Posts Tagged ‘Cruyff’

Louis van Gaal can Forget Winning the Title at Manchester United with 3-5-2

by Rob Shepherd.

Louis van Gaal insists the way forward for Manchester United is to ditch the 4-4-2 formation.

If that is the case then it would seem unlikely United will ever win the English league title under their Dutch manager.

Why..? Just take the Premier League years for a start.

Since its inception in 1992 every title winner – Manchester United, Blackburn, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City – have played with four at the back.

Mostly their formations have been 4-4-2, with variations on that theme.

In recent seasons there has been a move to 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 and twists to those basic shapes often in the guise of an anchor midfielder. But the bedrock has been the same: four at the back.

And, prior to that, no team that won the old First Division did so playing with three at the back on a regular basis.

There were occasions in the Eighties and Nineties when Liverpool –Lawrenson. Hansen, Gillespie – and Arsenal – Bould, O’Leary, Adams (and later Keown) did play 3-5-2 on their way to titles, although in the case of the Gunners under George Graham it was more like 5-3-2. 

This five at the back line-up was at times akin to the famous catenaccio tactic favoured in Italy for decades until AC Milan swept all before them with 4-4-2.

24FB81D000000578-2923481-image-a-32_1422022605482But essentially you would have to go back to the 1950s to see when three at back was the rule rather than the exception in England as the old ‘W-M’ formation evolved into what became the accepted shape of a team numbered one to 11 (pictured right).

1 Goalkeeper, 2 Right back, 3 Left back, 4 Right half, 5 Centre half, 6 Left half, 7 Right winger, 8 Inside right, 9 Centre forward, 10 Inside left, 11 Left winger.

This was 2-3-2-3 or 3-2-2-3 depending how deep the centre half sat.

It was under Ron Greenwood at West Ham at the start of the Sixties that 4-4-2 was really born in England when he withdrew his No 6 (a certain Bobby Moore) to play alongside the centre half in the role of attacking centre back rather than defensive midfielder.

Four at the back then became de rigueur. Most teams played 4-2-4, which is 4-4-2 with attacking wingers. But after ditching his during England’s 1966 World Cup win, Alf Ramsey and his ‘wingless wonders’ defined for some time the English way.

Van Gaal has said this system makes his ‘ass twitch’ because it unbalances his Manchester United team, even though they have won more games this season playing that way than in any other shape. 

Although Van Gaal never played a senior match for Ajax he was brought up in the Sixties and Seventies at the club which became famed for creating Total Football. It was essentially a fluid 3-4-3 which came to the fore with Holland at the 1974 World Cup finals.

The great irony is that the man who would have created Van Gaal’s mistrust in the English way was, well, English.

The guru of Total Football – according to the kingpin of Ajax and Holland at the time, Johann Cruyff – was Victor Frederick Buckingham who was born in London in 1915.

Buckingham played as a wing half for Tottenham between the wars. In 1959 he quit as West Bromwich Albion manager to take over at Ajax for two seasons. He returned for another spell in 1964 setting down the Total Football template.


Holland’s formation in the World Cup of 1974 was a fluid 3-4-3 with Cruyff the star man up front

While Cruyff dismisses Van Gaal as a control freak he eulogises about Buckingham, who at the start of the Seventies was manager of Barcelona (yes, really), the club where Cruyff would star as a player then a coach, laying down the foundations of the mighty team we have seen in recent years.

But Barca even in this ‘modern era’ (as if men like Buckingham were not ‘modern’ in their day ) play four at the back, although their shape like great rivals Real Madrid is a 4-3-3.

In short it’s the surest way of defending across the width of the pitch. If you have attacking full backs in that system then you have to have one or perhaps two midfielders who are prepared to hold. That’s also known as flexibility.

Of course it is naive to label and pigeon-hole formations. At any given time of a game you will see one shape morphing into another. But even the best teams need a starting shape. 

Essentially the great Brazil team of 1970 was 4-4-2. But with so many great players and great movement the front six was more a carousel than a system.

There is another irony here: at international tournaments since 1966 England have performed better when ditching 4-4-2.

In 1990 under Bobby Robson and then France 98 under Glenn Hoddle England played with 3-5-2 sweeper system, more like Germany of those days, and did well.

Although Terry Venables’s ‘christmas tree’ system at Euro 96 had a back four it was a long way from rigid straight lines of 4-4-2 that can limit a team and even promote the long ball as it did in Graham Taylor’s England.

But, as wise managers will say, the bottom line is identifying what shape suits your players best. Generally the better players a manager has, the better his team will be.


Hoddle was a regular user of the 3-5-2.

