Total Football

Last updated

Total Football (Dutch : totaalvoetbal) is a tactical theory in football in which any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team. It was made famous by the Netherlands national football team when reaching the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup. Early exponents of Total Football were European sides Ajax and Real Madrid, although the system saw trial in other parts of the world, notably with the Austrian Wunderteam in the 1930s, the Argentine side "La Maquina" of River Plate in the 1940s, the Golden Team of Hungary, and English side Burnley in the 1950s, [1] or Brazilian side Santos in the 1960s.

Dutch language West Germanic language

Dutch(Nederlands ) is a West Germanic language spoken by around 23 million people as a first language and 5 million people as a second language, constituting the majority of people in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is the third most widely spoken Germanic language, after its close relatives English and German.

Association football Team field sport

Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer, is a team sport played with a spherical ball between two teams of eleven players. It is played by 250 million players in over 200 countries and dependencies, making it the world's most popular sport. The game is played on a rectangular field called a pitch with a goal at each end. The object of the game is to score by moving the ball beyond the goal line into the opposing goal.

Netherlands national football team Mens national association football team representing the Netherlands

The Netherlands national football team has officially represented the Netherlands in international football since its initial match in 1905. The national team is controlled by the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB), which is a part of UEFA, and under the jurisdiction of FIFA the governing body for football in the Netherlands. Most of the Netherlands' home matches are played at the Johan Cruyff Arena and the Stadion Feijenoord. The team is colloquially referred to as Het Nederlands Elftal or the Oranje, after the House of Orange-Nassau. Like the country itself, the team is sometimes referred to as Holland. The fan club is known as the "Het Legioen".


In Total Football, a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining the team's intended organisational structure. In this fluid system, no outfield player is fixed in a predetermined role; anyone can successively play as an attacker, a midfielder and a defender. The only player who must stay in a specified position is the goalkeeper.

Forward (association football) Association Football position played near the opponents goal

Forwards are the players on an association football team who play nearest to the opposing team's goal, and are therefore most responsible for scoring goals.

Midfielder association football position played on both ends of the field

midfielder is an association football position. Midfielders are generally positioned on the field between their team's defenders and forwards. Some midfielders play a disciplined defensive role, breaking up attacks, and are otherwise known as defensive midfielders. Others blur the boundaries, being more mobile and efficient in passing: they are commonly referred to as deep-lying midfielders, play-makers, box-to-box, or holding midfielders. The number of midfielders on a team and their assigned roles depends on the team's formation; the collective group of these players on the field is sometimes referred to as the midfield.

In the sport of association football, a defender is an outfield player whose primary role is to prevent the opposing team from scoring goals.

Total Football's tactical success depends largely on the adaptability of each footballer within the team, in particular the ability to quickly switch positions depending on the on-field situation. The theory requires players to be comfortable in multiple positions; hence, it requires very intelligent and technically diverse players.

During the 1970s, Ajax played some of their finest football ever, achieving a perfect home record (46–0–0) for two full seasons (1971–72 and 1972–73), just one defeat in the whole of the 1971–72 season, and celebrating four titles in 1972 (the Netherlands national league, KNVB Cup, European Cup and Intercontinental Cup).

The Intercontinental Cup, also known as European/South American Cup, and also Toyota Cup from 1980 to 2004 for commercial reasons by agreement with the automaker, was an official international football competition endorsed by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (CONMEBOL), contested between representative clubs from these confederations, usually the winners of the European Champions' Cup and the South American Copa Libertadores. The competition has since been replaced by the FIFA Club World Cup.


The foundations for Total Football were laid by Jack Reynolds, who was the manager of Ajax from 1915–1925, 1928–1940, and 1945–1947. [2] Total Football also saw further development by Gusztáv Sebes, the coach of the Hungarian national football team during the 1950s, who drew heavy inspiration from Burnley native and continental pioneer Jimmy Hogan. [3] In the same decade, Burnley F.C. were playing a renewed system in English football "where every player could play in every position" under manager Harry Potts. [1] This system led Burnley to the 1959–60 English League title and won many plaudits, including admiration from all-time English First Division top scorer Jimmy Greaves. [1]

Jack Reynolds (footballer, born 1881) English footballer

John Reynolds was an English football manager and player. He was the manager of Ajax Amsterdam from 1915–1925, 1928–1940, and 1945–1947. He was one of the pioneers of the Total Football system of playing and is considered to be among the best managers the team has had. He was also the manager of the Swiss side St Gallen.

