On This Day in Football History – 31 May: Ajax Conquer Europe, Maldini Waves Goodbye & Wolves Kick Off Nuno Era

Nuno Espirito Santo, Laurie Dalrymple

Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

By the end of May, if the football season hasn’t finished already, it’s normally wrapping up.

2020 aside, domestic competitions have usually reached their conclusion by this point in the year, with only the odd outstanding final left to contest.

Don’t let the dearth of actual football convince you that 31 May is an uneventful day in the history of the sport we all love, however. Between the European finals, high-profile birthdays and managerial appointments that changed the game, we’ve got plenty to discuss.

So let’s get into it.

Chances are you don’t remember a time when Benfica were the dominant force in European football. Chances are you also don’t remember a time before Barcelona had ever won a European Cup, and had just the eight league titles to their name.

That was the situation heading into the sixth-ever European Cup final, however, as Bela Guttman’s Portuguese champions unknowingly kicked off a mythical dynasty – if also a short-lived one – by edging out Barça on the biggest stage of them all.

A thrilling end to end final saw Benfica emerge victorious by three goals to two, as they won the first of two successive finals.

You can watch the full 90 minutes here, if you’ve got nothing better to do with your Sunday.

By the dawn of the 1970s, Benfica’s flickering dominance had waned, and it was Ajax’s time to shine.

Inspired by the legendary Johan Cruyff, the Dutch giants were slap bang in the middle of the most successful period in their history, and brushed aside Inter 2-0 to claim the second of three straight European Cups.

Cruyff, naturally, scored both goals, including a towering header for number two, because he could do literally anything with a football.

Marco Reus’ unvacillating loyalty to Borussia Dortmund means he may never be spoken about in the same terms as Robert Lewandowski, or even Germany teammate Thomas Muller.

Unlike his more esteemed contemporaries, Reus is yet to win a league title, but with more than 200 goal involvements in 289 appearances so far, you won’t find a more consistent forward in his generation.

The manner in which he has recovered from an injury-hit two-year spell to re-establish himself as one of the best in the business has only furthered his already unbreakable bond with the BVB fanbase, who have flooded social media to wish him a very happy 31st.

All the best, Woody!

Seven league titles, five European cups, and more appearances than any other player in your boyhood club’s history.

You’d probably take that at the outset, wouldn’t you?

It’s not very often you can talk about a left-back as one of the most complete players ever, but Milan legend Maldini had it all; killer defensive instincts, composure on the ball, mind-bending dribbling ability and the capacity to score a key goal or 30.

It’s been 11 years since the coolest man to ever play football pulled on a red and black shirt for the last time to face Fiorentina; a heartbreaking day for Italian sport, but one that will be celebrated forever.

What a difference three years has made at Wolves.

Since 2017, they have transformed from a bog standard, mid-table, Championship no mark, into one of the best Premier League teams not called Liverpool, and a genuine contender for the Europa League.

No one can take more credit for their explosive emergence than Nuno Espirito Santo, their soft-spoken, fearsome, bushy-bearded, definitely-knows-some-form-of-karate leader, who was appointed exactly three years ago today.

Who would have thought goalkeepers make good managers?

For more from Robbie Copeland, follow him on Twitter!

Global Express News

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