For a while at Swindon and then Chelsea, Hoddle saw some success with 3-5-2. Harry Redknapp has used the system with various teams from time to time. Howard Wilkinson did so at Notts County and then Sheffield Wednesday. But they are exceptions and not the rule.

Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United enjoyed season after season of success using 4-4-2, often with a twist, which usually saw the second striker operate as a No 10.

The rest of Fergie’s tactics were pretty straightforward: a back four, two central midfielders working in tandem (one ‘sticks’ if the other ‘twists’), two attacking wide men, an ‘inside forward’ and a centre forward.

Yet 4-4-2 gives Van Gaal a twitchy ass?

The Dutchman says it affects the balance of the team. Perhaps that’s because he has got the balance of his squad wrong. Either 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 just doesn’t seem to get the best of the talent he has at his disposal. As Gary Neville says it slows the team down too much.

The only time Fergie said he had a ‘twitchy ass’ – aka ‘squeaky bum time’ – was during the run-in for the title.

It’s a position clipboard-toting Van Gaal won’t be in this season. Whether he likes it or not, history proves that four at the back is the key to success in the Premier League.



Rob’s World Cup Wire
Johan Not Happy, Mexico a Tough Nut to Crack + Miguel a Real Tweet

by Rob Shepherd.

Johan Not Satisfied


Cruyff is unimpressed by Dutch performances

Holland have under Louis Van Gaal developed a style more like Power Football than the fabled Total Football which came to the fore in the Seventies with Johan Cruyff the inspiration.

It’s highly effective with Holland having won all their group games with 10 goals, but Cruyff is critical and wants to see the Dutch turn on the style against Mexcio and ironically be more German! The Germans have turned their old power game into a more attractive style, as Cruyff observed;

“The Oranje has qualified but the football isn’t that good. I liked the way that Germany kept playing in their own style – even during the moments when things weren’t going well against Ghana.

“That’s the way Netherlands should be playing as well. The results are good, now we have to start playing good football.”


Mexican or Mexican’t..?

Mexico will test just how good Holland’s counter attacking really is given they have proved to have one of the toughest defences so far.

Along with Belgium and Costa Rica, Mexico are the only team to have conceded only one goal.

The stats back it up as well; They have made 42 tackles compared to a tournament average of 36.7, have achieved 121 recovered balls compared to 88.8 and there have been 9 off-sides given in their favour against an average of 4.9.


Miguel Tweets ‘Em Right!

He is hardly the best known but Mexico coach Miguel Herrara has become a cult hero.

His impassioned touchline antics plus the generous way he treats fans has seen him gather nearly 800,000 Twitter followers – which is the most of any coach at the World Cup.


Did You Know…

Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto is Costa Rica’s coach, but just after World War Two they had an Englishman in charge. Randolph Galloway, a pre-War striker for Derby and Nottingham Forest, managed several clubs in Europe – including Valencia and Racing Santander – and briefly took charge of Costa Rica in 1946.

Oh, and the last time they made the round of 16 was on their World Cup debut in 1990, memorably beating Scotland 1-0 on their way to qualifying behind Brazil in their group.

But despite a fine equaliser from Costa Rica’s Ronald Gonzalez they were beaten 4-1 by Czechoslovakia in the last 16, with Tomáš Skuhravý scoring an impressive hat-trick (see below).


Greek Toffee..?

Georgiois Samaras is a familiar face after spending two years at Manchester City then six at Celtic.

He will be the focal point of the Greece attack tonight and the player Costa Rica need stop having ended a goal drought 1,478 minutes old with his last minute penalty winner against Ivory Coast.

Now 29, his contract has expired with Celtic and could move back to the PL. Everton have expressed interested but Sevilla of Spain are also looking at him.


Who’s The Victim Here..?


A young Luis Suarez (in blue) and brother Maxi Miliana with grannie Lile Rene.

There is an old newspaper saying; Dog bites man, no story. Man bites dog, big story.

But far from losing his livelihood or even liberty, Luis Suarez arrived back in Uruguay following his ban after an unprovoked assault on Italian Giorgio Cheillini hailed as a national hero. He has even had the backing of the country’s president.

Indeed he can look forward to a pay rise if a move to Barcelona goes through. Leaving Liverpool was always the plan this summer, this unseemly incident makes the parting of ways easier.

Sometimes justice and morality around modern football seems to be upside down.

After all his grandmother has been quoted as saying the FIFA ban was “barbaric” and he has been treated like a, er, “dog” as if HE has been the victim of rough, rough justice.

