Totaalvoetbal and Are We Overcoaching?

Across the years there have been many great footballing eras. When they came along it represented times when something new and revolutionary was happening, something that would alter the way that football clubs would try and do things from that point.

The most recent era I feel came in with Guardiola’s Barcelona. Guardiola was undoubtedly the beneficiary of some fine ground work from those that came before him, but his quick passing, probing, possession football with an emphasis on winning the ball back quickly through a high press now looks to primarily be the modern blueprint for top sides.

Before this the Italian style of Catenaccio proved effective and saw the big Italian clubs as the dominant force for a period of time. Well organised defensive systems with devastating quick counter-attacking ability. Even with the newer developments with the high press you still see the art of Catenaccio proving effective today. In fact, it is almost the antithesis of the high press and the style of football most likely, carried out correctly, to still frustrate and overcome a dominant high press team enjoying superior possession.


Going even further back we have had Pele’s Brazil who were just….well they were just Brazil and brilliant. It is likely that a modern top team needs to borrow certain aspects from all the great eras.

One of the greatest eras that saw a revolutionary change in the landscape was that of Totaalvoetbal, or better known to most of us as Dutch total football. It is this concept that I wish to touch more upon today. It could be argued that it wasn’t a completely new concept at the time of its recognised development. The great Brazil, Hungarian and Madrid sides preceding this could have been viewed as total footballing sides. However, it certainly became recognised as an entity in its own right in the 70’s, mainly through the Ajax side of Rinus Michels with the great Cruyff (RIP) as its most famous offspring.

Bergkamp & cruyff

I am sure some of our Dutch contingent can add far more to my more limited knowledge on the subject but the basic idea is that you coach a team of highly technically skilled players that can take up the position of any one of their team-mates at any time in the game thus creating a fluid attacking system with interchanging players.

The question I have is – can it still effectively function on its own in the modern game, to the point where other styles and systems need not be considered? Alternatively, does it still have its place in modern football but not in its full purist all-encompassing style that was seen in the 70’s? Can the total football style still be a key component in a modern football club but it is now necessary to know where its effectiveness ends in the modern game?

In today’s game I feel you can still see great merit in this style of coaching, particularly with the academy player’s skill set development. I will put my neck out and state that I feel that Arsene Wenger adheres to its principles in his footballing philosophy and utilises it in the development of our academy players.

I wonder though if we take it too far in this modern era. By this I mean is it now an effective concept in modern top level first team football beyond the development period of the academy player. It seems to me that Arsene frequently carries its concepts into our first team, and even at this point still likes to move certain senior first team players around into different positions.

Personally I feel the 70’s total football concept is excellent for youth development but that, in the modern game, once a player is considered a regular first team player it becomes more important to discern where their key strengths and weaknesses lie and to identify that players best position and then let them then develop their skills further to become as effective as they can in that role.

I have harboured a feeling for a while that we are almost over-coaching many of our more senior young players, beyond the point of where it is useful, and that then it becomes a hindrance to their further development. Are we creating too many Jack of all trades master of none, and does the modern game requires a greater number of specialists than was required back in the 70’s where a greater number of adaptable players was effective?


The player that really comes to mind for me is Oxlade Chamberlain. I feel he has been shunted around too much and we have not found his best position and allowed him to develop into it. This idea could be applied to other players as well and I do wonder if this is why we are seeing the likes of Oxlade Chamberlain seemingly stall, if not go backwards, in their development as a player once they are more regularly in the first team.

Anyway…..Discuss 🙂

Written by GoonerB


59 Responses to Totaalvoetbal and Are We Overcoaching?

  1. chas says:

    Thanks, GoonerB.
    Plenty to chew on there.

    I’m not sure how players can be allowed to express themselves in a Total Football kind of way and then be over-coached at the same time.
    Mind you, tactical critiques never were my strong point. 🙂

  2. RA says:


    Well done to you, or the camel, whoever was responsible for the Post.

    Armed with 3 mugs of coffee, I managed to get through your interesting odyssey of a Post.

    To help, I thought I would repay your kindness in educating me on my lamentable efforts to spell, by précising it for you.

    “Football has evolved, with once revolutionary coaching leading the way into different eras.

    Guardiola improved the Cruyff era Barca’s style with an emphasis on quick passing, possession football with a high press emphasis, and now copied by the top teams.

