Johan Cruyff, the legendary Dutch player and former manager of Barcelona, was once asked his thoughts on the footballing philosophy known as “total football”. The man, who is arguably the biggest proponent of the football tactic, replied: “Attackers could play as defenders and defenders as attackers. Everyone could play everywhere.”
Total football is an attack-oriented strategy (not counter-attacking) where players have no definite position. With the exception of the goalkeeper, everybody is allowed to play anywhere on the field. Coordination, spacing, and player movement are the key elements of total soccer.
The strategy was championed by the Dutch World Cup teams of the 70’s, which featured Johan Cruyff. Once the player turned manager with Barcelona, Cruyff took elements of the philosophy and created his own tactic which became known as “tiki-taka”.
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal would now be considered the torch-bearer of the footballing philosophy.
But there is another version of “total football” being played right now in Spain.
It’s not the free-flowing spectacle witnessed by fans in the 70’s or the beautifully-dominate Barcelona sides of the 2000’s.
This new version has been masterminded by Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone and it requires total commitment and total effort from every member of his squad. His philosophy calls for his players to live “game by game”, or better yet, second by second.
Simeone’s side will hit you with wave after wave of players fighting and defending for their cause. For the most part Atletico will concede possession to teams, only to hit them hard on the counter-attack or wait for an opportunity to score from set-pieces and corners.
There is not much that is “beautiful” about the way Atletico play, it is more of a grind.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Los Colchoneros do not share the same fluid, visually appealing style of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. But the way each person who wears the red and white for Atletico Madrid gives their absolute fullest effort for the club is beautiful.
It’s a team committed to total sacrifice for each other and their manager.
Simeone and Atletico’s ascent has been on display for the past five years. In spite of selling some of their most prized assets, the Atleti have made a Champions League final appearance, won two Europa League titles, two UEFA Super Cups, a Copa del Rey, a La Liga title; and now, a Spanish Super Cup over the last five seasons.