Gusztáv Sebes Hungarian footballer

Gusztáv Sebes was a Hungarian footballer and coach. With the title of Deputy Minister of Sport, he coached the Hungarian team known as the Mighty Magyars in the 1950s. Among the players in the team were Ferenc Puskás, Zoltán Czibor, Sándor Kocsis, József Bozsik, and Nándor Hidegkuti. Together with Béla Guttmann and Márton Bukovi, he formed a triumvirate of radical Hungarian coaches who pioneered the 4-2-4 formation.

Burnley market town in Lancashire, England

Burnley is a town in Lancashire, England, with a 2001 population of 73,021. It is 21 miles (34 km) north of Manchester and 20 miles (32 km) east of Preston, at the confluence of the River Calder and River Brun.

The Austrian " Wunderteam " of the 1930s is also credited as being the first national team to play Total Football.

Austria national football team mens national association football team representing Austria

The Austria national football team is the association football team that represents Austria in international competition and is controlled by the Austrian Football Association . Austria has qualified for seven FIFA World Cups, most recently in 1998. The country played in the UEFA European Championship for the first time in 2008, when it co-hosted the event with Switzerland, and most recently qualified in 2016.

Wunderteam was the name given to the Austria national football team of the 1930s. Led by manager Hugo Meisl, the team had an unbeaten streak of 14 games between April 1931 and December 1932. The style of the team was based on the Scottish school of football that focused on quick passing introduced by Englishman Jimmy Hogan. The forward line was complemented by wide half-backs and an attacking centre-half. Matthias Sindelar, Josef Bican, Anton Schall, Josef Smistik and Walter Nausch were the referents of the team that would dominate European football during that era. Matthias Sindelar, known as Der Papierene due to his slight build, was the star and captain of the team.

Between 1941 and 1947 the Argentinian club River Plate formed a remarkable team, known as "La Máquina" (The Machine), [4] whose famous front formed by Carlos Muñoz, José Manuel Moreno, Adolfo Pedernera, Angel Labruna and Felix Loustau perfected the "false nine" style [5] [6] and the constant change of attack positions. "La Máquina" won several Argentine and international championships and can be catalogued as an immediate prototype of Hungary's Golden Team, who, guided by the "Mighty Magyars" Ferenc Puskas, Nandor Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor and Sandor Kocsis, won the gold medal at the 1952 Summer Olympics and lost the 1954 FIFA World Cup Final to West Germany by a score of 3-2.

José Manuel Moreno Argentine footballer and manager

José Manuel Moreno Fernández, nicknamed "El Charro", was an Argentine footballer who played as an inside forward for several clubs in Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia; for many who saw him play, he is one of the greatest players of all time, even along Diego Maradona, Pelé and Alfredo Di Stéfano, and was the first footballer ever to have won first division league titles in four countries.

Adolfo Pedernera Argentine footballer and manager

Adolfo Alfredo Pedernera, born in Avellaneda, Argentina, was a football player and coach. Nicknamed "El Maestro", He was widely considered to be one of the greatest world football players in the 1940s, as well as one of the Argentine players of all-time. Pedernera was the natural conductor of both famous River Plate team known as La Máquina, with whom he won several Argentine and South American titles, and Millonarios team called Ballet Azul, with which won the Small Club World Cup in 1953 among many others colombian titles. Playing for the Argentine Team he won three times the Copa América in 1941, 1945 and 1946, being awarded as the Best Player of the latter. He also was elected the 12th best South american footballer of the 20th century in a poll by the IFFHS in 2000, and his name appears in the list of the 100 greatest all-time footballers selected from the magazine FourFourTwo in 2017, in which he holds the 58th place.

The Hungary national football team represents Hungary in international football and is controlled by the Hungarian Football Federation.

Rinus Michels, who played under Reynolds, later became manager of Ajax in 1965. Michels reworked the theory, with his introduction of forward Johan Cruyff, perhaps the system's most famous exponent. [7] Although Cruyff was fielded as centre forward, Michels encouraged Cruyff to roam freely around the pitch, using technical ability and intelligence to exploit the weaknesses in the opposition and create chances. Cruyff's teammates also worked to adapt themselves accordingly, regularly switching positions to ensure tactical roles in the team were consistently filled. [8] Ernst Happel reworked the theory to introduce strength, encouraging his players to play tougher during his spells at ADO Den Haag and Feyenoord. Happel also managed the Netherlands national team to a runner-up finish in the 1978 World Cup.

