Scarcely had the Cosmos won the North American Soccer League title than Steven Hunt, their English left Winger, packed his bags and came home to join Coventry City of the English First Division.
Dennis Tueart, Hunt's English colleague in the Cosmos' attack, said that though he was happy in America, he didn't blame Hunt a bit: If you wanted to make a name in soccer, you had to make it where the competition was truly hard.
The attitude of these, their own English players, fairly sums up what Europe, by large, thinks of the Cosmos, who are on tour there. They are regarded less as a soccer team than as an extension of show business, and the Europeans don't really believe in them. At the same time, European players are fascinated, intregued and perhaps envious.
Those colosal, 75,000 person crowds at the Meadowlands; that average attendance of more than 50,000. Even Liverpool and Manchester united, even Milan, Juventus and Inter of Italy, even Real Madrid of Spain (though its stadium can hold 120,000) cannot boast such huge, regular gates Europeans are fascinated, and no doubt envious, too of the immense sums of money the Cosmos pay their players: $4 1/2 million to Pele, $2 1/2 million to Franz Beckenbauer, smaller but substantial fortunes to the likes of Giorgio Chinaglia and Yugoslavia's Vladislav Bogicevic.
At the same time, Europeans are exceedingly sceptical of the value, and validity, of the Cosmos' success. We in England, especially, look at the line-ups of the teams the Cosmos play against and are a little amused.
Can it really be that New England's Mike Flanagan a very good Second Division striker with London'h Charlton Athetic, but never yet picked for the full England national team - as NASL publicity keeps asserting - is the most valuable of the NASL?
Can it be that Rodney Marsh, who a few years ago played briefly in the Second Division for another London club. Fulham, then returned to the States, is still a star, so important to the Tampa Bay Rowdies that without him they are no match for the Cosmos in the final?
Even those of us who greatly admired Marsh's maverick talent with the Queens Park Rangers and Manchester City know that his career in the English league is long since over, that he is now playing on borrowed time. Or rather, that he would be had he stayed in England.
People in Europe not only envy the Cosmos, they fear and resent them. Snatching Beckenbauer from Bayern Munich was a tremendous blow to European football in general. West Germany in particular and to the World Cup itself. There was great bitterness in Germany, the more so when its World Cup team in Argentina so badly missed Beckenbauer with his superb skills and leadership. To know that he was playing in what Europeans would consider a bush league at the time made matters worse. Lazio (Rome) fans, meanwhile, still mourn the loss of the immensely popular Chinaglia, a messianic figure there.
There also is the element of razz-a-ma-tazz, much exposed on European television screens. Thus, Pele's farewell game last year seemed a tasteless, sentimental affair to many Europeans, rising, or descending, to the moment when he posed in the center of the stadium shouting. "Love! love! as if it was love rather than money that had brought him to New York in the first place.
Inseparable from the European attitude to the Cosmos is their attitude to the whole game in America. This may be characterized as a compound of resentment and contempt. Though dozens of British players now go to the NASL for the summer, though the $100,000 the Detroit Express paid Birmingham City's striker Francis for the 1978 season allowed the English club to keep him, there is no love lost.
"The Americans will kick us in the teeth," a leading young London coach said. That is the general belief, tied up with the image of a rich country buying elsewhere what it can't produce itself and the United States so war has failed signally to produce its own players. Great resentment has been felt in England over the way key players are taken on loan by American clubs at delicate moments of the English season - the beginning or the end. Mike Flanagan, for example, was released by Charlton at a time last season when that club easily could have been relegated to the Third Division, and very nearly was.
There also is the question of rule changes: the silly shoot-out, the dislike of tied games, the 35-yard offside law, plus the fact that NASL games tend to be played in torrid heat at a slow pace. All this suggests that the Cosmos are kings of a tiny realm. Or, to vary the metaphor, crackers of nuts with a sledgehammer.