Project Totaal Voetbal (FM11)

This is a piece from a few years ago, as the title suggests, but a lot of the content still applies today. It was based around creating a tactic that could be downloaded, but I feel its still of value as a piece of reading. I’d also love to hear about any attempts of Total Football that have been attempted, and hopefully this can spark that discussion.

This hasn’t been updated since FM11, so the writing may be of a slightly lower quality and there may be some oddities. Even if you don’t fancy reading the article I still highly recommend watching the YouTube video. It’s incredible.

– – –

Hi guys, and welcome to my Project Totaal Voetbal, or Total Football for those of you who don’t speak basic Dutch. Total Football has been hailed as the Holy Grail for Football Manager tacticians, and I heard it was just a bit of a challenge to re-create the pure fluidity of the Dutch national side of ’74 and the Ajax sides of the early 1970s. Well, I thought I’d take the challenge.

My aims when creating the tactic were simply these:
• To re-create the fluidity of the Dutch National Team from 1974.
• To complete the above with maximal success, in terms of results.
• To be able to make an exact comparison between the roles and duties of the players in my tactics, and the Dutch players who fulfilled those roles back in the ‘70s.

I said “simply” then, and that was probably the wrong word, as nothing to do with this tactic is simple – far from it. And those aims are also far from simple, and as per usual, I’ve done hours and hours, days and days of research into the tactic to put every ounce of detail into it and achieve these aims.

By the way, this tactic is only applicable for teams that are physically and technically able to play it. Don’t come and complain when your team gets relegated after the media predicted a 17th place finish.

Note: If you don’t want to read this lot, you don’t have to, in order to do well with the tactic – but it will certainly help if you want to make little tweaks.

Also remember that Part 3 is probably the most important to you, as it tells you which players to play where, so if you’re only going to read one part of this article – read Part 3.

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Part 1: An Introduction to Totaal Voetbal


Highly recommend watching that video – beautiful stuff

Total Football (Dutch: Totaal Voetbal) is the label given to an influential tactical theory of association football in which any outfield player can take over the role of any other player on the team. It was used by the Dutch football club Ajax from 1969 to 1973, and further by the Netherlands National Football Team at the 1974 FIFA World Cup.

In Total Football, a player who moves out of position is replaced by another member of the team, thus retaining the team’s intended organisational structure. In this fluid system, no outfield player is fixed in a nominal role; anyone can be successively an attacker, a midfielder and a defender. The only player fixed in a nominal position is the goalkeeper.

Total Football’s tactical success depends largely on the adaptability of each footballer within the team, in particular the ability to quickly switch positions depending on the on-field situation. The theory requires players to be comfortable in multiple positions; hence, it places high technical and physical demands on them.

Dutch forward Johan Cruyff was the system’s most famous exponent. Although Cruyff was fielded as a centre forward, he wandered all over the pitch, popping up wherever he could do most damage to the opposing team. This resulted in a need for a dynamic system like Total Football. Cruyff’s teammates adapted themselves flexibly around his movements, regularly switching positions so that the tactical roles in the team were always filled.

The term ‘Total Football’ is often mis-used to describe any fluid attacking football. In its purest form, Total Football is based on positional interchange and hard pressing. The Arsenal FC and FC Barcelona tactics of the modern day have been likened to ‘Total Football’, although is commonly known as ‘tika-taka’, a tactic with roots to the tactic created by Rimus Michels and Johan Cruyff.

Part 2: Totaal Voetbal in Football Manager

Part 2.1: Formation

As you may be able to tell, the formation that I’ve created is slightly different to that which I’ve shown you in the picture above. That’s for one simple reason – it allows the team to play Total Football in the FM Match Engine, as well as being successful.

Having a sweeper and an offside trap (which is an extraordinarily complex concept developed in Totaal Voetbal) just isn’t possible in Football Manager. Actually, I tell a lie, it is possible. But you’ll end up playing as if you’ve got one defender and four holding midfielders – not exactly what you want, really, is it?

This is essentially how the formation plays in Football Manager. As you can see, the key man, in the Cruyff role, drops back into a position which allows him to get plenty of possession of the ball, whilst also allowing players to overlap him.

