Rinus Michels successful without Johan Cruyff

Rinus Michels started to get really annoyed with Johan Cruyff. The Ajax coach definitely enjoyed the presence of the young tactical wizard and it didn’t take long for the media to keep on repeating that Michels’ success came as a result of working with Johan… The Europa Cup with Ajax, the silver medal in 1974 with Oranje… The title with Barca. The successes in the US. And without JC, Michels has not really been too successful.

Until 1988. Where the biggest success for Michels was not winning the finals, but in particular winning the semi finals against West Germany. After the heroic game in Hamburg, Michels sighed “Let’s hope that all those musings about 1974 will stop now…”

Total Football, more and more seen as the product of the brain of Cruyff, is now for a while moved aside. He doesn’t just deal with the stories of a generation past, but also with Johan’s shadow. And during the 1988 tournament, Cruyff was again a thorn in Michels’ side.

It is Cruyff who states right before the tournament that Oranje should be seen as a big favorite. In a Spanish newspaper, Cruyff says that Oranje will win the title. “As long as they play with three forwards.”

Cruyff is Ajax coach until January 1988 and impresses with his revolutionary approach. At times only playing with three defenders and putting his team under a lot of pressure. But he does win a European Cup with the youngsters, although PSV proves to be a bit more effective in the Eredivisie. Cruyff would make a similar move as he did as a player and will take up coaching Barcelona, with a similar revolutionary style, introducing Total Football in Catalunya.

And without a doubt, Michels will fear being deleted from the history books in Spain.


Michels sharing the spotlight with JC

At that time, the south European teams play destructive football. 4-4-2 is the name of the game and Italy and Argentina win World Cups with that system, while Denmark impresses with a similar style. All the big European clubs at that time, Real Madrid, PSV, AC Milan and KV Mechelen all play a similar style. And Dutch coaches like Beenhakker, Hiddink and De Mos prefer playing with two strikers and a fortified midfield.

Cruyff enjoys the opposition: “If they play 2 strikers I can play with only 3 defenders. Meaning I have 4 midfielders to meet their and I have three strikers, to put pressure on the opponent.”

After one game at the Euro, Michels realised that this approach is not holy. The USSR only needs one well placed strike to beat Oranje. And after the first game, Michels immediately responded to Cruyff’s earlier comments. “We are merely an outsider. The expectations are set much too high.”

The coach also criticises his skipper Ruud Gullit: “He missed the boat. He had a free role in this game and he couldn’t support the team when they needed him. And as a team, we are too soft. Not winners. We were losing the game and in the second half we only had four fouls. That is highly unprofessional.”

Gullit is not happy with his new role in the team and Cruyff immediately criticises Michels for not selecting Rob Witschge. The best response however is Van Basten’s. Marco is sharp and he wants to start. At training, Van Basten never plays a decent ball to Bosman, his competitor for the center striker position. Later, Van Basten justifies this like this: “That’s how it works. You try to protect your territorium. It’s egocentric, but that is how it is.”

Just before the Euro, Michels says “We have a system we will adhere to” and “We have had enough time to prepare ourselves”. Only 5 days later, he significantly changes the team. Revolutionary, almost. The concept will be totally changed.

A fortified midfield with work horse Erwin Koeman for artist John van ‘t Schip. And two forwards: Gullit and Van Basten, in the AC Milan set up. John Bosman was striker #1, becomes striker #3. Kieft remains the pinchhitter.

cruyff michels barcelona barcablog barca blog barcelona barcelona barcablog barca blog barcelona

Michels instructing JC… Or… the other way around?

No more wingers. midfielder Vanenburg and forward Gullit need to guard the “operational areas” left and right.

Michels is taking a huge gamble. But, an educated one. Bssed on intuition, his analysis of his players and opportunism.

The second game, the win against England, was not built on the Dutch football culture or well prepared tactical prowess. The victory was based simply on the class of one Marco van Basten and luck. Luck, as England hit the post twice in the first  half and one of the MVB goals might have been offside.

Wim Kieft has an impact in this game as well. Michels knows a win is key and brings the target man. Once criticised by Marco van Basten, his successor at Ajax, once called him “that big tree”, but apart from being a great header of the ball, Kieft also excelled in keeping the ball and distributing the ball to the moving players around him. A combination of a good touch and vision. Kieft is the perfect lightning rod for Van Basten in the second half.

