Monday, 24 October 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 22

 Flamengo 2-2 Fluminense (23 November 1941) Estadio da Gavea, Rio de Janeiro

Given all the success enjoyed by Brazil in the last 60 years, it is easy to believe that they have always sat at football’s top table. Such has been the degree of domination that it sometimes seems impossible to conceive that that the Selecao did not always rank among the game’s most frightening opponents, and yet for roughly half of the game’s lifetime they were far from formidable adversaries.

Football was famously introduced to Brazil by Charles Miller in 1894, but it took time to fully establish its popularity among the Brazilian people. While football is today popularly perceived as a game of the working classes, at the time (particularly outside of Britain) it was looked on as possessing a certain aristocratic cachet. For the social elites in much of the New World, anything European was considered to represent a level of refinement and sophistication that local pastimes could not rival. Football was no different.

Charles Miller

Fluminense were founded in 1902 as a club for Rio’s upper-classes. The team’s founder, Oscar Cox, was a Brazilian of British heritage who studied in Switzerland before returning to Rio. In their first ten years of existence Fluminense won five Carioca championships, making their stadium a fashionable place for all of Rio’s aspiring aristocrats to be seen.

However, the club’s path did not run as smoothly as might have been hoped. In 1911, following a disagreement with the club’s board, the Fluminense first-team walked out on the club and approached a local rowing club to see if they might form a football team there. As a sports club without a football team, the Clube de Regatas do Flamengo might have been expected to welcome such a prestigious group of players with open arms, but some members were far from convinced. Eventually after a series of votes the footballers were admitted to the club, but the air of suspicion remained.   

In the coming years the Fla-Flu rivalry became the most intense in Brazilian football history. Between the two clubs and Botafogo there was a near monopoly on the Carioca championship, to the extent that by the dawn of professionalism in Brazilian football in 1933 the three sides had 22 titles between them. Yet while Botafogo may have provided a significant challenge on the pitch, there was never the rivalry that the Fla-Flu games presented.

As the years passed a steady ascent in the standard of Brazilian football could be noted. Copa America victories in 1919 were achieved at home but proved false dawns for the Selecao, so far ahead were the likes of Argentina and Uruguay, but there was a steady stream of quality players being produced. The most notable of these was without question Artur Friedenreich, a mixed race Brazilian of German heritage who proved himself the most phenomenal goalscorer in early Brazilian history as he netted over 1,200 times. The likes of Araken and Fausto emerged in the late 1920s, but it was really in the mid-30s that a generation came about boasting world class talents such as Leonidas and Domingos da Guia.

Artur Friedenreich

Brazil’s 1938 World Cup campaign proved that this was a coming nation and despite the isolation that WWII imposed on South America there were clearly exceptional players being produced. Ademir, Jair and Danilo all began their careers at the end of the 1930s and by the time the 1940s were underway they were maturing into outstanding players. The arrival on the scene of the prodigiously talented Zizinho at Flamengo only served to underline the bright prospects of Brazilian football. 

The early parts of the 1930s saw a relative drought for Flamengo and Fluminense, but the second-half of the decade saw them back to their peak. Fluminense won Carioca championships in 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1940, with Flamengo finishing second in each of those seasons and snatching the title in 1939. This was unquestionably a power struggle for Rio supremacy.

The 1941 season was typically tight. Between them the two teams possessed most of the finest players in Brazil at the time. Flamengo could call on Domingos da Guia, Bigua, Pirillo and Zizinho, each probably the best player in Brazil in his position. Fluminense were slightly less laden with stars, but still had international keeper Batatais as the last line of defence, with an impressive forward line of Romeu, Russo and Tim, all either current or future national team members.

When the sides met at the Estadio da Gavea in 1941 it was a match that would go down in history. As the deciding game in the Carioca championship the two teams knew it was a match of critical importance. Fluminense were in the fortunate position of only needing a draw to claim the title but faced the disadvantage of being away from home. Somehow though, they used the surroundings to their advantage.

Pedro Amorim and Russo put Fluminense two goals up in the early stages as it appeared the match might turn in to an anti-climax, only for Pirillo to pull one back before half-time. The second-half saw Flamengo dominant as they continued to apply pressure to the Fluminense defence, but the Tricolores stood firm. With six minutes to go Pirillo levelled the game and from there Flamengo could sense blood. With just minutes left Flamengo knew that another goal would hand them the title.