    The enduring Italian catenaccio style relies on tight defense and counter attacking which has proved effective against other styles and in boring the asses of the fans.

    “Total football” was developed in Holland, taking its roots from earlier Brazilian, Hungarian and Spanish era styles relying on personal skills.

    Does the Dutch style still exist, with its reliance on technically skilled players fluidly interchanging with team mates, and can it function in modern football? Does it form the basis of Wenger’s football ethos?

    A counter opinion is that players are over-coached and become Alex of All Trades.

    An example of this is Oxo, who has played in many positions – well two – winger and attacking midfield. Has this contributed to his career path stalling – or is it his many injury lay-offs and lack of confidence?


    Author: The delectable GoonerB, and his assistant Crichton the Camel.

  3. TotalArsenal says:

    Great post GB 🙂

    No time to discuss the exact status of total football in Europe and at Arsenal, but suffice to say that Bayern and Barca play a modern version of it, with varying levels of discipline and intensity. Arsenal under Wenger play the Rijkaard/Cruijff variant with less focus on discipline and more focus on individual responsibility and freedom to express themselves.

    After 100 PL games, the Ox still lacks the ability to connect his legs with his brains when playing for us. Great players can play in a variety of positions because they can do what the Ox is seemingly incapable of. His skills are ideal to play in different positions and be effective but wherever we play him he does not connect with his team mates enough and his decisions are time and again wrong.

    But, coming back to the first part of your post, in the modern game there aren’t many traditional positions anymore: a full back needs to be able to do so much more now; a DM needs to be able to pass well and drive forward occasionally, a CF needs to enable others as much as be lethal, a winger needs to be able to track back and hold on to the ball in tight areas as much as much skin an opponent and produce assists and score goals, etc, etc.

    We cannot afford Jacks of just one trade anymore, what very system we play: multi skilled, intelligent, fit and focused players – all in one – is the future. The Ox should have been loaned out to Watford or Everton and play a hole season to learn to connect his legs and brains under a good, supportive manager. It is not too late for this yet, but I have my doubts whether he will reach the heights that his talents once promised to us.

  4. RA says:


    You said you were really busy but would try and get back for your Post.

    Your work is more important, so please don’t. No, seriously – please don’t – no I worry about your camels – so please don’t – no, I insist, please don’t please don’t. 😀

  5. chas says:

    I read this this morning and thought of you. 😆

    “If anything the Holland manager has an even tougher time. The Dutch reporters are not interested in the weakness or otherwise of match officials. They are concerned only with tactics. Indeed, many of them have such a focus on formational minutiae you feel that at any moment they may demand to know how many wing-backs can shuttle run on the head of a pin.

    During Euro 2000 I went to the Holland training camp at Hoenderloo. The local football writers were in a mood so prickly it was like walking into a hothouse full of cacti. Holland had beaten Denmark 3-0 the night before, but nobody was fooled by that scoreline. “Last night your team performed for only 20 minutes…” the first reporter said, pointing a nicotine-stained finger at Frank Rijkaard.

    There then followed a barrage of inquiries about formations, tactics and personnel all designed to demonstrate beyond all doubt that Rijkaard should in future be forced to sit in the dugout wearing clown shoes and a dunce cap. It might have gone on all day had not the BBC’s glamorous blonde children’s TV presenter Katy Hill interrupted the flow by asking Rijkaard to name his favourite type of cheese.”

  6. RA says:

    Totally disagree about the Ox, Total. 🙂

    At just 22, he is potentially one of the best, most pacey, skilful, enthusiastic and athletic young players we have.

    I simply cannot comprehend why he has fallen foul of the crowd – or some of them.

    He certainly has a habit of making wrong choices, but that is a matter of experience and with patience will improve dramatically, but he certainly does not need further coaching.

  7. TotalArsenal says:

    Cheers Chas, that was fun to read. Reporters hold more power in Holland and are not afraid to ask about game tactics and decisions; they will also not let go easily and managers are used to it. Different culture, I guess. It is a lot easier to talk about the ‘outside factor’, the referee, than the choices the manager made, especially if they were on the losing end.

    I love this… so true: “On a recent Saturday, as I watched South Shields defeat Team Northumbria in a wind as remorseless as Garth Crooks pursuing the end of a sentence” hahaha 🙂

  8. TotalArsenal says:

    He is not just 22 Redders. He’s had 100 PL games and still looks no further than when he first joined us. In fact, he looked better back then when there was no pressure or expectations. I reckon he is overrated: he has speed and can dribble with the ball and that gets us all excited but if you look beyond that he is not a top PL player…. imho. 🙂

  9. RA says:

    Just as well we are friends, TA, as I cannot believe what you have just written.