And Suarez himself has, well, lied through his teeth by denying what he clearly did in his formal response to the FIFA charge.

Talk about barking…



Brazil are still favourites to win the World Cup but I say they are there for the taking when they face Columbia in the quarter finals on Friday.

It was not a surprise they were taken all the way by Chile and only scrambled over the line on penalties on Saturday.

With the exception of Neymar they have been distinctly lacking in Samba skills upfront and ironically for them have been indebted to a pretty tough defence.

Hulk and Fred don’t seem up to it and Oscar hasn’t clicked.

It’s as if they have been carried through on the wave of emotion and support that surrounds them.

It could still see them through but Columbia, familiar opponents in the Copa America, won’t be fazed and with James Rodriguez upfront could well deny Brazil’s dream of winning the World Cup on home soil – just as Uruguay did back in 1950.


One to Watch:

Georgious Karagounis is a modern day Greek god.

He was an inspiration when Greece won the 2004 Euros and is still going strong at the age of 37.

He will retire from international football after the tournament and is out of contract at Fulham.

But in what is dubbed the clash of the underdogs he still has the energy and passion to drive Greece, who like Costa Rica are seeking to reach the QF for the first time.


World Cup Bet:

Holland to win and both teams to score is 4/1.

The Dutch to beat Mexico 3-1 is a tempting 18/1.

Costa Rica v Greece could be a slog so a draw at 90 minutes at 2/1 is prudent;  1-1 is 11/2  and 2-2 20/1.


World Cup moment:

It’s argued that Holland’s 1974 team were the best side never to win a World Cup.

They couldn’t have got off to a better start though when English referee Jack Taylor awarded them a penalty in the first minute of the final. It was converted by Neeskens but Germany, led by Frank Beckenbauer, bounced back to win 2-1.

The Dutch also lost the 1978 final but perhaps now is the time to show they can at last be champions…



Calcio Finito!
Lessons to be Learnt from Italian Football’s Decline

by Rob Shepherd.


Balotelli and friends were a distant second-best to Atletico Madrid

Twenty years ago AC Milan trounced Barcelona 4-0 to lift the European Cup.

Last week Milan were dumped out of the Champions League having been humiliated 4-1 by Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium.

Chelsea target Diego Costa scored twice as Atletico, who have made this season’s La Liga a three-horse title race, prevailed 5-1 on aggregate.

It was convincing and poignant as Italy’s only representatives in the knockout stage of the Champions League fell at the first hurdle.

But back in 1994 Italian football was THE big league in Europe.

Although Italy would lose the World Cup final that summer on penalties to Brazil, Serie A was where the big money was and where most of the big world stars played as it had been for most of the previous three decades.

The Premier League was in its infancy and globalization of Spanish football was just starting. Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona had won the European Cup for the first time two years earlier but the revolution of a team which had a young Pep Guardiola in its midfield hadn’t really taken off – as that resounding defeat at the hands of a Milan side managed by Fabio Capello showed.


Desailly celebrates after putting a giant cherry on top of Milan’s cake by scoring the fourth goal in a 4-0 demolition of Barca in the 1994 final

But two decades on how the tables have turned.

Across the board the big money is in the Premier League and La Liga.

The dour DNA of Italian football lost the battle for global TV audiences a long time ago to the Premier League and La Liga.

And even domestic TV audiences, which clubs rely on for the bulk of their income, are falling.

Attendances at matches continue to decline, not least because of hooliganism and issues of racism which in turn drive away sponsors. It just shows how the bubble can burst.

The English game has confronted and overcome many of the issues which Italy failed to address when their game was living high on the hog.

It’s getting so bad over there that there may come a time when the likes of Milan, Juventus, Inter and Napoli may push for a breakaway European Super League.

At the moment that prospect is not attractive to English clubs.

But Serie A’s current strife is a warning to the big Premier League clubs of complacency and the perils of treating core supporters with contempt, not least over ticket prices.



Do or Die for Ajax & The Bhoys

Celtic will be without the instrumental Kris Commons for the visit of Dutch masters Ajax. Commons injured his hamstring during the 1-1 draw at Hibernian on Saturday, and his loss is a blow for boss Neil Lennon.


Winger Boerrigter recently signed for Celtic from Ajax but will miss out due to injury

Celtic are already without the services of skipper Scott Brown who is suspended after his dismissal against Barcelona. Adam Matthews (shoulder) and former Ajax man Derk Boerrigter (ankle) are also ruled out, while there are doubts over Mikael Lustig (hip) and Emilio Izaguirre (illness).