At this point Fluminense hit upon an underhand but ingenious tactic. Flamengo’s history as a rowing club meant that their stadium was located adjacent to a lagoon. Spotting an opportunity to waste as much of the six minutes remaining as possible the Fluminense players hacked the ball off the pitch and into the nearby lake. Each time a Flamengo official provided another ball it was promptly dispatched by Fluminense to a watery grave.

Romeu of Fluminense

One of the Fluminense players, Carreiro, was certainly sent-off, though sources vary on whether it was for continued time wasting or excessive protestations following a rejected penalty appeal. Finally, a ball retrieved from the lake fell to Romeu, and he was not one to give it away cheaply. An arduous, industrious dribble from his own half saw him fend off half the Flamengo team as he desperately sought to hold on to the ball. At long last the referee saw fit to end proceedings and hand the title to Fluminense. It may not have been won in the most sporting of manners, but in such matches an opponent’s feeling of injustice only makes the victory taste sweeter. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 21

Italy 4-2 Hungary (19 June 1938) Colombes, Paris

Following Italy’s triumph at home in 1934, the honour of hosting the third World Cup was given to France, in recognition of the role they had played not only in the creation of FIFA but of the tournament itself. Argentina had hoped to take the competition back to South America, but having been snubbed in favour of the French opted not to take part at all, as did fellow Latin heavyweights Uruguay. The Anschluss (the annexation of Austria into a united Germany) led to the withdrawal of Meisl’s side from the competition, though nine of them were selected to represent Germany. Their withdrawal left the competition with only 15 teams and allowed Sweden a bye to the quarter finals.

On the pitch, with England, Scotland, Argentina, Uruguay and Austria absent the favourites remained defending champions Italy. Significant alterations had been made to Vittorio Pozzo’s team with only Giuseppe Meazza, Giovanni Ferrari, Guido Masetti and Eraldo Monzeglio surviving from the squad of four years earlier. Even then only Ferrari and Meazza were starters but there were top class additions in the likes of striker Silvio Piola, left-winger Gino Colaussi and Uruguayan-born centre-half Michele Andreolo.

Italy’s defence of their title almost began in disaster. They took an early lead against Norway in Marseilles when Ferraris pounced on an error by keeper Johansen, but were made to work hard for a narrow victory. Norwegian left-winger Arne Brustad drew the sides level late in the second-half as he beat Monzeglio to thrash the ball past Olivieri and appeared to have won the game in the dying moments only for his goal to be disallowed for offside. In extra-time Italy forced another scrappy goal after Johansen failed to hold Pasinati’s shot and allowed Piola to snatch the game for the holders.

The quarter-finals produced one of the competition’s dream ties as the hosts, France, met the holders, Italy, in Paris. The Italians managed to take the lead within the opening ten minutes, through left-winger Colaussi, though French keeper Laurent Di Lorto had to shoulder some of the blame as he palmed a routine catch into the net before crashing into the post. Within a minute the French were level as Oscar Heisserer, their inside-right, scored after sharp work from Aston, to bring the home team back into the game. The star of the second half was unquestionably Silvio Piola, who turned on an impeccable individual performance and scored the two goals which ensured the Italians would progress.  

In the semi-finals the Italians faced Brazil, the tournament’s most spectacular team in the early rounds. Although football had grown hugely in population in Brazil in the 20s and 30s, the Selecao were far from possessing the aura of invincibility which surrounds them today. Victories at the Copa America in 1919 and 1922 had shown promise, but they lagged behind both Argentina and Uruguay when it came to the continent’s best teams.

In 1938 though Brazil announced themselves on the global stage. Their opening match with Poland remains one of the World Cup’s greatest ever games, finishing 4-4 at the end of 90 minutes before Brazil prevailed 6-5 in extra-time. The match was notable not merely for its entertainment value, but as the first time that Leonidas showed his full capabilities on a global stage. The man who became known as the “Black Diamond” scored three goals, two of them in extra-time, to overshadow Poland’s Ernst Willimowski who netted four goals of his own.

