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Tracking Roman


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In the past few weeks, in varying degrees, I have written about Di Santo, Dos Santos, Dos Hermanas and Guus which not only has an eerie flow to it, but also goes to prove that I spend far too much time on this forum when I should really be elsewhere. Will I learn? No, and now I’m going for a full house in alliteration by moving on from Guus to Rinus in order to make my [very lengthy, sorry] talking point…

Rinus Michels to be precise - the father of ‘total football’ who guided Holland to the World Cup final in 1974, when they lost 2-1 to West Germany in Munich, employing the philosophy he used in his training for the Ajax squad. A lot of people know that, but I’m guessing Roman didn’t when he first saw an example of the Michels legacy in the playing patterns of Barcelona under Rijkaard, when Chelsea took them on in the Champions League. As with many love affairs, and bearing in mind Roman‘s age, this one would have been at first sight, without prior knowledge of total football history and, without wishing to teach those of you [who already know the background] to suck eggs, it does no harm to examine here and now the links that have brought our owner to the brink of wholeheartedly embracing the concept of total football by parading it before our very eyes…

By its own definition, total football is a system where a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining their intended organizational structure. In this fluid system no footballer is fixed in his or her intended outfield role and anyone can be successively an attacker, a midfielder and a defender. The concept depends largely on the adaptability of each footballer within the team to succeed. It consists of footballers being extremely tactically aware, allowing them to change positions at high speed. In its simplest terms [the theory goes] every player is comfortable in any other position and it’s all about making space, coming into space, and organising space-like architecture on the football pitch, thereby putting high technical and physical demands on the players.

Played at its best, as under Michels in the Seventies, it became a devastating weapon and it is from here that the links with Barca [and others] begin to pile up. Johan Cruyff went on from the Michels side to play for them before returning in 1988 to manage the ’Dream Team’ that included Michael Laudrup. In the same year another giant of Dutch football, PSV Eindhoven, won the European Cup under the guidance of a certain Guus Hiddink. Decades on and Rijkaard appoints Henk Ten Cate his assistant and he [reputedly] gives youngsters a better shot at selection for the first team. Incidentally, Barca have not operated a youth team since he left, so the story appears to be correct.

Ten Cate’s return to Ajax, before coming to us, completes a chain back to the most influential club in the matrix, a chain that also links in the Gunners with Dennis Bergkamp, originally coming from the Ajax youth team and being given his professional debut by Cruyff. Indeed, when they took on PSV last year, one hack referred to the new ’pragmatic’ Dutch style coming up against the ’sole true heirs’ of total football. What with the newspaper in question being the Guardian, and putting all bias aside for once, no prizes for guessing which teams were which.

And so I’ve arrived full circle at what I believe to be Roman’s real reason for falling head over heels in love. By appointing Jose he had acquired the most charismatic and successful of methodologists in the modern game but, to adapt a Wengerism, even though he had the prettiest at home, he was beginning to think he had one of the ugliest on the pitch. After a season or two, Roman’s playing away at Barca, coupled with the fawning praise always heaped upon a seemingly ever youthful, yet unsuccessful Arse, convinced him that, in football, beauty is undeniably skin deep and right slap bang in eye of the beholder. You see, even way back in 1974, if not right on through to the last World Cup, the West Germany teams have been [pretty much] butt ugly, but winners, yet Jurgen Klinsmann’s team is remembered for losing heroically and Rinus Michels…well, it’s simply revered.

The revered may be the untouchable [maybe not for Roman] yet, even with two major trophies still within touching distance, his head has been turned. Whatever the outcome silverware-wise in the next few weeks, his mind is very definitely on other things and all that remains is to fit the new pieces into a new ’total football’ jigsaw in the summer months ahead. Who is suitable, who isn’t? If you are in agreement with my summation there could be lots of changes because, in the melodious words of Nat King Cole, love is a many splendored thing. There is no doubt about it, Roman is smitten and, as we all know, and as Rinus Michels also proved with his total football - a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

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