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World Football: The 5 Greatest Tactical Innovations in Football History

Amogha SahuCorrespondent IIIJanuary 13, 2017

World Football: The 5 Greatest Tactical Innovations in Football History

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    Tactics have always been  a subject for football analysts to feast upon. Looking at the nuances of the beautiful game and the tactical  fumblings of football managers enchants many of us who watch.

    Managers come and go, but some leave a lasting legacy, mostly based on success, but sometimes, a manager brings about a tactical revolution, which leads to a widespread assessment of how professional football is played.

Herbert Chapman's Counter-Attacking Style of Play at Arsenal

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    In 1930, Arsenal manager and visionary Herbert Chapman won the FA Cup against his old club Huddersfield Town, 2-0. This was the crowning glory of Chapman's reign, where he cemented his legacy in the history of Arsenal and football. He created a side that boasted the likes of Ted Drake, Alex James and Eddie Hapgood among others. His "Invincibles" were to be defeated by Wallsall, a lowly Third Division side costing only 69 pounds in total.

    Chapman is remembered more for his  tactical innovations than the great side he created. Chapman introduced floodlights, physiotherapy and passing play as well as encouraging the first European competition. Chapman's main invention however was the 3-4-3 formation, aptly named the W-M for the way players line up in a formation which spells out the two aforementioned letters. This was a variation on the 2-3-5 formation of the time, which entailed getting a player form the midfield to help the defence and pushing the inside left and inside right back to the area which we would now call attacking midfield.

    To accomplish his ideal, Chapman bought Alex James from Preston North End and deployed him as a creative inside left. He then brought in David Jack from Bolton Wanderers to play alongside him. He already had Hulm and Cliff Bastin to use as wingers. He told his players to sit deep and allow them possession in the Arsenal half, but never let them make any headway. This was very effective against the style of play most English clubs favored (the emphasis then being on dribbling and beating people and crossing, which Chapman's counterattacking system did not allow to happen). After quickly dispossessing the opponent whilst they were still forward, his Arsenal side went up the pitch with pace and quick passing techniques. This was the first prototype of a counter-attcking system which was to be used several times in the future and won more trophies that Chapman could ever have imagined.

    This was his greatest legacy.

Catenaccio and Herrara's Internazionale

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    Catenaccio is a tactical system associated primarily with Argentinian tactician Helenio Herrara of Internazionale Milano and Barcelona. However, it was first dreamed up by Swiss coach Karl Rappan, who called it the Verrou, referring to the Verouilleur, or sweeper, who played played as the 1 in his 1-3-3-3 formation, in the 1940s and '50s. Rappan's Verrou was the modern 4-3-3, except one center-back played as a sweeper and one winger dropped off slightly to the wide attacking midfield role, making it sort of like a 4-4-2. The first true form of Catenaccio was in fact used by  then-Padova coach Nereo Rocco during the '50s. The first display of Rocco's Catenaccio was at Triestina in 1947, where he managed to get the club to second place playing Catenaccio.

    Helenio Herrara came to Internazionale to find a team already equipped with great talents. Sandro Mazzola, their talisman, was a great creative midfield talent to rival Gianni Rivera (pictured in 2010) from up the road. Giacinto Fachetti was a great attacking left-back, who pioneered this role, in fact. The tricky Brazilian winger Jair also formed part of this side. With him, Herrera brought Spanish midfield maestro Luis Suarez of Barcelona fame. He had formed La grande Inter. With Jair as the winger in the front three who dropped off, (see Rappan), Mazzola acting as an early type of support striker and Suarez marshaling the midfield, Herrara had his great system. He went on to win three Serie A titles, two European Cups and two Intercontinental cups in his Inter tenure.

    Herrara's system drew attention. Now managers alll over the world were looking to counter it. In 1970, Inter reached the European Cup final again, this time facing Jock Stein's Celtic, a team which had  wing wizards Tommy Gemmell and Jimmy Johnstone. This time, Catenaccio did not pay off. Although Mazzola converted a penalty which put Inter in the lead before Half-time, Stein's hitherto considered primitive provincial approach paid off as Gemmell equalized and Johnstone won it for Celtic. However, this was considered a freak result rather than a tactical victory.

    But Herrara's shrewd system was ripped to shreds by a new style that came along in 1971 ...