    I need to go lie down to get over it!! 😀

  10. TotalArsenal says:

    hahaha Redders – I dont think I have ever achieved that before! 🙂

  11. TotalArsenal says:

    Chas, love that Bergkamp-Cruijff photo – you can see the mutual respect oozing from that image, with Dennis looking like a little boy – looking down like the naughty dog in the article 🙂

  12. fatgingergooner says:

    I think Ox has to take some blame for his poor performances and his terrible goal record, but I certainly haven’t given up on him being a great player as I think he has everything needed to succeed. A lot is discussed about tactics, formations and instructions, but ultimately on the field it is 11 v 11.

    I reckon the Ox best position is somewhere central where he can drive forward with the ball and shoot from range, a bit like TR7 when he was younger. I also believe Ramsey and Wilshere need to be playing in that area too, which is exactly why Özil needs to move out wide. If we continue to focus on Özil, then we will not see the best of Ramsey, Ox or Wilshere. Focusing on Özil isn’t a bad thing, but if we are going to do it then we should buy midfielders who complement him and not force players who are not suited into positions where we will not see their best form.

  13. Rasp says:

    Thanks GoonerB, a complex analysis from a deep thinker on the game 🙂

    I agree the modern effective strategy is the high press – and we don’t do that.

    You can only play total football if you have a team of players of the highest quality – we don’t have that.

    I agree with recent comments about us having a plethora of players who would perform at their best centrally – but there are only a couple of berths.

    It was easy when we just had Cesc to orchestrate our play centrally. One thing is for sure, our best team doesn’t always comprise our best 11 eleven players.

  14. LB says:

    I think I finally understand your starting position GB

    You are simply and quite endearingly very paternal towards Arsenal players; that’s to say, when you sense that one might be in danger your need to protect him comes out.

    Quite honourable really.

    My instincts to protect are towards the club, the team and the manager, if one element is endangering any part of that I want it as far away as possible.

    Still, that was a very good read, thank you for taking the time to write it.

  15. GoonerB says:

    Thanks all and RA just because you begged me at 9.47….here I am 🙂 RA your way with words far exceeds mine and I would have been happy for you to edit the post 🙂

    Chas I definitely want our players to express themselves but I think in the modern game there has to be a greater deal of structure applied as well than maybe was required in the past.

    It is that fine balance again. Where does supreme confidence become too much arrogance and then become detrimental? In this case the question is where does freedom of play cross over into an undisciplined free for all?

    Maybe we should look at the modern game as requiring disciplined freedom of play but I think we often go too far over the boundary.

    I don’t know why Arsene shunts certain players around a lot. maybe it is for other genuine reasons than I have alluded to, but if it is for developmental purposes I would say that he is taking it too far and carrying it on too long with certain players and that is why I used the term over-coaching. It may not be the best term to describe it.

    Rasp, I agree with all you say and I feel you allude to more which I would probably also fully agree with 🙂

  16. GoonerB says:

    FGG, I actually find my thoughts aligned with yours in so many areas but I feel the Ox has the skill set for the left sided attack rather than the centre. He has a great right foot shot and I think he could become a prolific goalscorer (ala Sanchez) from that side. He is also good on his left and that could lead to his unpredictability in cutting in or beating a player on the outside and playing in a dangerous ball from there.

    Keep him closer to the opposition goal I say and on the side where he can drive at defenders in the box leaving them unsure whether to risk a tackle and possible penalty or risk letting him get a shot off on his right foot.

    FGG I also don’t like Ozil from the left even though he plays it at international level. Different team, different environment and different circumstances. Ozil is playing in his best position now. If we have accumulated too many similar players and it is other players best position as well then some will miss out or have to ride the pine.

    Having a lot of good options for one position can either be a good or bad problem depending on how you view it. What I don’t wish to see is the shoe horn approach just to accommodate certain players, otherwise I think we will see the same problems next year as this. If some have to be subs so be it. If some have to leave so be it, use the money to get players to plug our weak spots. Interestingly I don’t feel that the Ox, as I mentioned, or Jack have to necessarily be considered as one of the central options as they have a skill set that can offer us excellent options in other positions.

