He immediately won the first Central European International Švehla Cup in 1930, beating Austria’s wunderteam led by Hugo Meisl (MWMMF 5#) who had created the competition. This encouraged him to implement his Metodo (Method) formation which he had been devising since watching Manchester United's centre-half Charlie Roberts at the turn of the century. Influenced by Meisl and Herbert Chapman (MWMMF #4), Pozzo discarded the traditional Cambridge 2-3-5 formation and looked to strengthen the midfield. However rather than Chapman’s WM, he came up with a WW or 2-3-2-3. This relied less on the centre-half and more on the inside forwards, withdrawn from the front five, with Internazionale star Giuseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari perfect for the role to spearhead swift counter attacks backed by a numerical superiority in midfield.
These homegrown players were complemented controversially by Oriundi, South American born Italian nationals, including the centre half playmaker Luisito Monti who played for Argentina in the 1930 World Cup final. Pozzo shrugging off the criticism referring to their Italian army service saying: "If they can die for Italy, they can also play for Italy".
Authoritarian but paternalistic and attentive, Pozzo refereed every small-sided training match himself; never hesitating to send a player off if he deemed it necessary. If two players were not getting along personally, he made them roommates in the team’s next hotel.
Inevitably his reign was influenced by the fascist dictatorship led by Mussolini which governed Italy and he worked alongside Giorgio Vaccaro – a general from the fascist militia during that first World Cup campaign which was held in Italy, the finals being coloured by allegations of weak refereeing said to favour the hosts.

Pozzo’s team moved comfortably into the quarter-finals where they contested a fierce battle with Spain which ended 1-1 after extra time. A replay was ordered for the following day with the teams missing eleven players between them through injury, the Italians scoring the only goal of the game. In the semi-final Italy met Austria and again won by a single goal which came early in the match from oriundi Enrico Guaita scoring from close range with their opponents crying foul after Meazza had fallen over the goalkeeper.

In the final, Italy looked to have met their match in Czechoslovakia team, who took the lead with twenty minutes to go and looked set for victory. Pozzo responded by switching the positions of forwards Schiavio and Guaita. 

This simple ploy gave the Italians a way back into the game, and sparked a spell of relentless pressure that eventually led to the equaliser through another oriundi Raimondo Orsi with nine minutes. They won the Cup in extra time when a hobbling Meazza, all but left alone to drift in and out of the match, picked out Guaita from the wing. The Roma midfielder slid the ball to Schiavio, who just managed to poke in the winner five minutes into the extra period.

On the back of the World Cup success, Pozzo was awarded the title of Commendatore for greatness in his profession, and more significantly in the context of the global game encouraged a move from attacking to the counter attacking systems which dominate to this day.
In 1936 Italy again beat Austria in major finals, this time to win the 1936 Olympics in Berlin having found a new goalscoring partner for Meazza in Lazio’s Silvio Piola. Pozzo then headed for France for the 1938 World Cup aiming to become not only the first manager to defend the World Cup but also the first to win outside of his own country.

After beating the hosts in Paris in the quarter-finals, the Italians travelled south to Marseilles to meet Brazil in the last four. 

Pozzo learned that the Brazilians were so confident of appearing in the final in Paris that they had requisitioned the only airplane from Marseilles to Paris on the day after the semi-final. Pozzo asked if they would allow Italy to use the plane should they win only to be told "it is not possible because to Paris we will go, because we will beat you in Marseilles". 

This provided the ideal motivation for Pozzo’s players and they won 2–1 headed back to Paris by train for the final which they won 4–2 against Hungary (below).