The major component was the use of space, with the need to consistently create space central to the concept of Total Football. Former Ajax defender Barry Hulshoff described it as "[the thing] we discussed the whole time. Cruyff always talked about where to run and where to stand, and when not to move". [9] He further elaborated that position switching was only made possible due to apt spatial awareness. [10] He also described Total Football being proactive, as well as highlighting the use of pressing, which would be used to win back the ball or put the opposition under considerable pressure. [11]

Michels and Cruyff saw unprecedented success with the system, winning eight Eredivisie titles, three European Cups, and one Intercontinental Cup. [12] The stark rise of Total Football and its attacking prowess was also linked with the "death of Catenaccio ", an Italian system reliant heavily on defense promoted by Internazionale during the 1960s. [13] The system was prone to defeat, experienced notably in the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup contested by the Dutch and West Germany. [14] Michels and Cruyff saw their ability to introduce playmaking stifled in the second half of the match by the effective marking of Berti Vogts. This allowed Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeneß, and Wolfgang Overath to gain a stronghold in midfield, thus, enabling West Germany to win 2–1. [15]

Current use

FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team devolved a new play style called Juego de Posicion, based on the theory of Total Football, and the managerial philosophy of former Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff. [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

AFC Ajax Dutch association football team

Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax, also known as AFC Ajax, Ajax Amsterdam or simply Ajax, is a Dutch professional football club based in Amsterdam, that plays in the Eredivisie, the top tier in Dutch football. Historically, Ajax has been the most successful club in the Netherlands, with 33 Eredivisie titles and 19 KNVB Cups. It has continuously played in the Eredivisie, since the league's inception in 1956 and, along with Feyenoord and PSV, it is one of the country's "big three" clubs that have dominated that competition.


Catenaccio or The Chain is a tactical system in football with a strong emphasis on defence. In Italian, catenaccio means "door-bolt", which implies a highly organised and effective backline defence focused on nullifying opponents' attacks and preventing goal-scoring opportunities.

Johan Neeskens Dutch footballer and manager

Johannes Jacobus "Johan" Neeskens is a Dutch football manager and former midfielder. As a player, he was an important member of the Dutch national team that finished as runners-up in the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cups and is considered to be one of the greatest Dutch midfielders of all time. In 2004, he was named one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers at a FIFA Awards Ceremony, while in 2017 he has been included in the FourFourTwo list of the 100 all-time greatest players, at the 64th position.

Rob Rensenbrink Dutch footballer

Pieter Robert ("Rob") Rensenbrink is a former Dutch footballer and member of the Dutch national football team that reached two World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978. A creative and prolific left winger or forward of considerable talent, he became a legend in Belgium whilst playing in the great Anderlecht side of the 1970s. He is the UEFA Cup Winners Cup's all-time top scorer, with 25 goals. A talented dribbler as well as a cool finisher and adequate passer, he only ever missed two penalties in his entire career. He was also the first winner of the Onze d'Or.

Frank Rijkaard Dutch footballer and manager

Franklin Edmundo Rijkaard is a Dutch former footballer and former manager who played as a midfielder or defender. Rijkaard has played for Ajax, Real Zaragoza and Milan and represented the Netherlands national team side 73 times, scoring 10 goals. In his managerial career, he has been at the helm of the Netherlands national team, Sparta Rotterdam, Barcelona, Galatasaray and the Saudi Arabia national team.

Rinus Michels Dutch footballer and manager

Marinus Jacobus Hendricus "Rinus" MichelsOON was a Dutch association football player and coach. He played his entire career for AFC Ajax, who he later coached, and played for and managed the Netherlands national team. He is regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time.

Piet Keizer Dutch footballer

Petrus Johannes "Piet" Keizer was a Dutch professional footballer who played as a left winger.

Johan Cruyff Shield

The Johan Cruyff Shield is a football trophy in the Netherlands named after Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff, also often referred to as the Dutch Super Cup. The winner is decided in one match only, played by the winner of the national football league and the winner of the national KNVB Cup. In the event of a team winning both the Eredivisie and the KNVB Cup, the Johan Cruyff Shield will be contested between that team and the runner up in the national league. The match traditionally opens the Dutch football season in August one week before the Eredivisie starts.

Wim Jonk Dutch footballer

Wilhelmus Maria "Wim" Jonk is a Dutch football coach, former international player and former Head of Academy at Ajax Amsterdam. Together with Jordi Cruyff, Jonk manages Cruyff Football and is responsible for the worldwide continuation and dissemination of the football legacy of Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff, who died on 24 March 2016.

