#TotalFootball… What made me a lifelong fan of #DutchFootball

#TotalFootball… What made me a lifelong fan of #DutchFootball


What is Total Football?

Johan Cruyuff described Total Football as the game strategy where “attackers could play as defenders and defenders as attackers. Everyone could play everywhere”.

johan cruyff

Johann Cruyff is my all time favorite football player followed by the trinity of Rudd Gullit, Marco Van Basten & Frank Rijkaard, and they will always be the best for me.


Rinus Michels is credited to be the father of Total Football, he did not invent the style, he did refined it and presented it in the form we know Total Football today, but  its invention precedes the Dutch.

Rinus Michels 1988

It was English coach Jimmy Hogan who laid the foundations in 1910 of what would later be called as total soccer. Hogan introduced the two basic concepts of total soccer as coach of Dutch football club Dordecht: player stamina and ball passing. 15 years later, the strategy that Jimmy Hogan brought to Netherlands was refined by fellow English coach Jack Reynolds.

Jimmy Hogan

Reynolds managed Ajax Amsterdam intermittently from 1915 to 1947. He is the one who brought the aspect of spacing into Hogan’s strategy. He did this by introducing the winger, a soccer position where a player widens the offense by running the ball on the flanks.

Jack Reynolds

Rinus Michels was one of the most brilliant players in Reynold’s Ajax squad, he also had the mindset of a strategist which helped him to become Ajax’s manager in 1965 and Netherlands’ coach in 1974. Michels trained his Ajax players to be versatile anywhere on the field. He also taught his team to work well with each other. It is in Michels’ time that ‘totaalvoetbal’ or Total Football acquired its name, using it first in training the Ajax squad and subsequently the Netherlands national football team in the 1970s. It was further refined by new Ajax manager Stefan Kovacs, after Michels left Ajax for Barcelona in 1971. Dutch forward Johan Cruyff was the system’s most famous exponent who moved to Barcelona with Michels.

Stefan Kovacs

Basically Total football is an attack-oriented strategy where players have no definite position. With the exception of the goalkeeper, everybody is allowed to play anywhere on the field. Coordination, spacing, and player movement are the key elements of total soccer. In the 1974 World Cup, the Dutch national team brought this strategy to world prominence under coach Rinus Michels.

Ajax Total Football

In Total Football, players switch to different positions to confuse the opponent’s defense. For this strategy to work, there must be a midfielder who can coordinate both offense and defense. In the case of the Dutch soccer team of the 1970s, that man was Johan Cruyff. He played as forward but he often moved to different roles as his team needed it. But more importantly, he could tell his teammates where to go and what position they should occupy. Total football’s main strategy is to possess the ball as much as possible. Players position themselves far from each other and pass the ball around. While the ball is being distributed, some players move around to get into good scoring position. There are three main objectives in a total football defense: keep the ball away from the goal, intercept passes, and mark deadly strikers. Total footballers work as a unit in defense. They narrow down passing lanes and work together aggressively retrieve the ball as soon as possible.

What is the need to switch position or play Total Football? To understand this, we need to have a little historical perspective. Football in the 1960s, especially the Europian footbll, was dominated by Italy with its hyper-defensive football strategy called ‘Catenaccio’. In catenaccio calcio, players man-mark their opponents closely to deny them the chance to score. Such tight man-marking became a problem for many clubs. Coach Rinus Michels of Ajax defeated it by making his players move to different positions. This soccer strategy created a dilemma for the man-markers. If they chased their man, they would find themselves in the wrong position when it is their team’s turn to attack. If they let their man go, they are risking the chance of leaving an attacker open. Rinus trained his players so they can easily adapt to any position. Opponents who were not as well-adapted as the Dutch total football players found it difficult to keep up.

The Total Football of Ajax in the 1960s and 1970s became so popular mainly because of the great players who executed it. Soccer legends Johan Cruyff and Johan Neskeens are two of the players who worked this strategy to success on the pitch.