Against Ireland, another finals, Holland needs a win. Ireland can make do with a 0-0. And it seems for a long time that this would be the final score. John Aldridge is closest to the winner, with a header which might have been blocked by Vanenburg’s hand, and maybe even behind the goal line. Michels needs to change his line up again. Midfielders Muhren and Koeman are benched, and Bosman and Kieft are brought in. Holland plays with 5 forwards: Vanenburg, Gullit, Van Basten, Bosman and Kieft. And it works! There will be no smooth attack via the wings, but it takes a failed half volley by Koeman. The ball could have ended up in the stands, but it bounces onto the head of the attentive Kieft, pure luck, who instinctively tries to flick the ball on. The curve on the original ball, the Koeman volley AND Kieft’s header lets the ball bounce out of reach of Pat Bonner and seems to go past the goal, only to make a billiards-like shift and bounces into the goal.

This is a goal that has never been copied. There are no other goals like this one. That much coincidence in one passage of play.

Michels feels liberated and he embraces every piece of luck that comes his way. He becomes creative and even playful. And he calls this 1988 team stronger than the 1974 team… hmmm….

koeman wipes

Koeman wipes arse with Thon jersey

And he likes to pay out Cruyff once more. “Cruyff is merely a starting coach” and he even calls him a psychopath. Michels says about his successes with Ajax: “Ah, successes with Ajax in the Eredivisie? What does that mean? It’s a boyscout competition. What we need today, are football soldiers. Players who can suffer and battle. Every game we play is a battle. I am not talking about Cruyff, but players like Van Hanegem! Neeskens!”

Marco van Basten assumes that role against West Germany. He is not the Cruyff of the team, he is the Van Hanegem. He doesn’t walk away from being an irritating prick on the field. But Van Breukelen and Koeman join in as well. The goalie yells at Matthaus “I hope you fucking die!” when he is rolling around after a dive and Ronald Koeman wipes his ass after the game with Thon’s shirt. The victory is a celebration and releases pent up anger and frustration. The Dutch School is totally ignored. This victory is not build on positioning or total football. This Euro was a dirty Euro. And Johan Cruyff gets more and more quiet.

Oranje played like Argentina. Not like Brazil. Aad de Mos commends the coach’ ability to build up the mentality of the players, more than his tactical smarts. Two great passers from the back (Koeman and Rijkaard), two players who can decide games (Gullit and Van Basten) and two iron-eaters (Erwin Koeman and Jan Wouters)

There was the speed of Van Aerle and Van Tiggelen, allowing Oranje to play high. Vanenburg and Muhren were the ideal connecting players in midfield, who completely sacrificed their dominant roles ( both playmakers at PSV and Ajax).

All those qualities came together on June 25, 1988. Van Breukelen chokes Belanov when he is about to take his penalty and gives the signal of invincibility. This Oranje is not built on attractive and dominant play. Oranje’s success was built on willpower and determination. And luck.

The England and Ireland game, we discussed. The penalty against West Germany was another gift. Van Breukelen’s stopped penalty was a bonus and Van Basten’s volley was an eternal gem, but that ball could have ended up anywhere in the stadium.

The 1988 team has not captured the hearts of the world, like the Naranja Mecanica did in 1974.

Michels will embrace the 1988 campaign as his great success but the rift between Cruyff and Michels has not done Dutch football many favours.


Did LVG and JC have an affair???

Oranje could have put the cherry on the cake in 1990 with a strong squad and with JC at the helm. But Michels clearly refused to let his victory be overshadowed and he decided to stonewall the players.

Cruyff never officially got the reigns over Oranje. His influence was ever tangible though. Louis van Gaal took JC’s textbook and gave it his own spin. Van Gaal also incorporated a lot of Michels in his approach. But Van Gaal did not (yet) manage to become the new Cruyff or Michels. The pompous one failed miserably in 2000, when he believed to have the strongest Oranje squad ever. Ireland and Portugal were too strong. Van Gaal misses the intuitive smarts of Michels and the creative genius of Cruyff.

The 1974 squad has a heroic glare. The longhaired rebels, all seemingly playing their own game, and in the process tearing Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and West Germany apart (albeit without winning vs West Germany, of course…).

The 1988 squad did not bring Holland anything but the silverware. No tactical finesse, no remarkable legacy.

The individual strength of players like Gullit, Van Basten, Koeman, Wouters and Van Breukelen will forever live on, of course as will the fact that almost every player of that squad became an active coach at some time. Passing on their experience and insights.

