Total Football : Meaning, Historical Background and Theory 

In this article, we will take a closer look at the meaning, origin, historical background and tactical theory of total football. 

Any outfield player can assume the role of any other player in a team under the association football tactical method known as “Total Football.” Although the Dutch club Ajax and the Netherlands national football team are generally credited with inventing this system in the 1970s, other teams had previously played similarly, including the Austrian Wunderteam of the 1930s, English club Sunderland in the middle of the 1930s, the Argentine side “La Maquina” of River Plate in the 1940s, the Golden Team of Hungary in the 1950s, English team Burnley in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the Brazilian team

What is the meaning of Total Football? 

Total Football is a fluid strategic playing theory in which any outfield player can assume the role of any other member of the team. It is arguably the most influential football style in the history of the sport. For there to be a fluid system in which no outfield player has a defined position, total football must be created. Any player may switch between defense, midfield, and attack; the custodian is the only one who is expected to play the entire game in a fixed position.


The tactical and coaching approaches used in the beautiful game are extremely diverse. To win the ball in high positions, certain teams engage in ferocious counter-pressing. Others use a direct approach, relying on the force of long balls and forceful set-piece play. The idea of Total Football is one tactical blueprint that has had a significant, long-lasting influence on the sport. When it was initially presented, it was revolutionary, and its influence can still be seen today.

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What is the historical background of Total Football? 

Jimmy Hogan, a native of Burnley who pioneered the continent, built the original foundations for Total Football. Hugo Meisl’s Austrian national football squad (also known as the “Wunderteam”) may have been the first team to play Total Football thanks to their collaboration with an Austrian coach and their friends in the early 1930s. Hogan’s impact extended beyond the borders of Austria, as Gusztáv Sebes, the head coach of the Hungarian national team (also known as the “Golden Team”), employed a similar system of play two decades later.

Torino was another squad that played similarly to the Austrians, around 1940. The “La Máquina” (The Machine) team, comprised of Carlos Munoz, José Manuel Moreno, Adolfo Pedernera, Ngel Labruna, and Félix Loustau, perfected the “false nine” style and the continual switching of attack positions between 1941 and 1947 for the Argentinian club River Plate. Numerous Argentine and international awards went to “La Máquina.”

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What is the tactical theory of Total Football?

Any outfield player can take the part of any other team member under the tactical playing philosophy known as “Total Football” in football. Since any player can transition between playing as an attacker, midfielder, or defender at any time throughout the game, it produces a fluid tactical system in which no outfield player is stuck in their designated role. The only player whose position is permanent for the duration of the game is the custodian. When a player leaves their position in Total Football, their team immediately replaces them with another player, strengthening the organizational structure of the team. It encourages the idea that “no one part is bigger than the whole of the team” and is usually played quickly to outsmart the other side.

The Netherlands national team popularized Total Football in the years leading up to their appearance in the 1974 World Cup final, which they ultimately lost to West Germany. However, the ability and fluidity of every football player in the squad, as well as their capacity to switch places swiftly and appropriately based on the happenings on the pitch, are nearly entirely responsible for the success of the Total Football ideology. The theory calls for players to be at ease playing in more than one position (rather than merely their traditional, fixed position, as is typically the case), necessitating players who are highly skillful, flexible, and versatile.

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