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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.