In profile: Rinus Michels

The architect of 'Total Football', Rinus Michels' super-versatile Ajax and Netherlands sides captivated Europe in the 1970s, formulating an antidote to defensive play.

Rinus Michels receiving a royal award after the Netherlands' 1974 World Cup campaign
Rinus Michels receiving a royal award after the Netherlands' 1974 World Cup campaign ©Getty Images

The evidence
• Led Ajax to four Dutch titles and the first of three successive European Champion Clubs' Cups in 1970/71 – having lost to AC Milan in the 1969 final.

• Steered an unforgettable Netherlands side to the 1974 FIFA World Cup final, later winning the 1988 UEFA European Championship with a different Oranje generation.

• Also clinched the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, Liga and Copa del Rey with Barcelona and a German Cup with Köln.

The expert testimony
"He put the Netherlands on the map in such a way that everybody still benefits from it. With him, results came first, but the quality of soccer was No1. Both as a player and as a trainer, there is nobody who taught me as much as him."
Johan Cruyff, former Ajax and Netherlands forward, later Ajax and Barcelona coach

Johan Neeskens scores in the 1974 World Cup final
Johan Neeskens scores in the 1974 World Cup final©Popperfoto/Getty Images

"The only team I've seen that did things differently was Holland at the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Since then everything looks more or less the same to me. Their 'carousel' style of play was amazing to watch and marvellous for the game."
Carlos Alberto, former Brazil captain

"He changed football. We were the 'Clockwork Orange' [at the 1974 World Cup]. He changed the mentality. We were not just guys moving backwards and forwards. We put a lot of pressure on the other team and took a lot of risks at the back. The defenders went forward, the forwards came back. We played football. He even used the goalkeeper as a libero, playing outside the area."
Wim Rijsbergen, former Netherlands defender

"When Michels took over, he changed the playing staff considerably and he changed the training even more. His was the hardest physical preparation I ever had. We sometimes had four sessions a day. He also introduced the Italian system of taking the players away for a period of concentrated training before a big match. We would start work in the morning and carry on until the evening. He was by no means a miserable man, but he was very strict with the players and there were lots of arguments about discipline. The message was pretty clear – those who did not like it would have to leave."
Piet Keizer, former Ajax and Netherlands winger

"We did everything with the ball. At the beginning of the season we had one week of very hard training: five training sessions a day. It was like a military camp."
Sjaak Swart, former Ajax and Netherlands winger

Ajax celebrate their second goal in the 1971 final
Ajax celebrate their second goal in the 1971 final©Getty Images

The back story
Born in Amsterdam and raised a few streets away from the old Olympisch Stadion, Michels was a powerful striker for Ajax from 1946 to 1958, notably scoring five times on his debut. Returning to Ajax as a coach in 1965, he modernised the club and introduced a new tactical system, which brought Johan Cruyff to the fore and eventually captivated the world. Michels died in 2005 aged 77, having been named coach of the century by FIFA in 1999.

The method
Hungary's 'Magical Magyars' and Jack Reynolds' Ajax laid the ground for Michels' 'Totaalvoetbal' (Total Football) – whereby every outfield player was expected to switch position as play demanded, pressing and pulling opposing teams apart. "We discussed space the whole time," remembered Ajax defender Barry Hulshoff. "Johan Cruyff always talked about where people should run and where they should stand, and when they should not move." Nicknamed 'The General', Michels' style was anything but free-form, demanding immense effort and awareness, yet harvesting stunning results.

Michels after winning the 1988 EURO
Michels after winning the 1988 EURO©Getty Images

The take-home quotes
"Football is a bit like war. If you act too politely, you are lost."

"It is an art in itself to compose a starting team, finding the balance between creative players and those with destructive powers, and between defence, construction and attack – never forgetting the quality of the opposition and the specific pressures of each match."

"Football is business, and business is business."

"After the 1988 semi-final [when the Netherlands beat Germany], during the celebrations 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!"

"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."

Rinus Michels coached Netherlands star Johan Cruyff at Ajax, Barcelona and LA Aztecs
Rinus Michels coached Netherlands star Johan Cruyff at Ajax, Barcelona and LA Aztecs©Getty Images
Top