Soccer coaching tips on adapting Total Football

The legacy of Total Football: Ajax manager Jack Reynolds was an English footballer who moved to The Netherlands during the outbreak of the First World War.

His innovative football formation was the basis for Ajax’s first eight league title successes. Rinus Michels further developed the concept for the Dutch national team during the 1970s.


  • The original foundation of Total Football is that any outfield player can replace any other in the starting XI, enabling greater fluidity and making it much more difficult to be caught out of position.
  • Arsenal and Barcelona now implement this in their current line-ups where they play 4-3-3 formations. Most of their players are able to operate in the variety of front six positions when counter attacking.
  • It means the opposition can rarely relax and, more often than not, find themselves relinquishing possession.


Key elements

  • Total Football is about filling empty spaces on the pitch, forcing the opposition into pressed, tight situations in any area of open play.
  • The ball retention and movement of players in possession has to be fluid and effective at all times.
  • The ability to confuse defences is also paramount. This is done by keeping the ball on the ground as often as possible, creating diversions, and opening up multiple passing options, with an exchange of players across all positions a key element.
  • Barcelona’s interpretation of Total Football is as much about ball movement as it is interchanging positions.


The idea that any outfield player can adopt the position of any other is Total Football’s strength. Its versatility creates a monopoly of the ball because players aren’t tied to the position, and a monopoly of the ball implies, in almost all cases, a monopoly of goalscoring opportunities.

This formation advice is taken from Soccer Coach Weekly.

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