And it’s not just the Rijkaards, Koemans and Wouters we are talking about. Arnold Muhren was a youth coach at Ajax for a long time, like Van Tiggelen is still coaching at amateur level. But also players who were just not good enough for Oranje back then (Danny Blind, Wim Koevermans, Peter Bosz, Gertjan Verbeek, Fred Rutten, Ruud Brood, Ton Lokhoff) are all active in some form in pro football today. Bosz at Vitesse, Verbeek at AZ, Brood at Roda JC and Lokhoff was at VVV most recently.

Outside of Holland, 1988 will be remembered for the charisma of Gullit and Van Basten. “Achtentachtig allemachtig prachtig” is a term you still hear from taxi drivers in Thailand, Egypt, Mexico or New Zealand. And Van Basten was knowns as the Son of Cruyff while Gullit became a superstar, the first coloured player to accept a major trophy as skipper.

This social cultural heritage appeared more important for The Netherlands than the football legacy.


wk1990The book written on that weird 1990 campaign… 

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  1. Jan, ton of respect for yet another article.

    Here is the odds checker for the supposed next coach of Barca:


    I think the reason why Frank de Boer is relatively low on this list (though still in top 5), is that he is pretty tied to Johan Cruyff and that person is a semi enemy of Rosell, the Barca president. With the next elections I could actually imagine Laporta or an ally of him to run against Rosell and then actually bring in Frank as their candidate. I would prefer that. A lot. His job is not done at Ajax and he is still making mistakes as a coach. He is still learning every day and I want to see the end result of his project. How deep is he able to bring Ajax into the CL? Is he able to bring more magical football then the year before? Is he able to win a fourth or even fifth title for Ajax in a row, something they have never been able to achieve in their club’s history?

    I think he has said that Barca is the only club he would leave Ajax for. He did reject Liverpool, but Barca, if they come, could prove to be his weak spot. Let’s hope Rosell goes for another option.

  2. Agree DRB300. Frank de Boer won’t be game as yet. Maybe in two years. I think Barca needs to think really HARD of who they want.

    Some players are getting a tad old, with Neymar coming the dynamics will change. There will be some disgruntled players ( Cesc, Song)…

    I think they will need a very experienced, good people manager. Maybe for two years. Someone who can do the dirty work and change the squad a bit ( “doorselecteren”)

    No idea who that could be…. Heynckes? The Roma coach (forgot his name)?

    Laudrup, potentially….


    But as you said, the JC camp is not popular with Rosell, so that angle will have to wait….

  3. Heynckes would be a very good choice, but also bizarre (him at Barca and Pep at Bayern) and unlikely (retired).

    Bielsa, Laudrup, Klopp could be options.

    The thing that is boggling my mind is the fact that AVB is heavily linked to this job. Have I missed something? Did he play magical football with Spurs or Chelsea? Was he able to get into the top 4 vs one of the weakest Arsenal sites ever, while having the EPL player of the year in his squad bailing him out with one distance shot after the other?

    What is it about this guy that he is nr. 1 with the bookies to land the job? Weird case this.

    1. You don’t think a 0-0 tie against Colchester (in League One) is a good result for Spurs? Time to lower the standards a bit.

      Seriously, I think it’s just English reporting bias to look first to the coaches in the EPL as candidates.

      I didn’t realize the extent of falling out between Cruyff and Barca, but now some of his comments this past year or so make more sense. Like selling Messi to make way for Neymar. He seems to be saying things these days just to stir the pot and ruffle some feathers.

      In any case, I miss the days with Rijkaard at the helm, when watching Barca was still “fun”.

  4. Thank you Jan. It is a pity that Michels did this to the 90 squad and Cruyff. He should have put the NT’s interest above his personal agenda. I also could see a rift between Pep and Rosell as Rosell “disrespect” Cruyff when he replaced Laporta. Laporta, Pep sided with Cruyff and most of the times respect and followed his advices. My guess is that this is the beginning of the “down” cycle of Barca.

  5. A few comments about today’s Ajax friendly vs Bremen for those who couldn’t watch but are curious. Ajax won 3-2.

    Ajax dominated most of the match. They played a sharp passing game and were more creative. New signing Krkic did well, getting an excellent assist with a long low cross to Blind, and goal in the 1st half (he didn’t play in the second half). The defensive line was generally strong and the center back pair were very solid until the last few minutes. What happened was that after 2/3 of the game, Bremen brought on 7 new young players, all eager to make it into the starting lineup for next season, and they just ran Ajax ragged in the last third of the game. That won’t happen in a real game where subs are limited.

    Also, Elia came on at halftime for Bremen and acquitted himself well. He had a role in both Bremen goals, including the last one where he won the ball and played a decisive through ball. He also nearly scored after putting on a slick move to open up a curled shot to the far post, but Vermeer denied him with a super save. Elia’s still got some football left in him.

