Rinus Michels is number 3 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.
As language continues to mutate with the times, words like 'influence' become tarnished, used to describe any old John/Jane Doe with a few thousand Instagram/Twitter followers. The fact that these can quite easily be bought and manipulated only serves to further degrade the term.
So, when I say Rinus Michels is the most influential football manager that has walked this earth, I don't mean it as a measure of the number of hits he was able to procure for a protein shake brand, or an energy drink, or some makeup wipes.
I mean it in a 'he literally changed the style, aesthetics and mechanics of the biggest sport in the world' kind of way. Because he did. That's verified. He birthed modern football, and he gave it an even better name: 'Totaalvoetbal' or, as we have come to know it, 'Total Football'.
Born in Amsterdam in February 1928, he joined his local side's youth setup at the age of 12 and, after the small matter of World War II held up his transition to the senior squad, made his debut for the first team in 1946.
That local club was, of course, Ajax Amsterdam, a team Michels would represent 264 times and score 122 goals for, and in fact the only team he would ever play for.
In 1958 - just as Hungary's 'Magical Magyars' were fading from view - Michels hung up his boots, put on a suit, and set to work on becoming a manager.
“Football is something like war. Whoever behaves too properly is lost.” - Rinus Michels
The 'Magyars' are important, because they tie in with that oh-so-evocative of terms, 'Total Football'.
You see, while Michels provoked the coining of the term and shaped the style we still love today, he did not pioneer it. Both the Austrians and the Hungarians had done that long before him, and long before their occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, too.
|Ajax||1965-71 & 1975-76|
|Barcelona||1971-75 & 1976-78|
|Netherlands||1974, 1984-85, 1986-88 & 1990-92|
Hell, he wasn't even the first man to bring it to the Dutch capital. In a segment we shall entitle 'Brexit Corner' *Rule Britannia plays sorrowfully in the background*, it is true that both Jack Reynolds - who had coached Michels - and Vic Buckingham
In any case, the principle of inverting forwards or dropping midfielders to fill in on the flanks wasn't necessarily a new phenomenon, either.
Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels walking around Highbury. Even by that ground's rich history that is some pairing. pic.twitter.com/45ep8gzcsB— Just Another Gooner (@N5_1BU) March 24, 2016
So, Michels wasn't a pioneer. But he was a fanatic in a way his predecessors weren't, and it was he - with the kind of cruelty that the likes of Pep Guardiola have since adopted - that realised in order to fully to exploit the merits of this free-flowing, shape-shifting style, work needed to be done.
And it needed to be done all the time. Fitness was paramount.
What he also understood was that this wasn't just a way to bolster attacks and overload opposition defences. To truly dominate the opposition, the shape-shifting fluidity had to work both ways. Yes, defenders had to be able to fill in in the middle, and vice-versa, but forwards had to plug holes too. And, while expansiveness - the utilisation of all available space - was the name of the game going forward, the opposite was true at the back. Compactness was the key.
"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." - Rinus Michels
It is in these principles that you see the all-encompassing influence Michels had. Not only did his eccentric position-swapping and obsessive philosophy shape the minds of Marcelo Bielsa and Guardiola - who carried the legacy of 'Total Football' to new heights with the golden generation at Barcelona - it also indelibly impacted such defensive masters as Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez, even if both would go for the low block over the high one any day of the week.
Of course, that high block (I'm sorry Graeme, I promise we'll stop talking about them soon) and the manic pressing that came with it is also inextricably linked with the Gegenpressing of Jurgen Klopp and co.
Are you getting the picture yet?
The most remarkable thing about Rinus is that he was able to happily marry all of these things into one cohesive style. The fact that the above quote could apply to both Guardiola and Mourinho, the two greatest (and greatly contrasting) coaches of this decade, is a testament to this feat.
It is also testament to his influence that we have still yet to talk about his teams, and how he succeeded with them. Because from lifting the Eredivisie four times, to the European Cup, to the European Championship, there was a heck of a lot of it.
To play in a Rinus Michels side you had to be two things: unbelievably fit and unmitigatedly adaptable. Essentially, you had to be a generational talent, with an ego small enough to bend to a maniacal manager's bidding.
And, fortunately enough, once he was established following early spells at JOS and DWS, Michels was not short of those, though considering Ajax's trajectory from relegation stragglers to champions, the causality was pretty clear - Michels moulded his players, not the other way around.
Johan Cruyff 14(Los Angeles Aztecs) and Rinus Michels(head coach of Los Angeles Aztecs) Washington Diplomats1-2Los Angeles Aztecs— tphoto (@tphoto2005) November 28, 2018
at RFK Stadium in WashingtonDC, USA, on Sunday, 27 July 1979
Photo by Masahide Tomikoshi / TOMIKOSHI PHOTOGRAPHY pic.twitter.com/t9YrmN8pEO
And, from Johan Neeskens, his arch presser, to Velibor Vasovic, his libero in defence, to Arie Haan, the artful midfielder who was just as good at filling at centre back as he was carving up defences himself, the Dutch master crafted some masterful footballers.
"He put the Netherlands on the map in such a way that everybody still benefits from it. With him, results came first, but quality of soccer was No. 1. I will miss Rinus Michels." - Johan Cruyff
That is all without mentioning the Daddy of them all. The only man who could lay claim to shaping European football as much as Michels himself, Johan Cruyff.
In Cruyff, Michels had the greatest player of his generation, but he was far from a just a Cruyff-turning luxury. Whether it was when they were together at Ajax, Barcelona
With this model, Holland was subjugated for four out of the last five years of the 1960s, before the whole of Europe was conquered in 1971 with the lifting of the famous Big-Eared trophy. Spain was next, in 1974, before it was time for the world to submit to his methods.
|Eredivisie (1966, 1967, 1968, 1970) |
|KNVB Cup (1967, 1970, 1971)|
|European Cup (1971)|
|La Liga (1974)|
|Copa Del Rey (1978)|
|DFB Pokal (1983)|
|European Championships (1988)|
For it was at the 1974 World Cup where the term 'Total Football' was first coined, when Cruyff cemented his legacy, and when the Oranje stunned all-but West Germany into submission.
Ultimately, they were undone by a mixture of vigorous man-marking, a flooded midfield and their own arrogance, but these faults were rectified 14 years later, with a different generation at the European Championships.
With Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit sharing the 'Cruyff' role to some extent, and scoring some of the best goals ever seen, this time the Netherlands were able to overpower their opposition with the formidable presences of Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and Jan Wouters.
That triumph would ultimately earn him the title of 'The Father of Dutch Football', as put by Van Basten upon learning of his death in 2005, yet, as mentioned, his greatest legacy is the one that sprawled itself into all four corners of the footballing world.
"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
It's not just Barca's world-renowned La Masia academy that has been founded upon his beliefs, nor just the Netherlands who still adhere to his philosophies. Almost every youth-setup in the world borrows from his extensive development techniques, every *insert Premier League club* way based on his aesthetics.
So the Dutch Father is insufficient. No, Rinus Michels is the Father of Modern Football as we know it. It is, in fact, he who is Daddy of them all.