The players that do this are the CM and the RB and LB who all bomb forward (as do all the players, effectively, but these are the most prominent). Despite popular belief, Johan Neeskens was not the most defensive of the midfield trio that occupied the centre-piece of Totaal Voetbal, he was in fact the most attacking, and often found himself as the team’s top goalscorer. This is replicated in the tactic.

Part 2.2: Team Instructions

The team instructions [and the whole tactic in general] are built around making the most accurate representation in the Football Manager Match Engine, as to how the Total Football tactic operated in real life.

Obviously, anyone who’s seen any Total Football, or indeed watched the YouTube video earlier in this post, will know what the Philosophy and Starting Strategy should be. The Very Fluid philosophy is backed up by the fact that players are constantly swapping positions, far too much for just a fluid tactic. The tactic is also very attacking, and therefore, surprisingly, merits the Attacking Starting Strategy.

The passing style is kept short, so the side is capable of maintaining possession, where it is far more dangerous. Obviously the players are told to be more expressive, as they were back in the Dutch 1974 days. This increases the amount of player-position swaps dramatically, which can be juxtaposed to real life.

Totaal Voetbal was aggressive in defense and attack and as you can see from the very first bit of the YouTube video, above, the pressing of the Dutch team is beautiful to watch, it’s so extreme. The tackling was also hard and rough, proven by the fact the Dutch were regularly [near or] on top of the disciplinarian charts.

The system did not have a marking system, as such, and because of this, I’ve assumed they used man marking, as zonal marking was developed at a later date. Roaming is fairly obviously set to the maximal setting as we want players getting out of position as much as possible.

The defensive line of the Totaal Voetbal side was extremely high, possibly too high. But as they were the first side to bring the idea of an offside trap to football, you can see why they pushed up so much. Therefore, the defensive line on Football Manager is as high as it can possibly be. This is aided by the Sweeper Keeper used in the tactic, which was sometimes known as “the fifth defender”.

Width-wise, the Dutch side were not really extraordinary, like so many other areas of their creation were. The wingers would drag the full backs out wide creating space for Cruyff and Neeskens to bomb through and get the majority of the team’s goals, and if the defenders didn’t pull out wide, then the aforementioned players could just spray the ball out wide, which they did to great effect. This has been replicated in Football Manager by not making the tactic too wide, but still allowing for a large amount of width.

The tempo of the Totaal Voetbal tactic is not exactly difficult to figure out. Despite playing short passing football, the tactic was very quick, and often triangles of one-touch football were made (something I think I’ve recreated very well in the Match Engine) – therefore, the tempo is quick.

The rest of the specific instructions speak for themselves. The tactic didn’t time waste or counter attack, and obviously did play the offside trap. Sorted.

Part 2.3: Roles and Duties

Obviously the basis of any tactic is the roles and duties you give to your players, and here are the ones I’ve assigned to the players in the Totaal Voetbal tactic.

Goalkeeper – Sweeper Keeper – Support

Defender Right – Wing Back – Support
Defender Centre Right – Ball Playing Defender – Defend
Defender Centre Left – Ball Playing Defender – Defend
Defender Left – Wing Back – Support

Midfielder Centre Right – Box to Box Midfielder – Support
Midfielder Centre – Box to Box Midfielder – Support
Midfielder Centre Left – Box to Box Midfielder – Support

Striker Right – Defensive Winger – Attack
Striker – Complete Forward – Support
Striker Left – Defensive Winger – Attack

As you can see, I’ve got some interesting things in there, and some of it is simply standard. I’ll go through the interesting stuff, as you’re probably bored to death right now.

At the back, I’ve got two ball playing defenders in the middle. This is so they get involved, and generally means that they have more freedom to attack and get forwards, resulting in more positional swaps – which is what we want.

Another interesting area of the Roles and Duties is that we’ve got three (yes, three) box-to-box midfielders in the centre. The MCR and MCL actually play exactly the same role, just in different areas of the pitch, and they generally float around between the RB and RW (or the LB and LW, in the MCL’s case). The CM, as I’ve said previously, is essentially the most attacking of the midfield three and therefore plays the same role (so that he is involved in defense and attack), but is set to play more attacking than the other two.

