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