With English teams dominating the latter stages in Europe this season, it would suggest that this could well be the start of a period where the big money in the Premier League finally comes to fruition where the top European prizes are concerned.
Indeed, with Liverpool and Tottenham contesting the Champions League and Arsenal meeting Chelsea in the Europa League and both the Manchester Clubs also reaching the Quarter Final stage of the Champions League, we could well be set for a golden age not dissimilar to the late seventies and early eighties, when English teams dominated Europe.
In many ways, it’s fitting that Liverpool and Tottenham should be finalists as we sit on the precipice of European domination once more, as it was back in 1972 that Tottenham won the inaugural UEFA Cup in a two-legged match against Wolverhampton Wanderers. While Liverpool was becoming a force to be reckoned with both domestically and abroad.
Tottenham was led by the forward-thinking Yorkshireman Bill Nicholson whose approach to the game was all about simplicity, hard work, but most importantly giving the fans value for money. He was a meticulous man, who had a keen eye for a player thanks to his time as a scout but most significantly understood the value of togetherness.
Team building was at the core of Nicholson’s approach, looking after his players and making them feel valued. He had little time for the media, preferring to focus his attention on getting the best out of his group. Bill Shankly was the epitome of a man who thought outside the box. He understood the value of teamwork and togetherness and was adept at making his men feel like they could achieve anything. His loyalty to his players and the club was unwavering.
Both Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have done remarkable jobs, during their time at Liverpool and Tottenham. They’ve had the backing of the clubs owners and fans alike, but, significantly, they have a distinct philosophy, one of inclusivity.
Both value character and personality above all else. Forsaking big names and reputations in favour of players who fit their mould. Players with talent, that can be nurtured and most importantly work within a team ethic for a greater good.
It is by no coincidence that both Liverpool and Tottenham have found themselves at the top table in Europe and that each team contains players that have, since working with their managers, become international footballers, nay stars. Alexander Arnold, Gomez, Roberston, Alli, Kane, Trippier, Dier, Son, Firmino, Mané etc.
The list is endless and each player has improved dramatically under the mentoring of Klopp and Pochettino and it all starts much like with Nicholson and Shankly by leaving ego’s at the door, and working for the greater good.
Tottenham would reach the UEFA Cup final again in 1974 that time losing out to Feyenoord.
“We must always consider our supporters, for without them there would be no professional football. It would be better to have more fans watching football the way they like it played, rather than have a few fans watching football the way we would like it played.” – Bill Nicholson
The following year Liverpool and Bill Shankly followed suit, as they took their domestic domination on the road and to UEFA Cup glory. With his freshly assembled squad featuring the likes of Emelyn Hughes signed from Blackpool and Ray Clemence, Kevin Keegan and Steve Heighway plucked from depths of the football league, Liverpool followed on where Tottenham started and made a dent in Europe’s second trophy.
Liverpool won it for the second time in 1976 beating Club Brugge. As for Europe’s top trophy, however, it was a different story. During this same period, as Liverpool and Tottenham were making their mark across Europe, the European Cup was being dominated by firstly Ajax and then Bayern Munich, as they shared the spoils between 1970 and 1976 winning three each.
“At a football club, there’s a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don’t come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques” Bill Shankly
Both Shankly and Nicholson wanted football to be played the right way, espoused the simplicity of the game, but demanded hard work and most importantly reminded those players they were nothing without the fans. They both retired in 1974 having given fifteen years service to their clubs, and, while Tottenham suffered a period of decline even getting relegated from the top flight in 1977, Liverpool under Bob Paisley stepped into the big time and the pinnacle of the European Cup.
That same season that Tottenham was relegated Liverpool won their first European Cup with a 3-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Bob Paisley was in his third year in charge and off the back of the Shankly Years, Liverpool actually went from strength to strength.
Liverpool retained the trophy the following year in 1978 beating Club Brugge at Wembley, before a certain Brian Clough and his band of merry men saw Nottingham Forest win back to back European Cups in 1979 and 1980, beating Malmo and Hamburg.
It was an incredible achievement, and while as discussed Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have turned Liverpool and Tottenham respectively, from clubs struggling to make the Champions League and playing second fiddle to the Manchester clubs and Chelsea, into teams that can compete with the best in the world. We must remember that Brian Clough took a club that was languishing in 13th place in the old Second Division, to back to back European Cup victories within five years.
“Players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes” – Brian Clough
It was a remarkable time for English football. Squads of sixteen Englishmen and Scots became legends. And it was knockout football from the start, no group stages where you can lose three games and still go through. At this very same time, Bobby Robson led Ipswich Town to victory in the 1981 UEFA Cup final against AZ Alkmaar.
Off the back of Forest’s success, Liverpool regained the European Cup beating Real Madrid in Paris in 1981. The following year Aston Villa got in on the act beating Bayern Munich, led by the often neglected Tony Barton, it was the sixth consecutive year that an English club won the European Cup.
Of course, all of this success on the field had a backdrop of socio-political unrest. The seventies marked a period of instability as the postwar economic boom came crashing to a halt. Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives swept to victory in the 1979 elections, and with it came the cuts to government spending.
Thatcher set about weakening the trade unions and unemployment rose rapidly at the beginning of the 1980s. Football fans, working-class men, felt the pinch and football undoubtedly became an even greater escape than ever before. Hooliganism was rife, the sense of tribalism increased born out frustration and anger at the powers that be and their lack of understanding and sympathy. Some things never change.
Liverpool would win the European Cup again in 1984 and that same season a rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspur won the UEFA Cup for the second time, and with the Heysel stadium disaster to occur just a year later, it marked the end of an incredible era for English football. During the twelve years that followed Tottenham winning the UEFA Cup in 1972, an English team lifted a major European trophy on, you guessed it, twelve occasions.
Are we about see a long-awaited return when English teams dominated Europe? Manchester United won the Europa League in 2017, a year after Liverpool lost the final against Sevilla. Liverpool is contesting their second consecutive Champions League final against Tottenham, while an English winner of the Europa League will also come from either Arsenal or Chelsea.
Manchester City and Pep Guardiola will be hell-bent on claiming the biggest prize in the game next year, should they avoid a financial related sanction and with all of the top six teams in the Premier League likely to come back stronger, it could very well be the start of a period akin to the success of the seventies and early eighties.
Do you remember when English teams dominated Europe? Let us know in the comments below.
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