Tuesday, 23 Jul 2024

What is Total Football?

The game of football is known for its diversity of tactics and strategies. From intense counter-pressing to direct long balls, teams have found various ways to achieve success on the pitch. One tactical approach that has made a lasting impact on the sport is Total Football. In this article, we will explore the philosophy of Total Football, its origins, and its key components. Whether you’re a football enthusiast or just curious about different playing styles, this article will provide you with valuable insights into Total Football and its influence on the beautiful game.

What is Total Football?

Total Football is widely regarded as one of the most influential styles of football in history. It is a fluid tactical playing theory in which every outfield player is capable of adopting the role of any other player on the team. This means that players have the freedom to switch between defense, midfield, and attack throughout the match. The only player who remains in a fixed position is the goalkeeper.

The core concept of Total Football revolves around two key principles: utilization of space and fluidity of positions. Teams employing Total Football aim to make the pitch big when attacking, allowing for expansive play and pressing the opposition when they have possession. Players are expected to regularly switch positions, dropping deeper or moving wider to create space, while their teammates fill in and replace them.

This constant movement and positional fluidity can create chaos for opposing defenders, who struggle to handle the intricate switches happening in front of them. Remarkably, this fluidity does not compromise the team’s defensive shape as long as players are pushed up the pitch.

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Who invented Total Football?

Total Football is most closely associated with the Ajax and Dutch national sides of the 1970s. However, it was influenced by other tactical innovators such as the Austrian national side of Matthias Sindelar in the 1930s and the Hungarian sides featuring Puskas in the 1950s.

Several English coaches also played a crucial role in laying the foundations for the development of Total Football. For example, Jack Reynolds managed Ajax over three spells between 1915 and 1947, and Vic Buckingham had two stints as boss between 1959 and 1965. These coaches, along with continental pioneer Jimmy Hogan, greatly influenced the Austrian national side managed by Sindelar. Rinus Michels, a legendary Ajax boss, developed his free-flowing formula for success after playing under Reynolds and replacing Buckingham as the manager of Ajax.

Johan Cruyff, one of football’s greatest thinkers, was greatly influenced by Michels and implemented the principles of Total Football as the manager of Ajax and Barcelona. Cruyff’s impact on football is still felt today.

The Strengths of Total Football

Total Football enables teams to overwhelm their opponents with a powerful combination of high pressing, positional fluidity, and technical skill. By fielding highly adaptable and technically skilled players who can switch positions with each other, coaches can dominate possession and showcase dynamic, intricate football.

To make this system work, a very high defensive line is employed to press the opposition intensely, thereby limiting the space available to them. The shape most commonly associated with Total Football is 4-3-3, which can transform into a 3-4-3 as the libero or sweeper defender steps up into midfield. This shape allows defenders to initiate attacking moves themselves.

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The Weaknesses of Total Football

Implementing Total Football requires players with exceptional positional knowledge, adaptability, and technical ability. The system also demands high levels of fitness due to constant position switches, movement, and intensity both in and out of possession.

The success of Total Football heavily relies on the adaptability of each player within the team. If players lack intelligence and technical diversity, this system can be risky to implement.

Well-organized and well-coached teams can neutralize the benefits of Total Football. For instance, in the final of the 1974 World Cup, West Germany effectively man-marked and flooded the midfield, ultimately reducing the attacking potency of Total Football and winning the match.

Which Football Teams Have Utilized This Style of Play?

Total Football has been employed by several notable teams throughout history. Here are a few examples:

  • Austria National Team, 1930s: Known as “The Wunderteam,” the Austrian national side of the 1930s played a quick passing style introduced to Europe by English coach Jimmy Hogan. Their fluid positional play and possession-based football laid the foundations for Total Football.

  • River Plate, 1941-47: The Argentinian giants River Plate showcased a highly fluid attacking style known as “La Maquina” (The Machine) during the 1940s. Players regularly switched positions, confusing opponents and demonstrating a precursor to Total Football.

  • Netherlands National Team, 1970s: The iconic Dutch international side of the 1970s, managed by Rinus Michels and others, epitomized Total Football. They engaged in wholesale positional changes up and down each wing, reaching two World Cup finals.

  • Ajax, 1970s: The famous Dutch club Ajax, closely associated with the Netherlands’ national team, became renowned for their Total Football approach. They achieved tremendous success domestically and internationally, dominating their league and winning multiple titles.

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The Impact of Total Football

The thinking behind Total Football has had a lasting impact on the modern game. Numerous top coaches draw inspiration from it when developing their footballing philosophies.

Pep Guardiola, heavily influenced by Johan Cruyff and Michels’ work at Barcelona, adopts a positional play approach inspired by Total Football. Marcelo Bielsa, known for his teams’ control of space, fluid interchanges, and intense pressing, also looks to the foundations of Total Football. The English Premier League, once known for direct and physical play, now sees more fluid, possession-based teams in action.

Total Football promotes the idea that no individual is more important than the team. Its emphasis on positional fluidity and space utilization provides a range of advantages over opponents.

If you’re interested in learning more about the tactical side of the game, check out our articles on gegenpressing and an explanation of soccer positions.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Who was Johan Cruyff?

Johan Cruyff was a legendary Dutch footballer and coach who played a crucial role in developing the Total Football style of play used by Ajax and the Netherlands national team in the 1970s. He went on to manage Ajax and Barcelona, influencing coaches like Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman.

What are the main formations in soccer?

There are numerous popular formations in soccer. Our article on the most popular soccer formations explores classic systems such as 4-4-2, 4-3-3, and 3-5-2.

What is gegenpressing?

Gegenpressing, derived from the German term “counter-pressing,” is a strategy that focuses on immediately winning the ball back from the opposition after losing it. It usually occurs in advanced areas of the pitch. Check out our dedicated article on this subject for more information.