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Brilliant Orange: 50 years later, the game is still captivated by Total Football | Football tactics

Brilliant Orange: 50 years later, the game is still captivated by Total Football |  Football tactics
Brilliant Orange: 50 years later, the game is still captivated by Total Football |  Football tactics


SRgio Markarin was the 30-year-old general manager of a fuel distribution company in Montevideo when he became aware of his mission. He had given up his dreams of becoming a footballer twelve years earlier, but watching the 1974 World Cup made him realize his time in football was not over.

When he saw the Netherlands beat Uruguay, he knew he had to become a coach so he could ensure his country would never suffer in the same way again. And it wasn't just Uruguay. The Dutch also defeated Argentina and Brazil, with an aggregate score of 8-1. Markarin had to teach the whole of South America how to use Total Football.

It is doubtful whether seven national titles in three South American countries and a third place in the Copa Amrica are success under those conditions, but what is more important is that Markarin was encouraged to make the effort. He was not the only one inspired by the Dutch, even though they lost 2-1 to West Germany in the final.

Arrigo Sacchi, a shoe salesman at the time, said he felt his television set wasn't big enough to appreciate what they were doing and, intoxicated by the potential, he soon decided to take the Netherlands' hard-fought game to Serie A . would have revolutionized the Italian game, winning the first of his two European Cups with Milan.

The scoreboard shows the Netherlands versus host nation West Germany in the Munich Olympic Stadium. Photo: United Archives/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Other international sides may have made a similar impression, but none had such a lasting impact on the way the game was played as the Netherlands did in the 1974 World Cup. Partly it was a matter of technology.

The 1970 World Cup was the first to be broadcast live worldwide, with the Telstar satellite beaming Technicolor images of Pel and Tosto, Grson and Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and Rivellino to homes around the world. But many of the games were played too late at night for European audiences; in West Germany they kicked off in the afternoon and evening in Europe, in South America in the morning and afternoon. Many more people watched live. And what they saw was a team that had taken the pressure and the opportunities it presented to new heights.

But there was also a feeling, which only became clear in retrospect, that 1970 had not been the great harbinger of a new era of attacking football, as it seemed at the time. Rather, it was a return: Mexico's heat and altitude made impossible the kind of high-intensity pressing that dominated in 1966.

Even Brazil, who could see beyond the stereotypes realized straight from the beach, had prepared meticulously using NASA-approved training, while their manager, Mrio Zagallo, spoke of the need to remain compact.

In 1974, amid the persistent rain in West Germany, the pressure was back. But while it had seemed a reasonably functional tool to England and the Soviet Union, in the hands of the Dutch it produced football of extraordinary beauty.

Once again it turns out that 1974 was the peak of Total Football. Vic Buckingham had planted in Amsterdam the seeds he brought from Peter McWilliams Tottenham, and Rinus Michels had nurtured them from the 1965 takeover of Ajax.

Ajax's Johan Cruyff is outnumbered by Liverpool defenders during the European Cup second round second leg match at Anfield in December 1966. Photo: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

The first indication that football in Britain was causing something special to happen in what was always considered a hinterland of the game came on a thick fog-filled afternoon in December 1966, when Ajax beat Liverpool to 5- 1 defeated.

Ajax had won the European Cup three times before the 1974 World Cup. Feyenoord had also won. But those were different times; the World Cup was the tournament that attracted by far the most viewers. It was there, much more than in the league or the European Cup, that legends were born.

How much of what exactly the Dutch did was understood by non-specialists is unclear. Most of the conversation focused on the exchange of positions and the attacking opportunities that presented themselves. But positional shifts actually only occurred on the longitudinal axis. In what was essentially a 4-3-3, the right-back could alternate with the right midfielder or the right winger, but he rarely stepped into the center of the field.

Moreover, exchanging views was not the revolutionary aspect. Plenty of teams, from Schalke to Uruguay, Independiente to Hungary, had done that before. What was truly revolutionary about Dutch football in the early 1970s, what set them apart from, for example, West Germany, was the aggression of the press and the use of the offside trap as an attacking trick.

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Brazil's captain at the 1974 World Cup was Marinho Peres. He played in Brazil's 2–0 defeat by the Netherlands. When he subsequently joined Michels and Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, ​​he was baffled by the demand to move up. In Brazil, a high offside line was known as a donkey line.

What Cruyff said to me, Marinho explained, was that the Netherlands could not play against Brazilians or Argentinians, who were very skilled, on a large field. The Dutch players wanted to reduce the space and put everyone in a thin band. The whole logic of the offside trap comes from putting pressure on the game. This was something completely new to me. In Brazil people thought you could throw the ball over the line and someone could run through and beat the offside trap, but that's not the case because you don't have time.

Fifty years later, that concept now feels like a foundation of the game. Almost every party that has any ambition to belong to the elite is pushing at least to some extent. Everyone knows that timing is crucial, that a team steps up when the opponent passes the ball, that the receiving player must then be immediately put under pressure to prevent him from measuring a pass over the advancing line.

Ronald Koemans' mission for the Dutch at the European Championship is to refine and adapt the most important principles of Total Football. Photo: ANP/Getty Images

That is now so central to so many coaches' interpretations of football that it seems as if the game essentially falls into two parts: before and after systematized pressing, with the dividing line falling in the mid-1960s.

It may be that it must have been the Netherlands, a country without a hitherto strongly defined football culture, without a predetermined way of doing things, that could embrace the future with such enthusiasm. It probably helped that the football revolution in Amsterdam went hand in hand with broader social changes. Amsterdam transformed from the gloomy city of Camus, where pipe smokers saw the same rain falling on the same canals, and became the center of the youth revolution. But 1974 confirmed in public opinion the idea of ​​what Dutch football should be.

In recent years there has been a feeling that harking back to 1974 has become limiting. The aggressive side of Bert van Marwijk, who lost in the 2010 World Cup final, was rejected by many canal belt philosophers because he did not meet the ideals of Total Football. Both Ronald Koeman, now back for his second spell as manager, and Louis van Gaal have committed the heresy of playing with three centre-backs and full-backs, a departure from the 4-3-3 orthodoxy.

But football is not a religion. As memorable as the summer of 1974 was for Dutch football, it was not written. There are few absolute values. When the world plays your game, when it has adapted and refined it, the only way to move forward again is to refine it better. That is Koemans' mission.




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