The Dutch model: Is it fading away or just transforming?
"Total Football" and the Dutch model of Rinus Michels from the seventies still dominates Europe
During recent years there have been huge debates about the so called “Dutch Football Model” - but do we really know what this model is about?
This model owes its reputation to the total football that AFC Ajax played during the seventies. The big star of this club was the great Johan Cruyff. Alongside Johan Neeskens and Arie Haan they formed a very powerful midfield.
The one who inspired this tactic was the manager of that era’s Ajax Rinus Michels. Michels, who was named “coach of the century” by FIFA in 1999 for his contribution to football, was credited the invention of the “Total Football” tactic which he applied with great success in AFC Ajax, FC Barcelona and the Netherlands national team.
The Total Football tactic or the Dutch Model as this tactic was later named is a tactic that firstly appeared during the seventies, and until nowadays it dominates football all over the world.
Of course there are several variations to this tactic, but the main formation that this tactic dictates is the 4-3-3 formation.
The general mentality of this tactic is offensive and its main characteristic is the ball possession game. The team has to pressure the opponents throughout the field, starting from the striker who has to press the opposition centre-backs. But let’s take it one step at a time.
The defensive line - which is consisted of four players - uses zonal marking and the offside trap as tactics. The most important element is that the defensive line should play really close to the midfield line.
In order to play defence so high, your centre-backs should be fast and intelligent, in order to predict what will happen and try to prevent it before it even happens. The second characteristic of the defensive line is that the left and right-back must have the ability to overlap the wingers and pose some threat to the opposition defence with their crosses.
Moving on to the midfield line, we have one defensive midfielder who is responsible for setting the pace of the game and at the same time intercept the ball and forward it quickly and effectively.
Alongside the defensive midfielder we have two inside central midfielders who are responsible for the possession of the ball. A very important substance for this tactic as ball possession is of crucial importance to the general success or failure of this tactic.
They have to help both in offence and defence and in both flanks. They have to team up with the right and left back respectively when needed, and at the same time try to unfold any attacking attempts or even score.
Finally we move to the last “3” of the 4-3-3 formation where we have two wingers and one striker. The wingers must have the ability to step constantly into the box helping the striker. Furthermore they have to converge in order to leave some free space for the backs to overlap them, and then collaborate with them and thus creating dangerous situations.
Wingers also have the duty to help the backs in defence, and do not let the opponents outnumber them. The striker now has to be able to hold the ball and wait for his teammates. At the same time he has to pressure the opposition centre-backs all the time, and take advantage of any possible mistakes. He has to move not only inside the box but also outside of it, and leave space for the wingers or the central midfielders.
As explained above, this formation is a formation that requires a perfectly fit roster. Players that could run the field several times up and down without complaining and at the same time having clear mind because only one mistake can result in a goal when your defensive line is so close to the midfield.
Every single player should be extremely disciplined because they are all very important to the general function of the team. If one does not follow the instruction given to him, then the whole team will collapse. This formation is a model that depends deeply in the transition game, the overlapping and the co-operation.
Since then many variations of this formation have appeared like the “4-2-1-3” or the “4-1-2-3” or “4-3-2-1” but all of them have as their basis the principles of the original “4-3-3”.
The best alternative of this formation is the “false nine” paradigm which was implemented to its full extend by Lionel Messi’s FC Barcelona. Since the seventies many clubs have tried to use this formation, sometimes with success, sometimes with failure.
We must bear in mind that we are talking about a very demanding tactic, and only one mistake can lead to disaster. Some examples of this are AC Milan of the nineties with Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard.
Another team that follows this example is the current Spanish national football team.
Successful examples of nowadays are also Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid, Josep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, Rudi Garcia’s AS Roma, and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
Lately we see clubs tend to prefer using different formations or using some aspects of this formation and not to its full extent. Is this the end of “Total Football” or is it just the start of a new era of “Total Football’s” domination, not in its original type, but in the form of a new alternative that will come off the experiments that managers all over the world make nowadays?
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