Now for the most interesting bit – two Defensive Wingers set to Attack. This seems strange, but it is the setting that most likens to how Rensenbrink and Rep played those roles in real life. Despite the Attack setting, the wingers often drop back, and the attacking wing backs after often seen overlapping them (despite only being on Support setting!).

The striker is also set to Complete Forward, and not Trequarista or Deep Lying Forward (like you would think the “drop-back-deep-to-get-the-ball” Cruyff role should be), but Complete Forward – Support seems to work far better.

I’m also not going to go into the Complex Player Instructions, as they don’t change loads from the roles the players have been assigned.

Part 3: Positional Analaysis – which players go where?

This section is going to be for me to tell you what sort of players you want in each of the different roles for the tactic.

Goalkeeper – Sweeper Keeper – Support
Pepe Reina
Hugo Lloris
Steve Mandanda

The Sweeper Keeper is needed to sweep up any of the balls that are hit over the top of the extremely high defensive line, or to deal with any potentially pacy strikers. They need the following attributes:

Acceleration, Agility, Composure, Concentration, Creativity, Decisions, Pace and Positioning.

Right Back – Wing Back – Support
Daniel Alves
Bakary Sagna
Mattia Cassani

The right back needs to have the physical ability to get up and down the line, whilst also having the technical ability to keep possession and whip in a pin perfect cross when it is needed. They need the following attributes:

Acceleration, Crossing, Decisions, Marking, Positioning, Stamina, Tackling, Teamwork and Work Rate.

Central Defender – Ball Playing Defender – Defend
Gerard Pique
Jan Vertonghen
Majid Bougherra

The job of the ball playing defender is to break up attacks, and clear when ball when required. However, unlike regular centre backs, ball playing defenders are encouraged to keep the ball, and panic less, than regular. They need the following attributes:

Composure, Concentration, Creativity, Decisions, Determination, Heading, Jumping, Marking, Passing, Positioning, Strength, Tackling and Technique.

Left Back – Wing Back – Support
Patrice Evra
Leighton Baines
David Alaba

The right back needs to have the physical ability to get up and down the line, whilst also having the technical ability to keep possession and whip in a pin perfect cross when it is needed. They need the following attributes:

Acceleration, Crossing, Decisions, Marking, Positioning, Stamina, Tackling, Teamwork and Work Rate.

Central Midfielder Left and Right – Box to Box Midfielder – Support
Arturo Vidal
Ramires
Darren Fletcher

The box-to-box midfielder is hugely important because he contributes to both attack and defense. In attack, he arrives late into the box, providing that extra option. And in defense, he harries the opposition midfielders, creating an extra defensive line. They need the following attributes:

Acceleration, Anticipation, Bravery, Decisions, Determination, Dribbling, Finishing, First Touch, Heading, Long Shots, Marking, Passing, Off the Ball, Positioning, Stamina, Strength and Technique.

Central Midfielder – Box to Box Midfielder – Support
Marek Hamsik
Javier Pastore
Mesut Ozil

The central position is slightly more aggressive, and that’s why I’ve given it a new category. All in all though, it is very similar to the previous position, although will be found in attacking situations more. They need the following attributes:

Acceleration, Anticipation, Bravery, Decisions, Determination, Dribbling, Finishing, First Touch, Heading, Long Shots, Marking, Passing, Off the Ball, Positioning, Stamina, Strength and Technique.

Right Winger – Defensive Winger – Attack
Antonio Valencia
Arjen Robben
Thomas Muller

Please note, that you don’t need a defensive winger in this role. Whilst testing I used a whole host of different players who worked effectively in this role such as Theo Walcott, Carlos Tevez, Mauro Zarate, Fernando Torres and Ashley Young and all have played well there. I’d suggest at least one of your wingers is an all-rounder, whilst the other could afford to be more attacking-oriented.

The defensive winger aims to press the opposition fullback, and provide “defense from the front”. With the attack duty, though, the defensive winger will look to get involved in attacking plays as well, often getting multiple crosses in per game. They need the following attributes:

Crossing, Decisions, Dribbling, Marking, Pace, Stamina, Tackling, Teamwork, Technique and Work Rate.