Pozzo continued to develop his tactics moving the centre-half into a defensive three, in a revised formation known as the Sistema (system). As football was interrupted by World War Two Pozzo secretly became involved with the antifascist resistance, helping supply food to partisan rebels and assisting the escape of Allied prisoners. He then ended his career as national coach at the 1948 London Olympics. He followed the Italian national team for La Stampa until his death in 1968

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Men Who Made Modern Football #9 - ‘El Mister’ Fred Pentland

Having spent the last few chapters of this series in central Europe we now head south to the Mediterranean, starting with the story of ‘El Mister’ who coached the first team outside the British Isles to victory over England and transformed Spanish football.
Born in Wolverhampton he had a distinguished career as an outside right forward in the Edwardian era having spells in the first division with Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough. Whilst with Boro he won five England caps in 1909. Injury forced his retirement in 1914 and he was appointed coach of the German Olympic team, unfortunately the subsequent outbreak of World War One meant Pentland was interned in Ruhleben camp along with up to 5,000 other prisoners. Whilst there he organised cup and league competitions for his fellow inmates. There were enough footballers in the camp to make up an England XI and alongside fellow Middlesbrough and England team mate Steve Bloomer; Pentland appeared in the triangular Coupe de Allies tournament which also featured a French and Belgian team. He remained in the camp until the armistice upon which he returned to England.
Appointed French national coach, he took them to the semi-final of the 1920 Olympics held in Antwerp. After the games he moved to Spain where he was to stay for fifteen years and make a lasting significant impact on the development of the Spanish game.
During five years of internment Pentland had plenty of time to debate and theorize about football with his fellow ex professional footballers. This crystallized into a simple motto “Get the simple things right and the rest will follow.”
Eschewing the English kick and rush style which was brought by his countrymen to Iberia in the late nineteenth century, Pentland instead focussed on skill, possession, short passing and rapid movement, a style that became commonly known as push and run. This philosophy necessitated a change of formation so Pentland abandoned the traditional 2-3-5 in favour of a 2-5-3 which made for more creativity in midfield.
This was tried first at Racing Santander but after a year he moved on to Athletic Bilbao for the first of two spells which would transform the history of the Basque team. Los Leones were the most English of Spanish clubs, with even their red and white striped kit having originated from Southampton but despite Pentland being the latest in a long line of English coaches at San Mamés he was to lead the club in turning their back on their forebears. Using the force of his considerable character, Pentland introduced his favoured methods of play and won the 1923 Copa Del Rey. Known in the city as El Bombin, Pentland would invite his players to stamp on his trademark bowler hat when they won a big game. Addressing him by the more respectful El Mister, the players were encouraged to be more professional, being given lessons in how to dress and even how to tie their shoelaces.

Leaving Bilbao in 1925 he led Atlético Madrid to the 1926 Copa Del Rey final then moved onto Real Oviedo for a season, returning to Atlético in 1927, where he won the Campeonato Del Centro, the regional league for clubs in the Madrid area. In 1929 he was coach alongside manager José María Mateos of the Spanish national team which beat England 4-3 in Madrid, England’s first ever defeat to a non-British team.

Barcelona won the inaugural La Liga in 1929 using Pentland’s style of play but in 1930 El Mister claimed the title for himself, making a triumphant return to Bilbao with an invincible season which included another Copa Del Rey win. He made it a double double in 1931 (squad pictured above) and went on in the following two seasons to twice defend the Copa Del Rey and finish runner up twice in La Liga. Going back to Athletico Madrid in 1934, his third spell there was curtailed by the onset of the Spanish Civil War and he went back to England.
After a short spell as manager of Barrow, his career in football ended with the outbreak of World War Two. His impact on Athletic Bilbao was not forgotten though and he was invited back to San Mamés in 1959 to receive the club’s Distinguished Member’s medal. He kicked off a special testimonial game against Chelsea on this occasion, a feat repeated by his daughter Angela in 2010. His death in 1962 was commemorated at the San Mamés stadium by a special ceremony reserved solely for people who have significantly contributed to the Basque culture. His statue remains at San Mamés to this day.

The high water mark of his time at Bilbao was a 12-1 win over Barcelona in 1931, the record defeat ever suffered by the Catalans. This established his footballing philosophy as the superior one in Spain and was adopted nationwide with Barcelona and Real Madrid going on to owe much to the influence of El Mister as they dominated firstly Spanish and then European football.