Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughArchitecture on the Football pitch - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Architecture on the Football pitch - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Architecture on the Football pitch

Total Football or Totaal Voetbal as it’s spelt in Dutch, is a tactical system in football which was pioneered by famous dutchman Rinus Michels. The system relied on the personnel to have the capacity to play in many positions, it was based on the ability to quickly change positions depending on the on-field situation. A player who moved out of position was quickly replaced by another member of the team in order to retain the team’s structure. It made full use of controlling the space on a football field both in and out of possession, when in possession the team would make the pitch as big as possible and when out of possession they squeeze and press making the pitch as small as possible. The pressing when out of possession was a key part of the system, making the pitch smaller  pressurising the opponents which often led to the regaining of possession quickly. Once the ball is won back the pitch is swiftly made bigger allowing the team to retain the ball easily.

The foundations for the system were laid by the sensational Hungarian team of the 50’s who were a formidable side in footballing history, they revolutionised the game and dominated the international scene for almost six years. Former Ajax manager Jack Reynolds who witnessed this system in action was the first person to write about the fluidity of the system, he was a huge admirer of it. During Reynolds time at Ajax, Rinus Michels was playing under him which is probably where he gathered the knowledge of the Hungary system. Michels later became the manager at Ajax and this was when we took the foundations laid by the Hungary team and turned them into what is known today as Total Football. The first change Michels made to the tactical side of Ajax’s game was to drop the WM system for a 4-2-4 which was popular around Europe. He later went on to change this to a 4-3-3 which also turned to a 3-4-3 when one of the defenders pushed up to join the midfield, this left three defenders back, two to deal with the opponents strikers and one to cover. After Michels left Ajax for Barcelona Stefan Kovacs further developed the Total Football system. Johan Cruyff was probably the most famous exponent of the system, he terrorised teams when he played wandering all over the pitch. He was the perfect fit for such a dynamic system, his team-mates would fill in when he moved out of position allowing the shape of the team to remain.

Total Football is often confused with different systems, teams like Barcelona for instance do play a system that was derived from the Total Football philosophy. However the ‘Tiki-taka’ or ‘Tiqui-taca’ style of play used by Barcelona does differ from the Total Football system. The ‘Tiki-taka’ style was developed from the Total Football system by Johan Cruyff during his time as manager of Barcelona in the late 80’s to mid 90’s. The developed system differs from Total Football because it’s based more on ball retention and circulation, the passing of the ball being it’s main focal point. Where as Total Football is based on positional interchange and the manipulation of the space on a football field.

1971 European Cup:

First Round:

Leg 1 –

17 Nentori Tirana 2-2 Ajax

Leg 2 –

Ajax 2-0 17 Nentori Tirana

Second Round:

Leg 1 –

Ajax 3-0 Basel

Leg 2 –

Basel 1-2 Ajax


Leg 1 –

Ajax 3-0 Celtic

Leg 2 –

Celtic 1-0 Ajax


Leg 1 –

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Ajax

Leg 2 –

Ajax 3-0 Atletico Madrid

The Final:

The final was held at Wembley Stadium, London. Ajax proved too strong for Panathinaikos who were the first Greek side to reach a European Cup final. Ajax won the game two nil with an early strike from Dick van Dijk and a late goal from Arie Haan, this was the first of a run of three consecutive European Cups for the Dutch side.


Barry Hulshoff said ‘It was about making space, coming into space and organising space like architecture on the football pitch.’

However it was the European cup final of 1972 that really gave Total Football it’s reputation, this was arguably the systems finest achievement. It was described as the death of Catenaccio as Ajax dominated and destroyed Internazionale as they desperately tried to defend. Two goals from Johan Cruyff gave Ajax the victory in Rotterdam.


Michels was appointed to lead the national side in the 1974 FIFA World Cup, the Netherlands were a force to be reckoned with dominating the early rounds defeating the likes of Argentina 4-0, East Germany 2-0 and Brazil 2-0. This set-up a final against West Germany. The Netherlands got off to a great start and were ahead within 80 seconds of play, Cruyff terrorising West Germany’s defence before being brought down. Johan Neeskens scored the resulting spot kick. However West Germany managed to contain Cruyff with Berti Vogts marking him out of the game, West Germany managed to dominate the midfield play which led to them emerging victorious by two goals to one.

It was after this fabulous campaign that the term Total Football was attached to this fluid space manipulating system.

Robert Salisbury @1RobSalisbury