Striker – Complete Forward – Support
Wayne Rooney
Giuseppe Rossi
Luis Suarez

A complete forward, is pretty much that, a forward that is complete. They’re confident at all areas of the game, and are equally adept at creating chances for the team as they are at finishing them. The Johan Cruyff of the team is obviously the key man and has been created in the tactic, as such. So if you’re going to use the tactic, you’d need this player to be one of your best. They need the following attributes:

Acceleration, Agility, Anticipation, Balance, Composure, Creativity, Decisions, Determination, Dribbling, Finishing, First Touch, Heading, Long Shots, Jumping, Off the Ball, Pace, Passing, Strength, Teamwork and Technique.

Left Winger – Defensive Winger – Attack
Gareth Bale
Robinho
Andres Iniesta

Please note, that you don’t need a defensive winger in this role. Whilst testing I used a whole host of different players who worked effectively in this role such as Adam Johnson, Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, David Villa and Stevan Jovetic and all have played well there. I’d suggest at least one of your wingers is an all-rounder, whilst the other could afford to be more attacking-oriented.

The defensive winger aims to press the opposition fullback, and provide “defense from the front”. With the attack duty, though, the defensive winger will look to get involved in attacking plays as well, often getting multiple crosses in per game. They need the following attributes:

Crossing, Decisions, Dribbling, Marking, Pace, Stamina, Tackling, Teamwork, Technique and Work Rate.

Part 4: Testing and Match Engine Analysis

As I’ve already talked about the majority of this lot, and you’re bored to death after 2000 words of bullshit, I’ll put the pictures up and do a little explanation of what they are. It’s mainly to show you that my positional transitions, which are key to Total Football, do actually work.

This picture shows Ashley Young (who is playing on the left wing) with the ball in the centre of the pitch. Wayne Rooney, who is occupying the Johan Cruyff role, realises this is happening and steps out to the left wing to stretch the defense on the far side and allow Ashley Young more space as well as more options.

Steven Gerrard is playing as the Number 6 in this situation, and is in the MC role. This is an example of where he is pushed up, and occupies the opposition right back. This is so effective because Aaron Lennon (#10) has so much space, and eventually Ashley Young does ship the ball out to Lennon.

Contrary to how this looks, it isn’t a free kick. After a throw in was taken, John Terry stepped over to “help out” and is now covered in the centre by left back (#3) Ashley Cole – what a nice chap. Notice that #2 (Micah Richards – right back) in this scenario, is also covering Rio Ferdinand who has gone forward, and Steven Gerrard has dropped back to cover the right back slot.

This time, we’re up against Wales, but it’s another great example of positional transitions. The two men that stay back this time are Ashley Cole (#3) and Rio Ferdinand (#4). Ashley Cole comes across from his usual left back slot to cover John Terry (#5) and Glen Johnson (#2) who have made forward runs.

The End.

# # #

DOWNLOAD LINK TO THE TACTIC AND SCHEDULES CAN BE FOUND HERE (note: FM11):
Tactic
Schedules

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11 comments

    • Eds

      Yeah I agree. They were direct in their play but in terms of FM instructions, there’s no doubt short passing/quick tempo was the way to go.

    • Eds

      Yes, unfortunately it is mate. The content and ideas remain the same though, so you’re welcome to try and re-create it in FM13.

      • Eds

        Nice one. Would love to see it. It’s truly a joy to behold in the match engine on FM11, if you get it right.

      • Poma

        Well the engine in FM12 isn’t that good I think in re-make tactics…I’ve had so many problems to get tactics right but I’ll have a go at this one. I only have one working 4-2-3-1 (deep) for Chelsea that works like a charm.
        Will get back to ya’ when this one is ready to use. 😀

  1. Elli (@elliath21)

    Absolutely brilliant post, Eds!
    Unfortunately I currently don’t have team that could pull it off. But I’m thinking of recreating it with Barca or some national team just for the fun doing it. I might even try to make it with libero.

  2. Adem

    Wow, Great article.

    Is there an FM 13 version of this? Would really like to try it. I tried the FM11 tactic on FM 13, and there wasn’t much interchanging and what not. Mostly because the tactic suited to the FM11 game engine.

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