    Bremen is not the strongest team at the moment, but it was a comfortable game for Ajax, and they continue to impress with style.

  6. Of course Elia has football left in him but he lacks commitment, he is more focused on other things than on football and that’s why he hasn’t been as successful as we all expected.

    Maybe his pride is hurt after being left out of the national team and with the WC next summer he might focus on getting his top form back. 🙂

  7. Norwich City are lining up a shock move for former Barcelona striker Maxi Lopez, according to sources in Italy.Canaries boss Chris Hughton has already brought in six new recruits this summer, including Dutch duo Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer, and he is now eyeing Lopez.
    The 29-year-old was regarded as one of the most promising forwards in world football when he joined Barcelona in 2005 but he left the Nou Camp two years later to join FC Moscow.He switched to Catania in 2010, but has been sent out on loan to AC Milan and Sampdoria, where he netted four goals in 17 league outings last term. And he could now end up in England, with Hughton considering offering the Argentinian a three-year deal. Lopez, who has also spent time at River Plate, Mallorca and Gremio, is valued at around £3.5m.

  8. Today the U19 squad will play Lithuania U19. Many Dutch players have cancelled participation so I am curious how the squad will do. Hope that Eurosport will broadcast the game, but France U19 is playing 30 minutes later and the French always find away to get their athletes broadcasted.

  9. Bayern playing with Robben on the bench and Shakira playing instead of him….sorry I meant Shaquiri 😛 and obviously Guardiola’s lover is player…Thiago.

    It’s just a friendly but I hope Guardiola is not thinking of having Robben as benchwarmer.

    1. Player from Heerenveen as is Chacon. Nice to see a player with good delivery for once. Was his ball against the defender in the final seconds not also the cause for receiving a corner kick? Heerenveen has a pretty strong youth set up these days. Has not resulted in players eventually becoming real Dutch NT level, but maybe we could see the start of it. Keep in mind that this is a Turkish name and those are most dangerous as Turkey has a powerful culture with a big pull to it’s descendents. Combine that with the fact that most Turks in the Netherlands are Muslim (Turkey is majority Muslim as well and increasingly less moderate I might add), have a love hate relationship with the adopting country the Netherlands and you understand that it will always remain a question if these players end up playing for the senior team in case they have the quality.

      Same with Morocco, but that country is outside UEFA and so many real talents will often still go for Netherlands if they are really good enough. That argument is not there with Turkey.

      It’s sad that you can’t allow yourself becoming too enthusiastic about these players. Ozyakup was a good player as well but went for Turkey. In Germany they have the Sahin case.

      Luckily the biggest talents (as far as I know or can see) are from Moroccan descent and Netherlands has a real edge over that country, simply as a result of playing in UEFA. It would mean mean the Africa Cup and not the Euro for the player. It means almost certainly no WC qualification during a players lifetime. It means being less wanted by top clubs as they have to miss you during a vital period during the club competition when the Africa Cup is played. It means playing endless qualification games against countries with a playing style that is problematic for the technical Moroccans. It also means being subjected to a less optimal organised climate. With the Dutch NT everything is organised perfectly for players, so they can focus on what they are good at.


      1. Yeah, thanks for the tip, I remembered the Ozyakup case, lets hope we keep this one!!. On the other hand I think the game went well I guess?? But is clearly that the team depend too much of the Achahbar abilities, that is a weak a guess. Lets see the games vs Spain and Portugal.
        Why we always are in the group of death??

        1. I think Kongolo was iffy with the two conceding goals, if not to blame with the second. Is a big talent (as is his little brother), but disappointed in the ruthlessness department. Ayoub (Utrecht, ex Ajax) did oke and of course the two mentioned attackers.

          With the following absentees:

          * Boëtius,
          * Vilhena
          * Depay
          * Rekik
          * Willems
          * Ebecilio
          * Ake
          * Haye
          * Van Overeem

          We can’t have too high expectations. I wish Gravenberch is getting a chance at the back. He came in as a striker but is recently turned into a defender at Ajax and he certainly looks like something in the making. Lot of confidence.

          My main problem with the team’s tactics was that I did not really saw overlapping backs. I did not see the whole game but the time that I was able to watch, I felt that was missing.

          Curious to see how they deal with the two upcoming bigger opponents.


  10. http://youtu.be/ZPn6ZVZFa5A
    A wonderful video on San Marco .. I think every football fan , let alone every Dutch football fan , would feel sad in the end of the video.
    It’s also concerning that the Netherlands haven’t produced any player at this level since Bergkamp. The new generation is pretty talented imo , but no one of them is at this level.