Leonidas talks to fans

Brazil’s reward for beating Poland was a quarter-final against 1934’s losing finalists Czechoslovakia. While both teams were noted primarily for their exhilarating attacking play, the match proved to be a brutal affair and three players were sent off! The first to go was Brazilian wing-half Zezé Procopio for an unnecessary hack on Nejedlý after just 14 minutes had been played. Despite being reduced to ten men Brazil went into the lead after half an hour through Leonidas, though were was a suspicion of offside. Shortly before the break both sides lost a man as both Machado of Brazil and Jan Řiha of Czechoslovakia were dismissed for fighting. Not long after half-time Czechoslovakia were awarded a penalty as Domingos da Guia, Brazil’s exceptional centre-half inexplicably handled the ball in the box. Nejedlý duly converted to level the game, yet while there were no further goals in the game there was plenty of incident and the Czechs lost their inspirational captain Planicka to a broken arm and Nejedlý to a broken leg.

The replay was scheduled for two days later, but the Czechs were at a serious disadvantage as they were shorn of their two most important players. As it was they took the lead through Vlastimil Kopecký, who had been moved from left-half to inside-left in place of Nejedlý. The Brazilians were able to level after half-time, and yet again it was Leonidas that scored the crucial goal. The Czechs were aggrieved soon after as they believed that a shot by Karel Senecký had crossed the line, the French referee George Capdeville was not of the same mind though and he waved away their appeals. Then came the moment to break Czech hearts as the Brazilians took a decisive lead through a Roberto volley and move into the last four.

If legend is to be believed the Brazilian coach Pimenta committed selection suicide ahead of taking on Italy, by resting both his best forwards, Leonidas and Tim. Supposedly such was the confidence in the Brazilian camp that they felt they didn’t need their stars to beat Italy and reach the final. Given that they had required extra-time and a replay to defeat Poland and Czechoslovakia (and the key role of Leonidas in those victories) it would seem highly dubious to imagine such unwarranted arrogance existing in the Brazilian management. In reality Leonidas had suffered injury in the first game against Czechoslovakia and had simply not recovered sufficiently in the intervening two days to face Italy.

Even with their star player, Brazil might well have struggled against an Italy team with outstanding players in every positions, without him they were overrun. Colaussi gave the Italians the lead shortly after half-time, and the referee Hans Wüthrich from Switzerland awarded them a penalty after Domingos da Guia hacked down Silvio Piola in the box. The man responsible for converting it was Giuseppe Meazza and characteristically he made no mistake. It capped an awful afternoon for Domingos, arguably the finest defender of the pre-WWII era, in which he failed to cope with Piola’s physical dominance. Brazil’s best chances fell to Peracio, but he was no Leonidas, and so when Brazil finally did pull a goal back via Romeu it was too little too late.

In the final Italy met Hungary, another of the Danubian school who dominated the game in the 30s. They had enjoyed a rather smoother route to the final having trounced the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia) in their first round tie, before comfortably beating Switzerland 2-0 in the quarter-finals. Hungary’s semi-final was against Sweden who had annihilated Cuba in the quarter-finals after a bye in the first round. The Swedes must have believed that they were in for a similar game against Hungary when Arne Nyberg put them ahead after only 35 seconds. Yet Hungary were a far different proposition from Cuba and rather than crumble after the early goal they came into the game and were increasingly able to impose themselves on it. Indeed the Hungarians dominated the game so much that they led 3-1 at half-time thanks to a brace from Zsengeller and one from Ferenc Sas. In the second-half the Hungarians continued to run riot as Sarosi added a fourth and late on Zsengeller completed his hat-trick.

Italy (below) v. Hungary, 1938

Entering the final the Italians as the defending champion were eager to counter any suggestions that they had been “helped” to win their first World Cup. The Hungarians knew though that they were capable of staging an upset if their key players were to perform to their full ability. Defensively they had been outstanding throughout the tournament, with Koranyi and Biro a superb full-back partnership. In attack Gyorgi Sarosi stood with the best centre-forwards of the era and was capable of playing just as well at centre-half if required.

The final started extremely brightly as Colaussi put Italy into the lead after just six minutes after being played in coolly by Meazza. Yet just two minutes later the Hungarians were level as Pal Titkos fired in from a Ferenc Sas centre. Before long the Italians had regained their lead as Piola netted, with Meazza the provider again, and Colaussi added his second before the break to ensure the Italians had breathing space. In the second half Hungarian captain Sarosi pulled one back against the run of play to set up a thrilling end to the match, but the Italians demonstrated their class and Piola scored again from Biavati’s cross with five minutes remaining to make sure. The Italians had been clearly the better side and their second world title was well merited for their excellent efforts. Sadly for them they would not have the chance to defend their title four year later, World War II put paid to that.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A Brief History of Tactics - A Recap

Given the large number of posts in the series and the fact that it runs in roughly chronological order I've included below a recap of all the parts of this Brief History of Tactics for convenience.

