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Preparing the Michels way

Published: Saturday 3 July 2004, 11.06CET
Having guided the Netherlands to UEFA European Championship success in 1988, legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels knows how to prepare a side for a major final.
by Mark Chaplin
Published: Saturday 3 July 2004, 11.06CET

Preparing the Michels way

Having guided the Netherlands to UEFA European Championship success in 1988, legendary Dutch coach Rinus Michels knows how to prepare a side for a major final.

Each team has its own way of preparing for a major tournament final. As well as training and working on tactics to counter the opposition, the staff and players will be seeking ways to relax.

First-hand experience
Rinus Michels, the great Dutch coach and UEFA technical expert, has plenty of first-hand experience of tournament finals. In 1974, he took a Netherlands side containing the great Johan Cruyff to the FIFA World Cup final against hosts West Germany in Munich. In 1988, Michels was back in charge of another generation of great Dutch players, leading Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and company to the UEFA European Championship final against the Soviet Union.

Let off steam
Michels was not only renowned for pioneering 'total football' - he was also a strict coach who emphasised the virtues of physical fitness and discipline. Nevertheless, he said that some form of letting off steam has to follow a team's passage into the final.

Four-day period
"There's usually a four-day period to fill between a semi-final and final," he said. "So, first, there has to be an emotional outburst - an emotional cleansing of all the tension." Michels said his teams held lengthy celebrations into the night: "It didn't matter what time they went to sleep."

Family visit
The Dutch way of doing things then came through after the celebrations. Michels explained that before his teams' finals, the families of the players and staff were allowed to visit the training camp. "Everybody could do what they wanted," he said. "It depends upon a country's culture. We in Holland are easy about these things."

Finding a balance
Following the festivities and family open day, training for the final started in earnest. But again, while there was always serious work to do, Michels tried to make sure it was not all hard graft. "The main task of a coach preparing for a final is to create a balance between relaxing and training. We tried to make the training 'joyful', with such things as football tennis, and found leisure activities to do as a group to fill part of the day."

Finally, one thing that any coach and set of players must not do, warned Michels, is to relax too much before the final. The Dutchman recalls that in 1974 and 1988, one of his major tasks in the days before the game was to impress on his sides that the job was still not done. It was particularly important on both occasions, because Michels' teams went into each of the finals as favourites.

Emotionally prepared
"What happens is that when a team comes to a semi-final against Brazil [as the Dutch did in 1974] and wins, there is a feeling, a danger, that the ultimate goal has been achieved, and the players are not emotionally prepared for a final," said Michels. "A coach has to take care of that. He has to make clear that the ultimate goal is to win the final. Winning a semi-final only has sense if you prepare for the ultimate goal."

Michels made his point again in gentle, but firm fashion 14 years later. "After the 1988 semi-final [in which the Netherlands beat Germany], during the celebration, I was given a gold watch [by the team], and I was very emotional about that - I told them soon afterwards that I would give it back if we lost the final!"

This is an abridged version of an article which first appeared on

Last updated: 03/03/05 10.16CET

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