“We don’t think it’s a tear, but if it is a strain it’s a couple of weeks, so it’s definitely not looking good for Tuesday. Losing Kris is a huge blow. He has been fantastic for us this season” Lennon said.

“He’s at the top of his game and in great physical condition, so if he is out it will be a big loss.”

With neither side registering a victory in Group H yet this is very much a must-win game for both sides if either is to realistically challenge for a place in the first knockout round. Indeed both teams will be looking to take six points off the other over the next two rounds of matches and then hope to get a win against either Milan or Barca to take them to nine points – which may still not be enough.

In effect this is Celtic’s easiest game in a group of no easy games.

“We can’t lose it, put it that way,” said Lennon.

“We are four points worse off in the group than we were at this stage last season. We have a bit of work to do.”

Frank De Boer’s side come into this game also on the back of a 1-1 away draw, having taken a point at FC Twente in the Eredivisie on Saturday. Niklas Moisander sat out that encounter but is expected to be fit to face the Bhoys.

If You Know Your History…

Ajax won the clubs’ first encounter in the 1970/71 European Cup quarter-finals en route to lifting the trophy for the first time. Johan Cruyff, Barrie Hulshoff and Piet Keizer scored in a 3-0 first-leg win in Amsterdam, with Jimmy Johnstone’s solitary goal in the return not enough for Celtic.

But Celtic got revenge a decade later by dumping Ajax out of the first round of the same competition after two memorable games, with Celtic current first-team coach Danny McGrain playing in both matches.

The first leg had a frenetic start with four goals in the first half an hour, the Danish duo of Jesper Olsen and Soren Lerby on target for the visitors, scoring either side of a Charlie Nicholas penalty kick. Frank McGarvey equalised for the home side on 29 minutes but that turned out to be the final goal of the first leg.

Sept 15th 1982, Celtic Park   CELTIC 2-2 AJAX

Goals: Olsen (5) 0-1, Nicholas (14, Pen) 1-1, Lerby (19) 1-2, McGarvey (29) 2-2.

Att: 56,299


Pat Bonner – Thomas McAdam, Danny McGrain, David Moyes, Mark Reid – Tommy Burns, Murdo MacLeod, Paul McStay – Frank McGarvey, Charlie Nicholas, David Provan
Manager: Billy McNeill


Hans Galjé – Peter Boeve, Keje Molenaar, Edo Ophof, Gerald Vanenburg – Johan Cruyff, Sören Lerby, Jan Mölby, Jesper Olsen, Dick Schoenaker – Leo van Veen
Coach: Aad de Mos

Celtic went on to win 1-2 in Amsterdam a fortnight later to progress 4-3 on aggregate with George McCluskey scoring a last minute winner moments after Cruyff had gone off to a rapturous ovation. Charlie Nicholas had given Celtic the lead with a glorious chip in the first half before Vanenburg equalised after 65 minutes.


Celtic’s David Moyes gets stuck in on Jesper Olsen of Ajax

It was the stuff of fairytales for McCluskey, which  was topped-off afterwards as he recalls here; “I remember going into their dressing room after the game trying to swap my jersey but every one of them had their heads down. They all said no, and told me to get out, but as I was going out Cruyff was lying having a massage on the table.

“He shouted on me, took his top off and said he would swap with me because I scored a great goal. I didn’t want any of the other tops after that, I got the main man’s…”

All in all it was a memorable night for Scottish football as all four clubs in Europe progressed; Rangers defeated Borussia Dortmund, Dundee United knocked out PSV Eindhoven and Aberdeen went through against Dinamo Tirana – Those were the days…



De Jong is a danger-man

CELTIC:  6/4   DRAW:  11/5   AJAX:  15/8

Selected Bets;

Correct Score:

Celtic 2-2 Ajax:  14/1

Celtic 1-0: 15/2

Come From Behind & Win:  Celtic – 17/2  Ajax  10/1

First Scorer:

Samaras – 7/1   De Jong- 15/2


Odds courtesy of William Hill


World Record Transfer Fees: Johan Cruyff (1973)


All was not as it appeared in the summer of 1973 when Ajax of Amsterdam, winners of the last three European Cups, were in pre-season training. The new coach, George Knobel, asked the players to select the team captain for the new season. The great Johan Cruyff, last year’s captain, got seven votes – but Piet Keizer received twelve.

“Cruyff was furious” said teammate Jan Mulder. “To have his authority undermined like that was a deep insult. I saw it in his eyes. As soon as the question was put, he wanted to leave Ajax…”

Cruyff pretended he was OK with what had happened, but he wasted no time in calling his agent, saying; “You have to call Barcelona immediately. I’m leaving here”.