Positional Terminology - Part 1

Positional Terminology - Part 2

Positional Terminology - Part 3

Early Days

The Pyramid

The WM

The Danubian School

The Verrou

The Magical Magyars

Brazil and the Flat Back Four


The Wingless Wonders

Brazil and the five "10s"

Total Football

The Death of the Sweeper

Recent Developments and Beyond

Important Sources

A Brief History of Tactics - Important Sources

The following books were all important in compiling this brief history of tactics in addition to various issues of World Soccer since October 1960 and Champions Magazine since 2008.

Soccer Tactics by Bernard Joy
Soccer Revolution by Willy Meisl
Soccer Nemesis by Brian Glanville
Soccer: The World Game by Geoffrey Green
Association Football by Green and Fabian
Flat Back Four by Andy Gray
Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson
The Story of the World Cup by Brian Glanville
Brillant Orange by David Winner
Calcio by John Foot
The Beautiful Team by Garry Jenkins
Futebol by Alex Bellos 
Fields of Glory, Paths of Gold by Connolly and MacWilliam
Tor by Uli Hesse Lichtenberger
Morbo by Phil Ball
The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt
The Enigma of Systems by Friedebert Becker
The Complete Book of Football by Chris Hunt
EM Encyclopedia by Hardy Grune

A Brief History of Tactics- Recent Developments and Beyond

Recent Developments and Beyond

Just as Francis Fukuyama questioned whether we have reached the end of history in the early 1990s, some have recently started to question whether there will be any further changes to tactics. Roberto Mancini suggested that rather than a change of systems the developments of the future would be all in preparation of players. In reality the first decade of the 21st century saw an unprecedented level of tactical tinkering combined with an increased awareness of the importance of systems.

An obvious example of this has been the increasing trend towards more layers within a team, so that now it is common to express a system not with reference to three areas (ie a 4-4-2), but to four or more (ie a 4-2-3-1). Whether this reflects an increasingly subtle distinction between positions or merely an increasing appetite among the public for tactical analysis is unclear.

One of the most pronounced changes has been the move away from two out and out strikers. Whereas it was common to have a pair of goalscorers up front, it is now far more common for there to be only one or even none. In some cases, such as Scotland’s trip to the Czech Republic in 2010 where they played a 4-6-0 formation, this has been a genuinely defensive switch. In others the change has counter-intuitively allowed the team to attack more effectively.

At Roma under Luciano Spalletti, the team operated for some time without any recognised centre-forward. Leading the line was Francesco Totti, a trequarista or withdrawn forward, who would drop deep into midfield and allow the midfielders to break in behind him. The great advantage of this system, as well as overloading the midfield, was that it left the opposing defenders with nobody to mark. Roma thus used the absence of a recognised striker to their own advantage, and were able to twice finish as runners up in Serie A with Totti enjoying some of his most prolific goalscoring spells.

A further interesting development has been the increasing use of wing-forwards. By the 1990s outside of Holland and Barcelona, the 4-3-3 appeared dead, yet in the 2000s the use of a three pronged attack has been resurgent. In some cases, like at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, the system has operated more as a 4-5-1, with the wingers quickly dropping back into midfield when out of possession in order to give greater defensive solidity. In others, such as at Barcelona under Guardiola, it has been a distinct 4-3-3, with the wing-forwards being given minimal defensive responsibility, resulting in epic goalscoring.

Even at Old Trafford, the traditional home of the 4-4-2, Alex Ferguson flirted with more adventurous systems. Lacking a central strikers in a similar way to Roma, United would frequently start with a forward trio of Rooney and Tevez, both support strikers, in tandem with Cristiano Ronaldo, nominally a right-winger. Yet again the movement of the three left defences in shreds and enabled United to reach consecutive Champions League finals, as well as winning a hat-trick of Premiership crowns.

Another major change has been the loss around the globe of the traditional playmaker. With the loss of the sweeper from formations due to the change in the back-pass rule, and the increasing employment of defensive midfielders to stifle attacking playmakers, numerous managers chose to combine the two roles and use a deep lying playmaker. Sitting just in front of the defence, the deep lying playmaker enjoyed the protection of his defence, and was far enough away from the opposing defensive midfielders to have time and space with the wall. Fernando Redondo of Real Madrid showed how the role should be played, while Andrea Pirlo, previously a trequarista, helped both Milan and Italy to considerable success in the 2000s.

