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Michels - a total footballing legend

As a player, the great Rinus Michels was a one-club man - as a coach he was simply 'The General'.

By Berend Scholten

With the passing of Rinus Michels, the football family has suffered the loss of a legend who played an essential role in putting Dutch football on the map by introducing the world to Total Football.

Total Football
In 1974 he was the mastermind behind the Netherlands' electrifying FIFA World Cup campaign, taking his team to the final where they lost 2-1 to host nation West Germany. Michels had introduced the concept of Total Football at AFC Ajax, and it reached its peak at the World Cup. The Oranje may have lost the final, but they won many fans with their free-flowing, fluid style of play.

'Football is war'
His demanding 4-3-3 system called on players of exceptional quality to interchange positions and press high up the field, and for all outfield players to be able to participate in attacks. Attack-minded full-backs roamed the flanks and even a 'flying' goalkeeper was encouraged to take part in the passage of play. Michels also made his most famous statement at this time: "Football is war."

Joined Ajax aged 12
Michels was born in 1928, only a few hundred metres from the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium, venue for that year's Olympic Games. He was passionate about football from a young age and played on the streets until being invited to join the Ajax youth set-up in the summer of 1940. Michels developed into a head-strong striker and made his debut for Ajax against ADO Den Haag on 9 June 1946. He scored five times in a memorable 8-3 victory.

Capped five times
Ajax were the only club he would play for, making his final appearance on 16 March 1958 having registered 120 goals in 257 league games. Michels also collected five caps for the Netherlands until a back complaint forced him to retire. After his playing career he became a gymnastics teacher at the JC Amman school for deaf children, and also coached the JOS amateur side in Amsterdam.

European champions
In January 1965 he returned to Ajax as first-team coach, and after saving Ajax from relegation in his first season in charge he brought glory to the Amsterdam club. Michels led Ajax to the Dutch championship in 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1970, the Dutch Cup in 1967, 1970 and 1971 and then capped it all by winning the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1971, the first of three consecutive European successes for Ajax.

EURO triumph
In 1971 he left for FC Barcelona, coaching the Catalan club to the Spanish title in 1974 before going on to greater things with the Dutch national team that summer. But despite worldwide praise for the Dutch approach, legendary players such as Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Willem van Hanegem, Rob Rensenbrink and Johnny Rep failed to lift the World Cup. However, Michels would get his reward at the 1988 UEFA European Championship, also played in Germany. In the semi-finals he provided a release for lingering Dutch frustrations by defeating Germany, and then turned the Netherlands orange with a 2-0 final victory over the USSR.

Hard-line approach
'The General', as Michels was known - feared for his hardline approach and praised for his dry humour - ended his club coaching career in 1989 at German side Bayer 04 Leverkusen. He had also coached Los Angeles Aztecs and 1. FC Köln between 1978 and 1983. After the 1992 European Championship in Denmark, where his team lost on penalties in the semi-finals against the eventual winners, Michels quit coaching although he remained involved with the Royal Netherlands Football Association. He watched every Ajax home match he could, with his wife Will Hulsbosch by his side until she passed away on 2 November 2003.

'If I had a tail, I would wag it'
At the 50th anniversary of professional football in the Netherlands last year, current Netherlands coach Marco van Basten presented Michels with the award for best coach during that period. Michels said then: "I am especially happy with the fact I have been able to help make the Dutch way of playing famous all over the world. If I had a tail, I would wag it," Michels added, showing he had lost none of his much-loved sense of humour.

Marinus Hendrikus Jacobus Michels
: 09/02/28, Amsterdam
Died: 03/03/05, Aalst (Belgium)
For UEFA: Member Technical Development Committee 1990-1992
Vice-chairman Technical Development Committee 1992-2004
Special Adviser from 2004
Member Fun Football Committee 1996-2000
Expert adviser to the Jira Commission, 1998-2000
UEFA Order of Merit (Ruby) 2002
Member of Technical Study Group for various European Championships
Named FIFA Coach of the Century in 1999