Around 1970 a new tactical style of proactive soccer was being developed at Ajax by coach Rinus Michels. Known as Totaalvoetbal (Total Soccer or Total Football), this pioneering approach allowed players to change position fluidly, taking on any position without the overall organizational structure suffering.
For players to be comfortable in all the positions on the field, their level of technical ability and intense fitness had to be outstanding.
The player who would come to personify the Total Football ideal was Johan Cruyff. Known as the ‘conductor’ of play on the pitch, Cruyff was just as likely to drop back deeply or suddenly move to the wings, as he was to play his usual center forward position. He had an exceptional blend of technical ability, speed, and most of all, vision. His perfectly timed passes to fellow players were part of his overall skill of always knowing where other players were as play unfolded. In 1999, he was voted European Player of the Century and came second only to Pelé as World Player of the Century.
The new style of Total Football caught the eye of fans and players. It had been implemented at the club level with strong results, as Ajax and its star, Johan Cruyff , won the European Cup (now Champions League) three years in a row, from 1971 to 1973. By 1974, Ajax’s former coach, Rinus Michels, at Barcelona at the time with his protegé Cruyff, was named head coach of the Dutch national team. The Dutch team had qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1938. Cruyff was the team’s on-field captain. Michels, Cruyff and a star-studded Oranje brought Total Football to the FIFA world cup stage, and reached the final against home team West-Germany.
For much more on the history of the Dutch national soccer team, read Issue 17, of Dutch the magazine.
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