Rinus Michels. Photo copyright Nationaal Archief, Den Haag CC3

Rinus Michels – Dutch Genius behind ‘Total Football’

Rinus Michels was the legendary Dutchman credited with inventing ‘Total football’. His career in management saw him win several of the biggest trophies in the game.

His groundbreaking style of play helped him transform Ajax from a club battling relegation from the Dutch top flight into Champions of Europe. He won the Spanish title with Barcelona and his football philosophy is still evident at the Nou Camp today.

He was also appointed coach of his country on four occasions and came within a game of making them world champions. Unfortunately for the Dutch, Germany beat them 2-1 in the 1974 World Cup final. However, he did lead them to European glory in 1988 during his third spell as manager. It remains the Netherlands’ only major trophy to date.

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Total Football
Eurpoean Cup Glory
World Cup Final 1974
European Championships 1988
Football’s Greatest Managers

Michels’ pioneering genius as well as his impressive haul of major trophies saw him named as FIFA Coach of the Century in 1999.

Ajax man through and through

Michels spent his entire playing career at Ajax. He had been a top striker in the 1940s and 50s. He scored 122 goals in 264 games for his home town club, twice firing them to the Dutch title.

It was fitting that he should make his name as a manager at the club where he had spent his entire playing career. However, when he became Ajax boss in 1965, there was plenty of work to do. The glory days were becoming a distant memory.

They had fallen behind PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord and hadn’t won the title for five years. It was four years since they had won any major trophy and when Michels took charge, they had become more likely to be relegated then win anything.

Total football

Michels set about implementing his now famous total football philosophy.

“It is an art in itself to compose a starting team, finding the balance between creative players and those with destructive powers, and between defence, construction and attack – never forgetting the quality of the opposition and the specific pressures of each match.” – Rinus Michels

Players, playing ‘total football’ were all capable of playing in any position on the field from defence to attack. A player could move out of position knowing that he would be covered by a team mate. This meant that he could be confident that he could move to a more dangerous position in the pitch at any given time without damaging the structure or shape of the team.

The whole system was designed to create space. Players understood where and equally importantly, when, to make a run.

It makes the team very difficult to defend against because the fluidity of the movement means that the opposition players have to make a choice between getting dragged out of position or losing their man. Either way, the players in possession end up having more space which allows them more time to be dangerous on the ball.

Great Ajax team

Michels was blessed with the emerging talents of one of the best players of all time, Johan Cruyff. Cruyff bought into the total football philosophy and has become one of its most passionate advocates ever since the 1960s.

Michels built his team around Cruyff and Ajax won the Eredivisie title in 1965-66, just one year after escaping relegation by three points.

The momentum gained from winning the title helped Ajax to become unstoppable. The following year they were even better. They retained their title and scored an incredible 122 goals in just 34 league games. They also won the KNVB Cup, the Dutch equivalent of the FA Cup, beating NEC Breda 2-1 in the final.

In the 1967-68 season, Ajax won the title for the third year in a row for the first time in their history. It was another fantastic season with Ajax scoring 96 league goals and only conceding 19.  Michels leads Ajax to European Cup glory

Total Football
Eurpoean Cup Glory
World Cup Final 1974
European Championships 1988
Football’s Greatest Managers

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