IslingtonTribune

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Glory, glory? Well, sort of…

25 April, 2019 — By Richard Osley

YOUNG folk won’t believe it but before mobile phones, pay-to-watch football and the births of Alexandre Lacazette and Harry Kane, Red Star Belgrade won the European Cup.

It sounds like a romantic story of underdoggery to share down the generations, but the nature of the final in 1991 left you even feeling sorry for dastardly Marseille. Red Star, or Crvena Zvezda as they are now called, played without any ambition to score a goal, parked everything they could in front of their goal for the whole match and extra time. Gambling on a penalty shootout win, they converted them all and the French team, with Chris Waddle on board, crumbled. Together Europe watched the most boring match of all time.

By their own admissions in the flashback interviews and autobiographies that came later, Red Star came only to defend. Midfielder Sinisa Mihajlovic said in one piece that manager Ljkupko Petrovic had warned: “If we attack them, we’ll leave ourselves open for counterattacks,” adding: “I asked: ‘So, what do we do then?’ His answer was: ‘When you get the ball, give it back to them’.”

As poignant as the success was for eastern Europe, Red Star’s wrecking performance leaves them open to the title of the most undeserving winners of the trophy. Only Steaua in the 1980s and any team which fielded Steven Finnan and Djimi Traore in its starting 11 can lay claim to be anywhere near as weak when lifting the trophy.

Now you do not have to be the most observant reader of this weekly column to understand where today’s nostalgic look at European football is heading.

Spurs, good old Spurs, will almost certainly beat Ajax next week and then we are into 50/50 territory of a final, raising the horrifying prospect for Arsenal fans that Tottenham may finally win something important. For the whole world does not necessarily revolve around this north London feud, even if the first thing Spurs fans did last week when Llorente’s elbow defeated Manchester City was sing about Arsenal. No, this is more.

Europe is on the brink of receiving a message, across the continent, that the team crowned champions of our collective lands can be one that has lost to Watford, Crystal Palace, Southampton and several more – 11 times in the league, in fact. Europe’s greatest team could not win at Turf Moor. That’s a see-saw, between the film script hope that anybody can win one day, and the deadening reality that despite its elongated, money-spinning form, the tournament’s format may no longer sift out the very best winners.

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