The History of Total football

Total football is a tactical play that has a massive impact if not the most, on the modern game. Every player must adopt different roles on the pitch and be comfortable playing in more than one position. It was well related to the Dutch National Team and Ajax during the 1970s.

In 1915, when the Europeans were concentrating on war and politics, an English man was taking over as a new coach at Ajax FC in Amsterdam. Jack Reynolds spent around 30 years implementing his ideas that were to become fundamental to the Dutch game. In the team he managed, Rinus Michels was a player known as the inventor of total football later on, who helped evolve his ideas. Michels then replaced Vic Buckingham as the coach of Ajax FC and coached probably one of the most significant figures in European Football, Johan Cryuff. These three produced a new philosophy in the world of football that has so much influence on the modern game.

Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.

Johan Cryuff

Total football is a fluid tactical system, where no outfield player is fixed in his set role. Each player must adopt the role of any other player in the team and be comfortable switching positions. The team must utilize space, making the pitch wider when attacking and narrower when defending, and having a high defensive pressing line to retrieve the ball fasters is a key. To implement the system, players must have high attributes such as work rate, discipline, fitness, focus, and skills. This makes the players capable of playing in any position depending on the flow of the game. All these points create a beautiful and simple way of playing football.

With Fc Barcelona, Cruyff produced one of the best eras in the club’s history between 1988 and 1996, winning 4 La Liga titles and the European Cup for the first time in 1992. He implemented the total football philosophy building a “Dream Team” in a 3-4-3 diamond formation.

The influence of total football shows up in the coaching of Marcelo Bielsa and, Cryuff’s students Pep Guardiola. Both coaches commit their teams to control space, switch positions, press high, and play in different roles. By maintaining skilled players, goalkeepers can start building up the play and attackers become as number one defenders.

In the end, the legacy of total football is not related to Ajax and the Dutch National Team in the 1970s it lives on in the football world nowadays.

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