The long lasting impact of the 'total football' Ajax team
I read very recently in AS an article from Javier Hernández looking at the 50th anniversary of Ajax Amsterdam's first European Cup glory, a ground breaking outfit in the history of the sport. For those who remember this team, the Ajax side both surprised and thrilled lovers of the game. It may a flippant comment now, but the extreme thinness of the Ajax players is staggering and they broke the mold from players that preceded them with a look back at players from the 50s and 60s featuring a more robust and beefier type of footballer.
It was deemed at the time that, given football was a contact sport, that being bulkier was preferable. The Ajax team focused on speed and elegance with the Dutch side featuring, tall, slender, youthful players with characteristic long hair. The were tough, nimble and destroyed every team that was put in front of them. I remember the late great Cruyff telling me that the philosophy around the club was: “we suffer in training to enjoy the games”. Johan Cruyff was the star player in a well balanced side featuring solid players who used a game plan of constant movement and interchanging of positions. Every player was talented and could perform in attack or defence irrespective of the wing. It was like having a team of 11 Alfredo Di Stéfanos.
That dynamic manner of playing the game surprised many. We'd already been forewarned in Spain when the national side played a pre World Cup '66 warm-up game against an Ajax team. The Dutch outfit were something of an unknown quantity at the time with the name Ajax more familiar with domestic cleaning products. They outplayed the Spain team who were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw and did little for morale ahead of a poor display in England after being crowned European champions in 1964. As time advanced, we'd soon learn that Ajax were poised to be the new force to be reckoned with in European football. Their brand of playing was called 'total football' and that team changed the way many people looked at the game.