From Amsterdam to Burnley and beyond: We've been here before.
It's often noted how trends come back around every so often. It's a familiar thought in the realms of fashion and film, though delve a little deeper and football is not dissimilar.
Take the Juventus side of this season. A team who I personally fancy to win the champions league in a few weeks against the free flowing attacking juggernaut that is Real Madrid. A team who lost their supposed prized asset in Paul Pogba last summer, yet have excelled in his absence. You could argue that this is down to the exceptional talents of a young, exciting Paulo Dybala and the exquisite movement of a slightly overweight Gonzalo Higuain, but who are the real stars of this team?
Bonucci, Barzagli, Benatia and Chiellini are the four central defenders used at one time or another in a 3-4-3 formation. This is a formation that is focused on shutting out the opposition coupled with a high tempo counter attacking style offensively, something that is not unusual in Italian football. These tactics are far from original and have been seen in many incarnations during different periods of footballing history.
The beginnings of these tactics stem from the 1930’s and 40’s, invented by Karl Rappan. Rappan was an Austrian coach who used a sweeper in front of the goalkeeper and used fixed defenders, who employed a strict man marking strategy. The fixed defenders marked players man for man and the sweeper was designed to ‘sweep’ behind the defence, picking up loose balls and deflections and double marking where appropriate. He called his strategy ‘Verrou’ which later became ‘Catenaccio’ which means ‘door-bolt’ in Italian. Fast Forward to the 1960’s and Helenio Herrera’s Internazionale team, known as ‘Grande Inter’ and we see a set up not unlike the Juventus of today. This side were known not just for being hard tackling and ruthless in defence, but also for scoring lightning quick goals on the counter attack by using attacking, overlapping full backs. Sound like Dani Alves’ performance vs Monaco over 2 legs in this season’s Champions League semi final?
Enter the 1970’s, a man called Rinus Michels and Total Football. Michel’s Total Football allowed any player to play in any position (other than the goalkeeper). Players would constantly rotate and fill each other's positions, allowing a fluid, innovative style of football that man marking alone could not negate. Michel’s Ajax defeated an Inter side deploying the Catenaccio strategy 2-0 in the 1972 European Cup final, leading Dutch newspapers to announce the ‘destruction of Catenaccio’. A new trend was emerging.
Michels wasn't the first to use Total Football though, this had already been seen in the Burnley side of the 1950’s. Burnley secured the 1959/60 English League title using the system, earning plaudits from none other than Jimmy Greaves. The system was of course made famous by Ajax and The Netherlands due in no small part to Johan Cruyff. Michels allowed Cruyff complete freedom to use his technical ability and game intelligence to create and exploit space, leading to the creation of many goal scoring opportunities for himself and his team mates. The key to the system was simple. Space.
Players were always focussed on how to create space, when to run, where to stand and when to not move. This combined with an aggressive pressing strategy without possession, designed to stifle the opposition and deny space quickly led to much success. Sounds like a particular Barcelona side under a certain Pep Guardiola, right? Unsurprising given that the Tiki-Taka football displayed by that Barcelona side and Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain was based upon Cruyff’s own version of Total Football!
Although, as we have seen, Total Football was and is not without it’s flaws. The Netherlands World Cup final team of 1974 discovering this after being stifled by a West Germany side using a Catenaccio style system in the second half of the game especially.
So as you can see, these trends come and go. Today we see a Chelsea side on the verge of the Premier League title under Italian coach Antonio Conte. At times labelled an innovative coach this season for the style in which his team plays. Innovative? Or just a student of the game with the right players at the right time?
You may ask, where does Pass + Move fit in to all of this then? To answer this question you really need to work backwards and ask: What makes a Pass + Move player? We believe that every player that we coach should be adaptable, as essentially football is a game of problem solving. If we coached our players to only press the ball high out of possession or only to play counter attacking football, we would be failing them. At some point, whether it be with us or when we send them out into the big wide world of football, they will come across a problem on the pitch that they will not have seen before. By helping them to understand the game as best we can; by guiding them through different techniques, skills and tactics; by giving them the opportunity to be creative, we hope that no problem will be too great for them.
As a Catenaccio type style enjoys a resurgence in club football I can't help but wonder, where will the next Total Football side come from?