Cruyff and Neeskens

Using the total football system, Ajax won three consecutive European Football Cups (1971, 1972, & 1973), the most prestigious club competition in Europe. These impressive victories proved to the world the effectiveness of the concept of total football. In the 1974 World Cup, Cruyff and the Dutch football team executed total football to perfection that they became known as Clockwork Orange. This nickname denotes the team’s execution of Total Football, which is unfailing as the working of a clock. The Dutch team’s execution of Total Football brought them to the final of the 1974 World Cup. Using the same strategy, they reached the 1978 World Cup final only to see the championship elude them once more.

After retiring from playing, Johan Cruyff pursued the career of a football manager. It is during his tenure in Barcelona when he utilized the principles of Total Football to create a style called Tiki-Taka – characterized by consistent ball passing and player movement. It centers on a midfielder who controls the team’s offense. Tiki-Taka also became a significant strategy of the Spanish football team. Spaniards used it to win the European Football Championships in 2008 and the FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Total Football no longer exists in its purest form because of its huge demand on player versatility and stamina. Yet its principles of passing, wide spacing, and player movement are evident in the attack-oriented football strategies of the present. Dutch team does not claim to play Total Football anymore, in fact Bert Van Marwijk who managed to help them reach the final of 2010 FIFA world cup (which they lost to Spain, agonisingly in the extra time, after dominating for 90 minutes) prepared the team to play exactly against any kind of Total Football. Which led to some lovers of Total Football and fans of Dutch team openly saying ‘Why all soccer fans should root for Holland to lose to Spain’.  The Spainards played more of Total Football than Oranje. That final match of World Cup 2014 is notorious for the fouls and record number of Yellow Cards than anything else.

Things have changed, the new team management has decided to put faith in youthful  energy, there are a lot of fresh faces in the Dutch side for World Cup 2014. Some experience is still there in the form of Robin Van Persie’s leadership and the individual brilliance of Dirk Kyut in the attack along with the craftmanship of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben… The starting formation is still a mystery – would Louis van Gaal’s go for  ‘3-4-1-2’ or ‘4-3-3’ or who knows maybe a 5-man back line.


No one can compare this 2014 Dutch squad with those in between 1970’s to 1990’s . Nobody seriously believes them to win the Championship this time. But I still have faith in the Oranje squad, just wish they are able to play as freely as the old greats did. Wish to see some of the old Total Football magic once again. Winning or losing does not matter, what really matters are those magical moments on the field when the player freely enjoy their dance with the football.

The 2014 World Cup Oranje Squad 

Player Position Number
Robin van Persie Forward


Arjen Robben Midfielder


Wesley Sneijder Midfielder


Klaas-Jan Huntelaar Forward


Dirk Kuyt Forward


Nigel de Jong Midfielder


Jeremain Lens Forward


Jordy Clasie Midfielder


Memphis Depay Midfielder


Daley Blind Defender


Bruno Martins Indi Defender


Daryl Janmaat Defender


Tim Krul Goalkeeper


Ron Vlaar Defender


Jasper Cillessen Goalkeeper


Stefan de Vrij Defender


Michel Vorm Goalkeeper


Leroy Fer Midfielder


Terence Kongolo Defender


Paul Verhaegh Defender


Joël Veltman Defender


Jonathan de Guzmán Midfielder


Georginio Wijnaldum Midfielder


3 thoughts on “#TotalFootball… What made me a lifelong fan of #DutchFootball

  1. I love the Dutch philosophy, as a kid I growing up in England I was intrigued by the fact that my surname was dutch and being a big Football fan, I became obsessed with the Dutch team and especially the concept of total football. I loved Cruyff and even used to always try and wear the number 14 shirt when I played football. Van Basten is my favourite striker ever and his goals in the euro finals my favourite goal ever! Thanks for this excellent post, I brought back good memories.
    Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Virgin Media

    • Your welcome..what a game they played against Spain,… I know everyone is rooting for Brazil or Argentina to lift the cup this time, I am still willing to put my money on the Dutch, hope they play in the rest of the tournament with same spirit.

      • Yes an amazing performance, haven’t seen a team performance like that from them in years. I hope they may continue this vein of form and win back a few friends after the last world cup went so much against their philosophy..

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