Johan Cruyff has, almost certainly, had more influence on modern football tactics than anyone else. The Dutch system of total football - pioneered by Cruyff and Rinus Michels, his coach at Ajax in the late 60s and early 70s - remains the template from which modern Barcelona play and which many other sides aspire to.
Cruyff brought an evolved, modernised version of total football to Barcelona when he coached the club between 1988 and 1994. Until Pep Guardiola he was the most successful manager in the club’s history, winning four league titles in a row with the ‘Dream Team’. Before Cruyff arrived in 1988 Barcelona were not a major power in Spain. The club had lifted the Spanish title just twice since 1960 and were not producing world class players through their youth system.
The 3-4-3/4-3-3 formation that Cruyff introduced, involving short passing and high intensity pressing, reaped huge rewards and has become the blueprint for all teams at Barcelona. It was allied with an incredible playing squad, undoubtedly, but the influence of Cruyff’s thinking was never in doubt.
The unified youth system which has since then produced so many world class players, also began with Cruyff’s work.
Needless to say, the current Spain, Netherlands, Ajax and Barcelona teams (among many others) owe a huge debt to his work. Almost the entire footballing structure in the Netherlands is based on the success of total football, in one way or another, while the famed tiki-taka of Barcelona and Spain has its roots firmly in the same base.
Such has been the lasting influence of Cruyff and his teachings on the game that the 2010 World Cup final, between his home nation of Holland and adopted nation of Spain, was called “The Cruyff Final” by Roberto Martinez.
In the video below Cruyff is giving a tactical lesson to some colleagues on a Dutch TV show and it makes for an interesting, if brief, insight into one of the greatest footballing minds of all time.