Kempes and Luque, the brilliant bandoleros

We remember the litter-strewn pitches of Argentina 1978 as well as the military presence, the controversy and, from a footballing perspective, the left foot and cavalier approach of Mario Kempes, the player of the tournament and leading scorer.

Kempes was the only player in Cesar Luis Menotti’s squad for the World Cup that did not play in Argentina. He moved from Rosario Central, where he had scored 85 goals in three seasons, to Spain’s Valencia in 1976. He was an instant hit in La Liga, finishing leading scorer, and winning the prestigious Pichichi trophy, in 1976-77 (24 goals) and 1977-78 (28 goals).

The pundits were more focused on Brazil’s new wonder boy, Zico, and the absence of Johan Cruyff rather than the relative strengths of the host nation, who would, they said, only win because it was written by the Junta.

But that aside, Argentina were an exciting team to watch, largely because Menotti wanted to play fast, flowing football. In Kempes, he had the perfect forward to finish off the work started by the likes of Osvaldo Ardiles and Rene Houseman. The question was, how would Menotti use his star forward – as an out-and-out leader of the line or just behind a front three, the position he had made his own in Spain?



Kempes also had the ideal partner up front in Leopoldo Luque, River Plate’s muscular centre forward. Both dark, long-haired and leggy, accentuated by shorts that emphasised their limbs, Kempes and Luque looked like they could easily be members of a rock band such as The Doobie Brothers. There was an air of menace about them and they were both extremely awkward to defend against, especially Kempes, whose left foot was lethal, not only in finishing, but also in dragging the ball away from defenders. Kempes had the knack of creating his own chances, often by performing a seamless movement that included bring the ball under control, making space and teeing himself-up for a shot on goal. Luque, meanwhile, was fast and strong and dovetailed nicely with Kempes.

Yet Kempes and Luque had not played together for Argentina since 1976 when the hosts kicked-off their campaign on June 2, 1978 against Hungary. Kempes had been somewhat isolated by the decision to only play domestically-based players, but his currency was so strong after two years at Valencia that the chain-smoking Menotti could not afford to leave him out of the squad.

Hungary had the nerve to open the scoring in Buenos Aires in the 10th minute, stunning the passionate crowd. But five minutes later, a Kempes free kick was parried by the Hungarian keeper and Luque followed-up to equalise. This was the moment the world was introduced to the crescendo of noise that would greet every Argentine goal in 1978. Seven minutes from the end, Daniel Bertoni won the game for a relieved Menotti and Argentina’s campaign was truly underway.

Four days later, Argentina beat France 2-1, another difficult victory, but won by a superb strike from Luque, who flicked the ball up from an Ardiles pass and volleyed past goalkeeper Bertrand Demanes.  They had come through the group and just had to face Italy to decide who won Group A and stayed in Buenos Aires for the second stage.

Luque was missing owing to an arm injury and Kempes was employed as a direct front-runner. He was far less effective and Italy won 1-0, sending Argentina to Rosario in a group that would include Brazil, Peru and Poland. For Kempes, it was a return home to the club where he made his name.

Still without a goal in the competition, Kempes really came alive in the second phase. He netted twice against Poland, the first an effortless near post header that he took in his stride, the second a low shot after Ardiles found him ready to bite. Luque was still missing, but returned for the big South American clash with an out-of-sorts Brazil. A physical game ended 0-0, but the initiative had switched to the 1970 winners by the time Argentina faced Peru in the final group game. Brazil had won two and drawn with Argentina, establishing a goal difference of +5, while Argentina had +2. They needed a four-goal win to reach the final.

Kempes gave them the lead after 21 minutes, a typical manoeuvre that saw him control and strike all in one, again with the left foot. Alberto Tarantini made it 2-0 with a header just before the interval and Kempes, predictably, scored with his trusty weapon on 49 minutes. “It’s on, now!” screamed the commentators and within seconds, the fourth goal came, Luque diving full length to send the ball over the line from close range. Anything else now was pure icing on the cake and Houseman provided that in the 67th minute, leaving it to Luque to apply more salt to the gaping wound in the 72nd.  A 6-0 win that was full of conspiracy theories; remarkable, suspect, heartbreaking, joyous – name your superlative.


The Netherlands would provide the opposition in the final, a less vibrant, more pragmatic and Cruyff-less side that had matured as the competition progressed. Nobody truly expected them to win and when Kempes opened the scoring with the type of routine that had typified his game throughout the competition, taking the ball on his left and nudging it into the danger zone before scoring with a low shot, it didn’t look good for the Dutch. But they came back and equalised to send the game into extra time, but only after Robbie Rensenbrink almost induced 70,000 coronaries by striking the post in the dying embers. Kempes did it again, though, scrambling the ball home in the 105th minute after he had worked his way through the defence. Bertoni added a third five minutes from time. Argentina had won 3-1 and Kempes, with six goals, received the Golden Boot.

