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Taken on the Grand Tour
Dave Hirshey
October 09, 1978
The lordly Cosmos were brought to earth in games against European teams
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October 09, 1978

Taken On The Grand Tour

The lordly Cosmos were brought to earth in games against European teams

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The old Englishman stood there watching, unsure what he was seeing. Sixteen men in green track suits had come spilling out through the revolving door of the hotel at London's Heathrow Airport, squinting in the early-morning sun. Apparently more by instinct than desire, they had headed for a small green knoll set amid the concrete parking lots, and now they were swaying and twisting and bending and panting and cursing in a vaguely athletic sort of way. The old man turned his head to catch the voices.

What to make of the Babel of strange tongues coming to him through the airport noise? Just then a figure emerged through the door, dragging a huge net bag of black and white balls.

"It's a bleedin' football team, ain' it?" the old man said, chortling.

Exactly the question. At the end of August the Cosmos established themselves as the best soccer club North America could produce by winning the NASL championship for the second year in a row. Easily. But even then there were doubts that the Cosmos were really a team in the sense that any fine soccer team must be a superbly meshed machine of complementary parts. For all their undeniable talent—world-class players like Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia—the Cosmos often seemed to be simply a miscellany of tongues, glittering skills and six-figure egos too skilled to be denied. Few of the Cosmos had played with each other long enough not to need a Berlitz course. They won, and won handily, in the U.S. against other NASL clubs that were no more true teams than they were, having been assembled with equal whimsy but vastly smaller budgets.

And so here the Cosmos were, in the midst of a tour of Europe's soccer strongholds, chicly packaged in spanking-new Ralph Lauren traveling ensembles at $400 apiece. ("We have an image to uphold," explained Krikor Yepremian, the former tie salesman turned Cosmos general manager.) The trip had been born of corporate hubris and simple cost accounting in the executive suite of Warner Communications, the team's parent company. "We feel we can compete with the rest of the world," boasted Cosmos President Ahmet Ertegun, who then added the sequitur of sequiturs: "This tour should put us in the black."

Whatever the tour's fiscal benefits, by the time the Cosmos arrived in London, after playing in only two countries and four cities, they seemed bent on proving that American soccer could not compete against the rest of the world. Against teams of varied skills they had won once, suffered three losses and, embarrassingly, had 16 goals scored against them. "It was like a shooting gallery," said Captain Werner Roth. "Just a competition to see who could score the most against us."

But as the Cosmos suffered, Europe rejoiced. With their open checkbook and show-biz dazzle, the Cosmos have always been regarded abroad with a mixture of envy, scorn and fear. Now the fear had been replaced by derision. "The Cosmos do nothing but drink champagne, eat lobsters and smoke fat cigars," wrote one German journalist after seeing them at a birthday party for Beckenbauer in Munich.

Munich was the site of the Cosmos' first rude jolt. Bayern M�nchen, one of the top German sides, thrashed them 7-1. Weary from the grueling 42-game American season and still suffering from jet lag, the Cosmos resembled a band of squabbling tourists wishing they had never listened to the travel agent.

Through it all Coach Eddie Firmani looked like a man walking the corporate high wire, burdened with a tour he never wanted and players whose attitudes he deplored. "You can have all the bloody superstars in the world, but if you don't have a few unselfish players willing to run their tails off, you're going to get beat," he said. "The big-money players are the worst culprits here, trying to show themselves off instead of the team. This team has absolutely no character."

Following the Munich debacle, the Cosmos received a morale-boosting telegram from Warner's chairman of the board. "I've never been so embarrassed in my whole life," it said, among other things. It was signed, "Disgustedly yours, Steve Ross."

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