News and reviews of Rock n Roll Soccer

ROCK N ROLL SOCCER: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League, by Ian Plenderleith. This is the blog to back the book hailed as "fantastic" by Danny Kelly on
Talksport Radio, and described as a "vividly entertaining history of the league" in the Independent on Sunday. In the US, Booklist described it as "a gift to US soccer fans". The UK paperback edition published by Icon Books is now available here for just £8.99, while the North America edition published by St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books can be found here for $11.98. Thank you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Eusebio "was like a little kid. He wanted to be in every attack"

A second extract from Chapter 2 of Rock n Roll Soccer, ‘Pelé vs Eusebio: Hot Property Getting Mobbed’, looks at the 1976 North American Soccer League season, when Pelé was expected to lead the New York Cosmos to the title. Yet it was the awkwardly named Toronto Metros-Croatia – who had taken Eusebio from the financially troubled Boston Minutemen - that quietly and unexpectedly progressed to the championship game. The turning point in their season was the consequence of a running row between Eusebio and Toronto’s Yugoslav coach Ivan Marković:

Eusebio at Toronto (left): Knackered knees on a plastic pitch
As at Boston, Eusebio was at the centre of the team’s tactics. ‘It was a team effort but he was our fulcrum,’ says [Bob] Iarusci. ‘He played behind our two strikers, and when he collected the ball things happened. He was so brilliant in terms of decision-making and understanding the space he was given. Both of his knees were in terrible shape. It was funny, when he walked he really hobbled, but when he was on the field he picked up speed and it was almost as if the knees realized that they could hurt later, but not at that moment. He did some wonderful things even at the ripe age of 35, and without him we wouldn’t have won.’ [Damir] Šutevski also recalls Eusebio’s ability despite a ‘shattered knee, it was really in bad shape. Before each game he’d have to submerge his knee in a bucket of ice in order to play, and he barely trained between games. I guess compared to Europe it must still have been a secondary kind of play to him. A lot of the goals were from free kicks; he had an incred¬ible shot. He was like a little kid: he wanted to be participating in every attack we had, and he would ask for the ball in every attack.’25 

Toronto started the 76 season well, winning eight of their first ten matches, and Eusebio, who missed the first two games, scored six in six appearances. There followed a mid-season, seven-game slump when the team won only on penalty kicks (three times – through this season, drawn games were decided on penalties if no one scored during sudden-death extra time), and failed to score in open play for all seven games – a highly unusual sequence for the high-scoring NASL. After that sev-enth game, the Yugoslav coach Ivan Markovic´ was sacked, but it wasn’t just because his team had lost its scoring touch. It was because of Eusebio. 

The two men had already fallen out at training, with Eusebio resenting that Marković would come in to the dressing room and tell him what boots to wear. ‘Marković was a genius, but geniuses are sometimes like fools,’ says [Carmine] Marcantonio. ‘He lived for the game, and he was a Croatian guy who grew up coaching Hajduk Split, then Marseille and the Yugoslav youth national teams. He was a genius and he could teach us young guys even how to tie our shoes. He had his own bag of cleats and would say, “Today it’s a bit dry, you need this type of cleats.” He’d bring that bag to the game and tell us what we should be wearing. But imagine you’re Eusebio and you have this guy telling you what kind of cleats you should be wear¬ing – they almost came to blows about it…” 

To find out the rest of the story, pre-order Rock n Roll Soccer here (UK) or here (US).

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