Kempes and Luque had played together 16 times for their country. The first time was in August 1975 when Luque netted a hat-trick on his debut against Venezuela, a game that also saw Kempes score. The duo’s record for Argentina is remarkably similar – Kempes scored 20 goals in 43 games, Luque 22 in 45. Their 17th and last appearance together was on January 1, 1981 when they lined-up against Brazil in Montevideo. That was Luque’s last international game, whereas Kempes went on to the ill-fated 1982 World Cup, his final bow in Barcelona, also against Brazil.

Kempes and Luque are, naturally given their achievements, legends in Argentina. Messi and Maradona are at the head of the queue, but these two direct, skilful and venomous strikers have one advantage over the big names of Argentine football – they won the FIFA World Cup in Buenos Aires. Forty years ago, they could have walked on the waters of the River Plate.

Photo: World Cup final 1978, Press Association.



Liverpool’s Toshack and Keegan – big man, little man

FOOTBALL is a universal currency. The first world war demonstrated just that when troops climbed out of the trenches to kick the ball around on Christmas Day. Germans and Englishmen have always debated the great game, usually centred on 1966 and the infamous “over the line, or not” argument.

In 1978, on holiday in Spain, a group of teenagers bumped into a bunch of Germans, most of whom could not speak English. Being Brits ourselves, we could not speak any German apart from words learned from comics: “Himmel”, “Achtung” and “Ja!” and that was about it. But we knew all about Borrusia Moenchengladbach and Bayern Munich. We admired Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Günter Netzer. And our friends from Westphalia were familiar with Liverpool, the European Champions. They especially liked a tall Welshman – John Toshack.

“TOSHACK!”, they shouted and mimed a thumping header. They remembered him, the imposing and very effective John Toshack….and his partner Kevin Keegan, who by now was plying his trade in Germany. We came across this happy and beer-swilling gang of Germans for several days and each time, our burly friend with the beard would shout at us, “TOSHACK” and score another imaginary goal with his head. This chap was forever known as Toshack, and he probably called us by the same name in return.

John Toshack, Liverpool

John Toshack and Kevin Keegan formed a compelling partnership in the early 1970s that was hard to beat. The inimitable, and much imitated, mix of big tall guy and small, buzz-around short-arse striker. At its peak, the partnership between Toshack and Keegan was very successful.

Ask many Liverpool fans which player has been the most influential over the years at Anfield and a fair percentage will say Kevin Keegan. While Kenny Dalglish had the skill and longevity, Keegan had the personality to spark change at Liverpool. Dalglish was the better, more accomplished player, without doubt, but Keegan had something that the taciturn Scot never possessed: enormous charisma.

By 1971, Liverpool were out of their 60s golden period of 1963-66 and were still trying to forge a new team that could win League Championships. Players like Ian St.John (sold to Coventry, August 1971), Hunt (to Bolton 1969) and Ron Yeats (to Tranmere, August 1971) had made way for new blood and others, like Peter Thompson and Ian Callaghan were supposedly at the tail-end of their career.

Liverpool had not been too successful in finding new strike power, however. In 1967, Billy Shankly paid a record  £ 96,000 for Chelsea’s Tony Hateley, but he moved on as his style was incompatible with Liverpool’s aspirations. Then in August 1968, Shankly spent big again, making Alun Evans, at £ 110,000, Britain’s most expensive teenager. It never really worked out for Evans and in 1972 he moved to Aston Villa. In November 1970, Liverpool, anxious to sign a forward that was ready and able to play for such a big club, paid another £ 110,000 for Cardiff City’s John Toshack. This time, it was money well spent, but Toshack was second choice after Frank Worthington, Huddersfield Town’s flamboyant striker, who had failed an Anfield medical during talks over a proposed £ 150,000 move. Shankly met Toshack and his wife at Lime Street station with the typical greeting: “Welcome to Liverpool, son, you have come from Sunday School to Church.”

In over five years at Cardiff, Toshack had scored 74 goals in 162 League games and had shone in European competition. He was only 21 years-old, but one of the most coveted strikers in the Football League. He soon won over the Liverpool fans when he scored in his second game, the Merseyside derby against Everton. He developed a habit of finding the net in big games – a 1-1 draw at Leeds, a 2-0 win against eventual champions Arsenal and then the only goal as Liverpool beat Don Revie’s side 1-0 at Elland Road. At the end of 1970-71, Liverpool reached the FA Cup final, only to lose 2-1 to Arsenal, and finished fifth in the League. But goals were a problem for Shankly’s well-drilled side, who scored just 42 (30 fewer than Leeds and 29 less than Arsenal) in as many games. At the other end, they conceded just 24, the lowest in the first division.

Defence, marshalled by the likes of Tommy Smith, Chris Lawler and Emlyn Hughes, was sound, and players like Steve Heighway and Brian Hall gave the midfield width. Up front, Phil Boersma and Alun Evans were not going to cut it. Toshack needed a partner, and he came from the unlikely source of Scunthorpe United, costing £ 30,000. His name was Kevin Keegan.