Cruyff’s move to Barcelona brought an end to Ajax’s golden age (they’d have to wait 22 years to win the European Cup again) but the arrival of Cruyff was the moment Barca entered the arena of modern football.

For two decades Real Madrid had dominated Spanish football, with the genius of Di Stefano as a catalyst. In that time Real Madrid had won 13 league titles to Barca’s 2, the last of which came in 1960. 13 years was too long to go without a league title and they desperately needed to build a team capable of challenging Real Madrid.

Barcelona paid Ajax $1million (£922,000), setting a new world record transfer fee at that time. Bureaucratic problems meant Cruyff didn’t take to the field of play for two months. When he finally lined-up, Barcelona were bottom of the league, but his influence was immediate. He scored twice on his debut in a 4-0 rout of Granada.

Barcelona wouldn’t lose another league match that season, the undisputed highlight of which was a historical 0-5 victory against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

That victory was (and still is) hugely celebrated. It meant much more than just a victory against a title challenger. Catalonians had suffered under Franco’s dictatorship, their language and culture was forbidden and they’d always felt that Real Madrid was favoured by the regime. And now they had thrashed their biggest rivals in their house of worship.

Cruyff scored an incredible goal against Atlético Madrid when he jumped high to hit with his right foot a ball that was going out. The so called “phantom goal” earned them a 2-1 victory that would gave Barcelona the lead in La Liga, a lead they would hold onto until the end of the season, winning the league title eight points ahead of Atlético Madrid.

In the 5 years that Cruyff stayed in Barcelona the club emerged from the shadows achieving international recognition as one of the world’s biggest clubs.

But the significance of Cruyff was greater than that. Cruyff stole the hearts of the Catalonian people in what were dark times. Cruyff was seen as an icon of the country, a feeling that grew when he named his son Jordi, after the patron saint of Catalonia and a name that was forbidden at that time in Spain. Cruyff changed FC Barcelona as a player – and he’d do it again years later as a manager.

by Karl Hofer


STYLE ICON – Johan Cruyff


I remember with total clarity the moment I decided Johan Cruyff was the coolest bloke on the planet.

It was during the World Cup in 1974, and The Daily Mirror had been dispatched to visit him for a profile piece. Cruyff had just performed his legendary Cruyff Turn, the most audacious dribbling trick of all time, and the world’s press had dubbed him “Pythagoras in boots” because of his style, philosophy and massive footballing brain.

I don’t even remember what he said. But I do remember every little detail of the picture.

As you do between crucial World Cup matches, Cruyff decided not on extra training under the cruel German sun, but instead opted for a relaxed game of cards, a ciggie and a bumper glass of iced Martini Rosso.

Holland’s George Best wore a low-cut, plain black V-neck jumper, worn with nothing underneath, and a giant pair of porn star sunglasses.

Legs astride a bar stool covered in cards and piles of money, he wore cream flares and black leather flip flops, while a rectangular silver pendant hung nonchalantly from a chunky silver chain. But the accessory that topped them all was a fat, white continental ciggie, elegantly dangling from the corner of his couldn’t-care-less mouth.

If Adidas did Steve McQueen, this man was it. Cruyff was Richard Ashcroft while he was still in nappies. And just like the way Cruyff played the game, he made it look so, well, effortless. Never mind total football: this guy was total cool.CruyffStyleIcon

Holland may well have ended up the perennial under-achievers in ‘74, but in the style stakes, JC was untouchable.

There was commercial worth in this, and so it was that five years later in 1979, while playing in Barcelona, Cruyff teamed up with Italian designer Emilio Lazzarini and released his own clothing label, Cruyff Sports. Their bread and butter were classic sneakers, although there were also a few dodgy shell suits, worn by Marco Van Basten and Denis Bergkamp (but please don’t hold that against him).

Over the following years, Cruyff nailed the Burberry trench coat look, totally owned the black polo neck – never easy unless you’re a black jazz pianist or a secret agent – made oversized man bags musthaves and was the only man ever to wear an Adidas tracksuit top zipped down to midships with a bare chest underneath and not look like a drug dealer. Hell, he even looked good in floral shirts and flares the size of yachting sails.

But the pinnacle was when he opened the Cruyff Shoetique in Amsterdam. That’s right, not boutique, but Shoe-tique.

Selling premium, hand-made Italian loafers in luxe materials like lizard skin and with genuine silver clasps, they’re the most stylish item designed by any footballer, ever. Rare as rocking horse manure, they occasionally pop up on ebay and are known to reduce grown men of a certain age to tears.

Mark Powell is a Soho tailor par excellence.