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Spain vs. Netherlands: a 'total football' face-off?

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2010-07-11

Will the influence of Dutch footballing legend Johan Cruyff and his "total football" style, which has been adopted by the Spanish team, be evident in Sunday's all-European World Cup final between La Roja and the Netherlands?

The face-off between Spain and the Netherlands in the all-European 2010 World Cup final will feature two countries with much in common, at least where footballing style is concerned. If Barcelona's football club is the clear inspiration for the kind of play favoured by Spain’s national team, Barça itself is heir to a system that originated in the Netherlands.

Of the field of Spanish players that defeated Germany in their semi-final match on July 7, six have played for Barcelona. A style of football peculiar to the Netherlands was instilled early on in players Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique and Pedro, as well as Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, who trained in Catalonia.

At the heart of the kind of football played by these men is Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff, considered one of the best players in the history of the sport.

Cruyff incarnates the “total football” method of play – which uses a fluid configuration that sees players switching positions on the field depending on the situation and demands of a particular match – employed by Amsterdam’s Ajax team and the Netherlands' national team in the 1970s. In total football, defenders can move up to attack and try to score, while strikers can move back to play defence.

Guardiola, heir to Cruyff

After leading Ajax to the forefront of European football, Cruyff played for Barça with Dutch teammate Johan Neeskens. Later, as Barça’s manager, Cruyff was credited for coaching the team to its first European Cup title in 1992. Total football, with its constant movement of players on the field, was seen as key to that success.

Though cardiac problems eventually interfered with Cruyff’s career, his influence remains strong. One of his heirs is none other than Josep Guardiola, Barça’s current coach, who was Cruyff’s protege in the 1990s.

If Guardiola’s team has no Dutch players on it today, Spain has nevertheless been friendly territory for the Dutch when it comes to football.

Barça had nine Dutch players when Dutch manager Louis van Gaal took the reins of the team in 1997. And Dutch footballers Mark Van Bommel and Giovanni van Bronckhorst helped Barça bring home the Champions League title in 2006 before moving on to other football adventures. The head of that team? Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard.

Furthermore, the best Dutch player of this World Cup, Wesley Sneijder, was playing barely a season ago for Real Madrid, alongside teammates Rafael Van der Vaart and Arjen Robben (who has since joined the ranks of Bayern Munich). Young striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar also wore the Real Madrid kit during the 2008-2009 season.

Sunday’s match indeed promises to be a climactic reckoning in which the Spanish team will face off against their football soulmates from the north.


Date created : 2010-07-09

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