He was relatively unknown at the time and right up until the eve of his debut against Nottingham Forest, Keegan was expected to be on the bench. But Shankly surprised everyone by including the youngster in a Liverpool side with an average age of just over 23. “I have not the slightest doubt about playing him,” he said. “I’m looking for a balance and he can help achieve it.” Keegan, lining up alongside Toshack, scored on his debut and thus a fans’ favourite was born. His early months were like a whirlwind, he soon became the golden boy of British football, taking on the mantle from the troubled George Best. Toshack had his problems, however, suffering injuries and not quite finding his place at Anfield. That said, “Tosh” scored 13 goals in 34 games in 1971-72 to Keegan’s 11 in 42.

The 1972-73 season was where the “TOSHACK” legend was formed with our German friends. Liverpool had won their third League title under Shankly and faced Borussia Moenchengladbach in the UEFA Cup final. Toshack had been sidelined for two months but was recalled for the first leg at Anfield. The big Welshman caused havoc in the German defence, linking up with Keegan to spectacular effect.

He created two goals, the first when he met a Chris Lawler cross and nodded on for Keegan to dive headlong to score, and then knocking on an Emlyn Hughes header for Keegan to net once more. “Borussia could do nothing with Toshack in the air,” said the match report of the game, which Liverpool won 3-0. They lost the second leg 0-2 in Germany, but took home the impressive UEFA Cup trophy.

Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan.

In 1973-74, the duo scored 30 goals between them, but injuries once more restricted Toshack’s appearances and put his place under pressure. Liverpool won the FA Cup, comfortably beating Newcastle in the final by 3-0. Toshack played and Keegan starred, but in the summer of 1974, Shankly retired and Bob Paisley took over. Ray Kennedy of Arsenal arrived for a big fee and looked the tailor-made replacement for Toshack.

If Kennedy’s presence put pressure on Toshack at the start of 1974-75, Keegan had a dreadful start to the campaign. With his mentor gone – Keegan and Shankly had a famously close relationship – there seemed to be something troubling the diminutive striker. He was sent off in a pre-season game at Kaiserslautern and then, a few days later, in the full glare of the media, he was dismissed again after fighting with Billy Bremner of Leeds in the first Wembley FA Charity Shield. Both players received hefty bans, although public opinion was that Keegan seemed to be a victim of Bremner’s mission to make the afternoon thoroughly miserable for his opponent.

Keegan played in Liverpool’s opening day win at Luton, but didn’t appear again in the League until October. A few weeks later, Toshack, who was struggling to find his way after Kennedy’s arrival, looked set to leave Anfield for Leicester City. It seemed a reluctant move: “This club is out on its own…they are the best bunch of players I’ve ever been with,” he said as he headed for the Midlands. But the move fell through after Toshack failed the medical and vowed to work hard at regaining his place.

It’s just as well he did, for in 1975-76, the Toshack-Keegan partnership was at its most productive. The old format of cross to Tosh, knock down for Kev worked a treat. The duo scored 39 goals (28 in the League) as Liverpool won the title at the last-gasp, beating Wolves 3-1 at Molineux in the final game. Both players scored in the closing 14 minutes of the contest, and in doing so, consigned the home side to relegation. Liverpool also won the UEFA Cup, beating FC Bruges in the final 4-3 on aggregate.

Keegan was about to drop a bombshell on Liverpool. He effectively gave the club 12 months’ notice that he wanted to move – abroad. It became something of a media circus for the next 12 months. Every now and then, Keegan’s interviews would be punctuated with comments like, “because it’s time for me to go” something which started to irritate some Anfield patrons. Liverpool created a bit of history in 1976-77, but once more, Toshack was under pressure, with David Fairclough, a flame-haired, long-legged youngster coming to the fore in the latter months of the 1975-76 season. Fairclough invented the term “super sub” after a series of cameo appearances that proved vital for Liverpool, with seven goals in 14 League appearances. To add to the competition, Liverpool also signed England international David Johnson – a striker who looked like the fifth Beatle in many ways, and sounded like one – from Ipswich Town.

At the end of 1976-77, Liverpool deservedly won the holy grail of the European Cup and retained their title. They were denied an historic treble when they were beaten 2-1 in the FA Cup final by Manchester United. Keegan had a good last season at Anfield, scoring 20 goals in 57 games. Toshack, though, missed the finale, although still scored 13 goals in 22 games – his last Liverpool goal coming in February in a 3-1 home win against Derby. Both players were coming to the end of the time at the club.

Keegan permed his hair and went to Hamburg, describing it as “the most important step of my life”. He became Britain’s richest footballer in the process and earned Liverpool £ 500,000. Toshack, his partner now gone and Kenny Dalglish signed from Celtic and winning the hearts and minds of the Kop, played only a handful of games and was supposedly moving to Anderlecht when he failed another medical. He was subsequently given a free transfer and became player-manager at Swansea, where he enjoyed considerable success.

Both players have eulogised about their time at Liverpool. Keegan still reveres “Shanks” and when Toshack returned to Anfield as Swansea boss, just after Shankly’s death, he unpeeled his tracksuit to reveal a Liverpool shirt with his number 10 on the back. “Once a red, always a red,” isn’t that the saying?

The last word, fittingly, goes to that doyen of football commentators, David Coleman: “Toshack…Keegan….1-0.”




Photos: PA