  11. Thank you Mohamed. It was a very good video. Talented like Bergkamp (after Bergkamp retired), perhaps not yet, but Sneijder should have won Best Player in 2010 (which Bergkamp did not). So MVB is still the last NT player as the best footballer of the year. RVP and Robben probably are the most talented NT has right now. Perhaps 1 of them can win Best Player next year helping NT winning the 1st WC? MVB is also lucky that he had a chance to play with Rijkaard and Gullit at the same club. Imagine Sneijder, Robben and RVP at the same top club like Milan, or Bayern…

  12. guys how was Brahim Darri against Lithhuania…why’d he get subbed of on the 61st min mark?

    What are your thoughts on van Wolfswinkel’s chances of starting for norwich in the premier league if they clinch the signings of Fabio Quagirella and Maxi Lopez?

    1. Van Wolfswinkel is maximum a good box striker. He needs 10 players to work for him.

      Individually he is as poor as Huntelaar technically, and weaker physically. The only thing he is really good at is scoring penaltys. It was the same when he was with Utrecht.
      Look at him outside of the box, his first touch, his ball conservation, his way to protect it etc. he is really poor.

      People only look at his number of goals.

      1. @Laurent if so he needs to be dropped ..especially if he ios static.i see Seim de jong as Van persie back up,this guy siem doent give a shit about strong teams.able to score against any tough defense though he is less skilled.thats waht we need,with good work rate and team play canot forget his goals aginst MAncity in CL.Striker sopt must go to RVP and seim.with Lenz and wijnaldum as partial/utility strikers.
        first 11-second 11
        RVP-Seim Dejong
        Van ginkel–Clasie/Wesly
        Strotman—Leory fer/clasie
        Deguzman—Nijel Dejong/Anita
        Janmaat—–Vanrhijn/Van derweil
        LVG must for get about rest of the guys and he should start building a team with foremetioned players.A total of 32 players.let this be the pool of his slection depending on form and injury and fitness.Rest of the guys are simplyincompetent to win a WC for dutch national team.also when we compare them to the currnet opponets they are simply average players.

        1. Tiju, huntelaar, RVP sucks at NT level. time and time again he has failed to deliver in big games , when it matters most. If you follow Bundasliga , then you’ll know what im taking about. keep tab on Schalke 04 this year. the trump card for RVP has been his performance at Man U.

          1. @Wilson no argument…about RVP and Hunter.Hunter sucks in big games and RVP cannot be completelty belived in a tight match.So drop permanently hunter and use RVP according to opponent and it would be wiser that give RVP/Seim 45 minutes each…unfortunatly rest of the strikers doesnt look better than them..

  13. Today Chelsea played against Malaysia and Van Ginkel was a starter. Unfortunatly he was below average 😐 .
    I really hope he go on loan to any club in Eredivisie or perhaps Bundesliga can be great for him. I really doubt he will get enough playing time in Chelsea .
    On the other hand , Belgium players are very good . De bruyne was fantastic . Lukaku was pretty good .

  14. I cant understand this drop in quality of dutch new generations!!!! him being 20 years old is not an excuse lukaku, de bruyne and many other chelsea starters are around that age!! van ginkel is considered one of the top quality players for oranje and he cant be at the level od these guys in chelsea!! it is really concerning knowing that since sneijder robben and persie we can not have players who play in top teams in europe!!

    1. Well , I won’t call this a ” drop in quality ” , Alaa. It’s more of a “pre-maturity” if you ask me.
      De bruyne wouldn’t have been able to play at high level if he didn’t play for Werder Bremen on loan last season . Same with Hazard , he didn’t move directly form the Belgian pro league to Chelsea . he played in France first .
      Early move from Eredivisie has been usually bad for the young Oranje players. Even the great ones like Bergkamp to Inter Milan or Davids to Ac Milan . They both suffered when they moved but in the end they were able to prove themselves .
      However , I have to say that lack of playing time in European competitions like CL or even Europa league had a really bad impact on the players and Eredivisie Level .
      Dutch teams , for unknown reasons to me , are unable to play in European tournaments . I am not talking about beating Barcelona , Man utd or real Madrid. Even Clubs at the level of Celtic , Lyon , Dynamo kiev , Dynamo Mosco or St petersburg I doubt we can really beat them .

      Let’s wait and see how dutch teams will do in the next season . I have kinda high hopes for Ajax in the CL and Feyenoord in Europa league .

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