The most recent tactical change has been a challenge to the unquestioned pre-eminence of the flat-back-four at big clubs. Since 2002 the idea of three at the back had fallen by the wayside in favour of the defensive quartet. At the start of the 2011-2 season Inter’s  Gian Piero Gasperini experimented with the back-three system he had used to significant success at Genoa, before his sacking after just five games. Pep Guardiola has also opted to use three at the back on occasion for Barcelona (albeit in a very different way to Gasperini), although that was primarily driven by an injury crisis which deprived him of a host of central defenders.

Given the level of possession enjoyed by teams such as Barcelona and Spain, it would appear that the back three may be due for a revival. As team move away from the use of two strikers using a pair of central defenders means that they are likely to be underemployed throughout large numbers of matches. By adding an extra midfielder or forward to his team, Guardiola is, for the time being, employing a low risk strategy as his opponents rarely have the chance to stretch his defenders.

If the back three does return to the mainstream, how long will it be before some enterprising manager uses a two (or more) striker system in an attempt to catch out teams sacrificing a centre-back? Indeed smaller teams may actively choose to concede the midfield to the likes of Barcelona and focus on defending the penalty area while stretching their opponents via long balls to attackers.

Whether Mancini was right in that there will be no further tactical changes or whether yet more tactical revolutions are soon to take place remains to be seen. What is certain is that tactics are back on the map as a mainstream subject of interest. Managers will always seek to gain an edge on their opponents and as can be seen through this brief history, almost every great team has made some tactical innovation which has helped them on their path to glory.

Friday, 7 October 2011

A Brief History of Tactics - The Death of the Sweeper

From the era of Catenaccio onwards, Italian football had been founded on the Libero. Manmarking and the use of a sweeper had been the hallmarks of Italian sides for over 2 decades. The 1970 finalists had used Cera there, while the 1982 World Cup winners had the legendary Gaetano Scirea as their Libero. In the late 1980s and early 1990s that changed.

As with so many of the tactical innovators, Arrigo Sacchi did not inherit a Milan side in good health. The two time European Champions had fallen on hard times in the 1980s until media mogul Silvio Berlusconi arrived to rescue the club. His appointment of Sacchi, a man who had never played professional football, was not the most promising, but it turned out to be an inspired decision.

The easy option for Sacchi when arriving at Milan would have been to follow the traditional path and play with a sweeper, especially given that in Franco Baresi he already had one of the best in the world. Instead, he chose to play with a flat back four as was commonly used in England. Baresi was comfortable on the ball, and was still able to bring the ball out of defence from a role within the backline but he sat no deeper than his partners in the Milan defence. Having signed Marco Van Basten from Ajax and Ruud Gullit from PSV Eindhoven at great expense, Milan were well set up front. However, the addition of fellow Dutchman, Frank Rijkaard, gave the side greater solidity and allowed them to introduce the pressing game used by Ajax, and which had been utilised to great effect by Liverpool. In central midfield Rijkaard was joined by Carlo Ancelotti, and both had the energy to press the opposition and force them into errors.

Milan (below) v. Steaua Bucharest, 1989

If Sacchi’s team showed the rest of Italy the use of the flat back four and had undermined the pre-eminence of the sweeper, a rule change helped to kill it dead. Just as the change to the offside law in the 1920s had forced the introduction of the third back and arguably made the game more defensive, the back-pass rule of 1992, intended to stop teams killing time and stifling play, had a similar unintended consequence. In the past sweepers had been able to bring the ball out of defence, safe in the knowledge that if under pressure they could just pass the ball back to their keeper. By prohibiting keepers from picking the ball up from back-passes, few defenders were now so bold as to attack from the back, as they knew that any mistake would provide their opponents with a goalscoring opportunity.

The result of the rule was that keepers were now reluctant to start attacks from the back and more inclined to hoof the ball out from hand, thus bypassing the defence. While some old-school sweepers persevered, such as Danny Blind and Matthias Sammer, the increasing trend in the 90s and beyond was for a flat back four with two stoppers in central defence. The era of ball playing sweepers in the mould of Beckenbauer or Scirea was over and with it one of the most elegant roles in the modern game.

