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The Watchmaker (Michels)Klokwerk Oranje Print


Pioneered by Dutch giants, Ajax, Total Football (totaal voetbal) is the influential tactical theory in which any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team.

In this system, the only player fixed in a nominal position is the goalkeeper. No outfield player has a fixed nominal role. Anyone can successively play an attacker, a midfielder and a defender. Total Football's success depends largely on the adaptability of each footballer within the team, in particular the ability to quickly switch positions depending on the situation. The theory requires players to be comfortable in multiple positions; hence, placing high technical and physical demands on them.

The foundations for this brilliant philosophy can be traced a back to Jack Reynolds, who had 3 spells as manager of Ajax between 1915 and 1947. This early form was later developed and enhanced by the ‘The Mighty Magyars’; the incredible Hungarian national side of the 50s.

However, the philosophy was truly refined and amplified by Ajax manager and innovative thinker, Rinus Michels. Having played under Jack Reynolds, Michels became ‘The Watchmaker’ behind the machinery of the great Ajax and Dutch national sides of the late 60s and early 70s. When he took over at Ajax in 1965, they were heading for relegation. However, by the time he left in 1971 he’d engineered a footballing culture that saw Ajax, led on the field by the mercurial Johann Cruyff, win 3 European Cups in succession. This culture transposed perfectly to the international stage. In the 1974 World Cup, under Michels’ stewardship, Holland were losing finalists. Regarded by many, as the greatest side never to win the World Cup, Michels and Cruyff’s team won many admirers for a style of play built on collective coherence, individual ability and imagination.

'There’s only one moment in which you can arrive in time. If you’re not there, you’re either too early or too late.' 
Johann Cruyff


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