Cruyff & Wenger Are Credited With “Total Football” – When In Fact, They Owe Their Footballing Philosophy to a Northerner called Jack

Jack Reynolds, unfortunately, is a name that has been lost in the mists of time. He is regularly overshadowed by those who followed in his footsteps, but in fact, he is arguably one of the most important figures in the history of twentieth century European football.

The Englishman – who enjoyed 27 golden years as the coach of Ajax – began his career in rather more modest surrounds, trying to carve a name playing football, hopping between lower league clubs such as Burton United, New Brompton and even the dizzy heights of Grimsby Town. He wasn’t destined to become a great footballer, and just after 10 years of club hunting, he took over at Swiss club St Gallen in 1911. Unfortunately, getting information as to how St Gallen got on under Reynolds’ stewardship is hard to come by, but from looking at a history of the Swiss club, it’s clear that they neither won the league nor were relegated. In any case, Reynolds must have done fairly well – in 1914 he was invited to coach the German national team, although, even though the offer was accepted, it seems his timing wasn’t exactly brilliant considering that it was the same year that a certain high-school Serbian decided to “do-in” Austrian Royal Franz Ferdinand, causing the outbreak of the First World War. Pah, students.

Having put his international management ambitions on hold, Reynolds moved to the Netherlands where he was appointed by Ajax a year later in 1915. During his first spell in Amsterdam – which lasted an impressive decaden– the relatively inexperienced coach began to build his reputation as he put in place the foundations that was required to produce Ajax’s now world-renowned youth academy. Demonstrating a philosophy and a set of methods radical for the time, Reynolds ensured that all age group teams at the club were coached in the same tactics and style of play, a ‘tradition’ for which Amsterdam’s biggest club would become famed and is being used today by the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona.

Having left Ajax to coach city rivals Blauw-Wit in 1925, Reynolds returned to de Godenzonen three years later and won five league titles in twelve years before the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1940. During those years before the invasion Reynolds had begun to mould in his team a style and mentality that would later come to be recognised as the forerunner to the “Total Football” of Michels and Cruyff, the most notable feature of which being Reynolds’ introduction of wingers – positions that had never before been seen in Dutch football. As David Winner points out in his book Brilliant Orange – Reynolds’ Ajax were constantly praised for their “technically controlled game, ball skills and tactics…the team playing with a style, elegance and efficiency far superior to any other club in the country.”

Unfortunately the progress Ajax were making under Reynolds was interrupted by the war (again) with the Englishman being taken as a POW by the Germans and incarcerated in an internment camp in Poland between 1940 and 1945.

As World War II came to an end, the coach returned to Amsterdam for his third spell with his adopted club, winning another title in 1947 before calling time on his footballing career.

He may not be a particularly widely known figure outside Amsterdam, but Reynolds’ influence on Dutch football and the history of Ajax cannot be overstated. His ultra-modern approach to management in an age still dominated by nineteenth century attitudes to football put in place the mechanisms and philosophies which would lead to Ajax’s domestic and continental dominance of the late sixties and early seventies and has been brought through to modern day by the Dutch national side, Barcelona, Arsenal and most recently, Spain (80s, 90s, 00s, 2010)

Coaches that came later in the club’s history, most notably Vic Buckingham and Rinus Michels (who Reynolds coached briefly during the 1940s), may get more credit for the establishment of “Total Football”, and even get mentioned for inventing the style. Wenger’s Arsenal and youth philosophy is widely renowned along with Johan Cruyff’s infamous Barcelona invasion, but it is Jack Reynolds who deserves to be recognised as the true father of football’s most lauded of tactical and ideological systems.

Brian Clough is the greatest manager England never had? Perhaps. But just imagine what could have been if Jack had got involved.

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