De Klassieker

De Klassieker is the main football rivalry of the Netherlands, between Ajax and Feyenoord. It's a highly contested rivalry. The record attendance was on 9 January 1966, when 65,562 watched in Rotterdam.

Maarten Stekelenburg Dutch footballer

Maarten Stekelenburg is a Dutch footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for Premier League club Everton and the Netherlands national team.

Horst Blankenburg German footballer

Horst Blankenburg is a former German footballer, who played as a sweeper. He is best known for the early 1970s period, during which he played for Ajax Amsterdam and won the European Cup three times, the European Super Cup twice, the Intercontinental Cup once (1972) and the Dutch championship and the KNVB Cup twice. In 1976, he won the German Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1977 with Hamburger SV. He was never selected for the German national team.

Dick Schoenaker Dutch footballer

Dirk "Dick" Hendricus Schoenaker is a retired football midfielder from the Netherlands, who represented his native country at the 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina, wearing the number three jersey.

Theo van Duivenbode Dutch footballer

Theo van Duivenbode is a Dutch former footballer who played for Ajax and Feyenoord and was part of their European and Intercontinental Cup victory in 1970.

Johan Cruyff Dutch association football player, then coach

Hendrik Johannes CruijffOON was a Dutch professional football player and coach. As a player, he won the Ballon d'Or three times, in 1971, 1973, and 1974. Cruyff was the most famous exponent of the football philosophy known as Total Football explored by Rinus Michels, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in football history. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dutch football rose from obscurity to become a powerhouse in the sport. Cruyff led the Netherlands to the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup and received the Golden Ball as player of the tournament. At the 1974 finals, he executed a feint that subsequently was named after him, the "Cruyff Turn", a move widely replicated in the modern game. Wearing the number 14 jersey, he set a trend for wearing shirt numbers outside the usual starting line-up numbers of one to eleven.

History of AFC Ajax

AFC Ajax is one of the most successful clubs in Dutch football. Historically, Ajax is the most successful club in the Netherlands, with 33 Eredivisie titles and 18 KNVB Cups.

Ajax 5–1 Liverpool (1966)

Ajax 5–1 Liverpool was a football match between Ajax and Liverpool on 7 December 1966 at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was the first leg of a second round tie in the 1966–67 European Cup. The match was given the Dutch title "De Mistwedstrijd" as it was played in dense fog.

Association football is the most popular sport, both in terms of participants and spectators, in Amsterdam.


  1. 1 2 3 Quelch, Tim (2015). Never Had it So Good: Burnley's Incredible 1959/60 League Title Triumph. Durrington: Pitch Publishing. ISBN   9781909626546.
  2. "Dutch substance over style". BBC. 2008-06-04. Retrieved 2010-02-09.
  3. "Jimmy Hogan: The Englishman who inspired the Magical Magyars".
  4. "What if River Plate's La Máquina, Il Grande Torino had played one another?".
  5. Wilson, Jonathan (27 October 2009). "The Question: Why are teams so tentative about false nines? - Jonathan Wilson". the Guardian.
  6. (12 May 2015). "Pedernera, the twinkle-toed engine driver".
  7. "Classic Coach: Rinus Michels". Classic Football. Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
  8. 'FIFA Classic Player: The Netherlands' Grand Master. Retrieved 14 July 2014
  9. "Johan Cruyff: The Total Footballer". Sport Academy. British Broadcasting Corporation. 2003-12-10. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
  10. "Ground Breaking Team: Ajax 1973". Football Culture. The British Council in Japan. Archived from the original on 2007-12-17. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
  11. Wilson, Jonathan (11 July 2010). "World Cup 2010: Dutch were pioneers of Total Football, but after exporting it to Spain must now stop opponents at their own game". The Scotsman . Retrieved 24 July 2010.
  12. "We are the champions". 11 December 2005. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  13. "Season 1971-72". European Cup History. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
  14. "1974 FIFA World Cup Germany: Dutch take plaudits but Germany take the prize". Previous FIFA World Cups. Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
  15. "World Cup Final, 1974: West Germany vs. The Netherlands". The Making of a World Cup Legend. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
  16. Martínez, Roberto (11 July 2010). "World Cup final: Johan Cruyff sowed seeds for revolution in Spain's fortunes". . Archived from the original on July 13, 2010. Retrieved 13 July 2010.