Tiki-taka to Total Football: Tactics which changed the game

One of football’s most overused cliches is ‘90% of sport is mental’. Now whilst seeing Messi using speed, technique and flair to hammer teams week in week out might make you disagree, there is an aspect of truth.

It’s no understatement to say that tactically advanced teams hold an advantage. So let’s have a look at some of the most successful tactical masterpieces ever to be chalked up.

Total Football

Rinus Michels’ ‘totaalvoetbal’ revolutionised football tactics throughout the 1960’s and 70’s during his tenure with both Ajax and the Netherlands squad. In principle it was simple: any player was trained to play in any position.

It’s strength was that it completely destroyed the defensive ‘catenaccio’ style of play at the time, based on close man-marking. Michels’ team could change at will, confusing defenders who were man-marking and creating space to attack. In defense, the team would press as one fluid unit.

Rinus Michels

Michels’ system propelled Ajax to three consecutive European Cups (1971, 1972, 1973). It worked so well for the Dutch National Team that they were dubbed the ‘Clockwork Orange’ and took them to the final of both the 1974 and 1978 Word Cup.


One of Total Football’s greatest sons, Johan Cruyff, would later become a pioneer of our next great tactic – tiki-taka. Popularised under Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, the key to tiki-taka was a team small in height, but great in presence. With only Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique the two regulars over 6ft, Barcelona used nimble players to weave intricate passes through other teams. Passing and player movement were the basis for ┬áPep’s team who proved that height is not needed if the opponent can’t get near the ball.

Tiki-taka’s peak lead to European success for Barcelona, as well as a European Championship for Spain, followed by a World Cup in 2010. Eventually, tiki-taka was shut down with a tactic which has gone on to be used by teams today-the counter-attack.

Photos licensed for reuse:Google images