Rinus Michels' Total Football

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    Like many other tactical systems, this idea is not completely unique to Rinus Michels, the one who popularized it. A very early prototype of his idea originated from legendary English coach Jimmy Hogan.

    This idea was taken up and developed by his protege, Hugo Meisl, who used it to develop his Wunderteam with Matthias Sindelar as the heartbeat of the side and Bican in attack. Another of Hogan's pupils (and perhaps his most famous), the Hungarian Gustav Szebes, put this into practice as coach of the Hungarian "Mighty Magyars."

    The Magyar's defeat of Hogan's countrymen in 1953 at Wembley highlighted the power this system had and how variations and further development of it would bring about more such humiliations to opponents.

    The Hungarians' off the ball movement, switching of positions and their trickery of passing left the opponent dumbfounded (Stan Cullis was at his prime then in England, so long-ball was still prevalent). England were beaten 5-3. Although Honved (containing many of the "Mighty Magyars") were defeated by Wolves later in the year, the Magyars almost completely dominated their era, finishing runners up at the World Cup to underdogs Germany in 1954.

    The Hungarian system was a 3-2-3-2, similar to the 5-3-2 system in use almost 40 years later. Szebes pioneered the use of the deep lying forward with the star of his team, Ferenc Puskas, and introduced to the world the idea that players could play in more than one position. Also, most of the Hungarian players had played with each other from a young age (for Honved) and so they knew each other's game perfectly. Sound familiar?

    Following the '60s (The Catenaccio decade), a new team came to the fore: Ajax Amsterdam. This side, coached by Rinus Michels, played a kind of football that had only been played by the Mighty Magyars before.

    However, Michels added  discipline to the Total Football template and introduced the concept of a hard- working pressing game. He used a 4-3-3 formation at Ajax with Cruijff, like Puskas before him,  the centre point of the side. With this side, he won three European Cups in a row as well as several domestic trophies.

    In 1974, Michels took over the Dutch national side, where he molded his talents into a total football unit like his club and brought onto the world stage the idea of Total Football. With Cruyff as the talisman, Neeskens and Haan in Midfield and Krol and Suurbier as the fullbacks, Holland entranced the world with their total football, only to lose to Germany in the final of the 1974 World Cup.

    Michels' protege Johan Cruyff then took up management and instituted Michels' philosophy at Barcelona, his former club. He created the Dream Team, which in 1992 won the European Cup playing Total Football. It had Koeman in defence, Laudrup in midfield and Romario and Stoichkov in attack. His midfield water carrier was a young man called Josep Guardiola, who seemed destined for greatness on and off the pitch. But more on that later.

    As for Michels, he took over the Dutch national reins again in 1988 and won the European Championships with Holland. 

Guardiola's Total Football

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    Josep Guardiola attained fame as a great defensive midfielder in Johan Cruyff's "Dream Team," composed mainly of Catalan players / homegrown players who had played together for some time and were used to each others playing style. With this philosophy in mind, Guardiola took over FC Barcelona in 2008, replacing Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard.

    Since the time of Cruyff, Barcelona had started working on the cantera vs. cartera philosophy (academy vs. wallet; a nod to Real Madrid's spending sprees). They had invested heavily in La Masia, and since the time of Guardiola, players like Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol replaced Ferrer, Bakero and Guardiola. They were all educated in the Cruyff philosophy, or shall we say, the Barcelona philosophy.

    Upon taking charge, Guardiola quickly noticed the strength of the La Masia academy and started to give homegrown players a chance, all the while dismantling Rijkaard's side of  International stars. Soon, players like Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma were in the first team. He integrated then rising star Lionel Messi into the team as well, all the while following the Cruijff template. He bought international talent as well, signing Daniel Alves from Sevilla and David Villa from Valencia.

    His Trophy Cabinet now has two Champions Leagues. His team is now acclaimed as the best team ever to play football. This may be true, but tactically, he uses (mostly) the same Michels tactics which were brought to the fore by Ajax in the early '70s (allowing for today's different rules, of course). His team combines supreme technical quality with unwavering discipline. Their pressing rivals that of Ajax and their statsitical dominance has been unparalleled.

    This team is the culmination of Hogan's vision all those years ago.

The 4-4-2

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    Last but not least comes the 4-4-2. The lingua franca of the football world. So common they even named a magazine after it. The simple system of four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers has been used by many teams all over the world and has been subject to many variations.

    Image: Wikipedia/MaxDZ8, based on work from Mario Ortegon

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