A notable exception to the spread of the flat back four were Italy’s 2000 European Championship finalists who played a back three of Nesta, Cannavaro and Iuliano, with wing-backs Maldini and Pessotto outside them. The final hurrah for the central back three was Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning team who used the system to great effect. Yet neither of these sides used a sweeper within the back three and by the end of the decade the flat back four had triumphed as the undisputed king of defensive systems.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

A Brief History of Tactics - Total Football

At a club level Dutch teams had never challenged the best of Europe. When Rinus Michels succeeded Vic Buckingham as the manager of Ajax, few would have given the Amsterdam club much hope of rising quickly to the forefront of the international game. At the time they were fighting relegation, after saving them from the drop Michels won the league the next year. The following season Ajax humiliated Liverpool 5-1 at home (though Bill Shankly famously blamed the fog), and made it through to the quarter finals of the European Cup.

Michels first key signing at Ajax was Velibor Vasovic, a sweeper, who he brought in from Partizan Belgrade. In the early years one of the keys to the system played by Ajax was the use of the offside trap coupled with the introduction of the pressing game. The two worked in tandem and made the side extremely effective.

Ajax played a high defensive line in order to squeeze the space in which their opponents had to work. The great problem with this is that if an opponent with the ball has time and space he can easily play a pass over the top which catches the defensive line out. In order for the offside trap to be effective it has to be combined with pressure on the player in possession in order to prevent him playing an easy pass. Using this style of football Ajax won numerous Dutch titles and 3 European Cups, but at this stage nobody mentioned the phrase Total Football.

It was only after Holland’s 1974 World Cup campaign (also under Michels), that the media began to identify a phenomenon known as Total Football. In essence total football was taking the freedom and movement of the Danubian School, the Magical Magyars and Brazil’s 1970 side and going even further. Under total football it was expected that every player would be comfortable in any other position.

In practice this meant that if the left back went forward, then the left winger or central midfielder would drop slightly deeper in order to fill the space that had been left behind. Both Ajax and Holland, played a notional 4-3-3, but in reality it was often difficult to tell who was playing where. Johan Cruyff was supposedly the centre-forward, but he was a player who could be found almost anywhere on the pitch. Like Alfredo di Stefano before him, Cruyff would come as far back as his own penalty area in order to pick up the ball and exert his own influence on the game.

The idea of Total Football made it extremely hard for opponents to track the movement of players, but it also put enormous strain on the Dutch. Michels himself said that you could only attempt such a system if you had at least 7 world class players. With any less the system would simply break down. Both Ajax and Holland were fortunate that they had talent in abundance and even superb club players could struggle to make the starting line up (the likes of the Van de Kerkhof brothers, Piet Keizer and Ruud Geels all missed out for the national team on a regular basis).

Holland reached the final of the 1974 World Cup in fantastic form, but they met there the hosts West Germany. This was a team who played their own brand of total football, albeit a less free flowing one that Holland’s. The Germans had a mix of specialists and all-rounders. The defence for instance had two great artists in Beckenbauer and Breitner, both of whom excelled at different stages of their careers as central midfielders. Even Berti Vogts, noted primarily for his tenacious defending, was more than capable going forward.   

Holland (above) v. West Germany, 1974

If West Germany appeared pedestrian in comparison to the swaggering Dutch it was primarily due to the absence of Gunter Netzer. In 1972 the Moenchengladbach midfielder had inspired arguably the greatest German team of all time and yet injury (along with a dip in form since a move to Real Madrid) hindered his participation of the greatest stage of all. Up front, instead of Cruyff the Germans had a goal machine in Gerd Muller, and while the results were less spectacular they were equally effective.

If anything the defeat the Dutch suffered at the hands of West Germany only served to embellish the mythology surrounding this “Total Football” side. For while it was a team composed of special players the ideas behind it were far from revolutionary. The movement, interchange of positions and importance of the collective were concepts applied by almost all the great post-war teams from Hungary to Real Madrid to Brazil. Furthermore the flexibility demonstrated by Cruyff was in essence merely an extension of the deep lying centre forward position developed by Palotas and Hidegkuti and perfected by Di Stefano.

Furthermore the reverence in which the system is held masks an oft forgotten truth about the 1974 final: West Germany were the better team. For all the early possession that Holland enjoyed, it was the Germans who fashioned the better chances and deserved their victory on the day. Holland’s swagger and panache left an indelible mark on football’s history, yet it was the ability of players and manager, rather than a tactical revolution, which was the key to their success.