  17. GoonerB says:

    Thanks LB. I can be protective of players if I feel they have been exposed in a way that hinders their performances. As such then I will point the finger at the coaches and manager. It may seem like it but I love Arsene and it really hurts that I do feel that the majority of problems are stemming from his concepts and coaching now which just (reading between the lines) look to have been bypassed in the last 5-6 years. For me probably when Guardiola’s Barca started to dominate.

    I think if he continues to stick with his long term coaching principles without adapting to the new stuff he will fail…and I don’t want him to fail.

  18. GoonerB says:

    Sorry that was supposed to say “it may not seem like it at times”

  19. RA says:


    You’ve broken the blog — again — GoonerB. 🙂

  20. RA says:

    Damn! Now the feckers will stay away until tomorrow morning until the new Boss, Chas, puts up some kats and the like!! 🙂

    You better rescue me GB – or else!

  21. chas says:


    Your 1.45pm comment seems to suggest (though I can’t be sure) that you believe the Arsenal players aren’t coached enough rather than being over-coached and what you meant to say was ‘played out of position too much’.

    I am only guessing, though. 🙂

  22. chas says:

    New boss? You’ve got to be kidding.
    Just taking my turn (while everyone else is busy), that’s all.

  23. TotalArsenal says:

    Hahaha, is that what you think of red Arse? 😂🙈

  24. chas says:

    It’s heart-shaped, TA!

  25. RA says:

    Cheeky bastard! 🙂

  26. Quality GB

    I agree with LB and now understand. You view me like your son, and I find this very endearing. I never really accepted my own father. I forced him to have a DNA test. When Jeremy Kyle read out the results I was devastated. Turned out he was my dad after all

    Of course, this all means that Arsene Wenger is your father, which explains your doubts to his strategy. Perfectly understandable GB. You resent him been taller than you, whilst to win aerial battles, West Ham had to play you with Frank Macevenny

    Arsene believes in allowing his sons freedom GB, we all know that. It’s not his fault the players let him down or that you were beaten in the school day run by a kid who has to pay double on Ryan Air.

    There is nothing wrong with Arsenes tactics or style of play. Next season we will win the league and every one will want him to sign a new contract

  27. GoonerB says:

    Chas, good guess 🙂 yes my inference is that they are played out of position too much and if this is for the benefit of coaching their further multi-adaptable development then I think it is over-coaching. This doesn’t however apply to the academy players though and only applies to the first team (the one that is supposed to win the real stuff and not fart around) and those that frequent it.

    Hope that clears away the sludge and provides you with a revelation of tactical and coaching clarity that you have likely rarely experienced resulting in the submission of a once a week Chas tactical bolleux post 🙂

    Cheers for sorting it out and putting it up Chas BTW. I owe you a pint of some sort of ale at the FFB.

  28. GoonerB says:

    Terry 🙂

    I could be your dad. Maybe I could put you over my knee for a good spanking saying you’ve been a very naughty boy….if I didn’t have this strong inkling you would accept your punishment with an excessive amount of joy and a request for repeat performances.

    I always pay double on Ryanair anyway Terry, (one for me and one for me camel), so if you are suggesting that I lose to fat kids in running races and often get caught by Big Bertie “stinky bottom” Jenkins in kiss chase then you will need a better bloody example.

  29. omgarsenal says:

    I doubt there is over-coaching going on at AFC but rather an emphasis on control Football and not enough coaching on clinical finishing skills. I have seen too many gilt-edged opportunities missed because the striker or shooter pulled the trigger too precipitously and completely missed the net or worse, struck it right at the keeper. One thing i remember about TH14 was his pin-point precision shooting into the net wherever the keeper wasn’t. Ozil and Sanchez have that deadly accuracy but Giroud ,Welbeck and Campbell are still developing their precision shooting. Iwobi on the other hand seems to have it all at 19 years of age!

  30. chas says:

  31. mickydidit89 says:

    Great pics for second day running
    However, for second day running…no sliders

  32. mickydidit89 says:

    Oh noooooooooooo
    That’ll haunt me for the rest of my days

  33. mickydidit89 says:

    Perhaps tomorrow, when I don’t have work or school runs, or early dog walks, we’ll have a concerted effort to get Eddie back.

    Endless pics of ugly dogs and shit like that 🙂

  34. mickydidit89 says:

    Really spooky, but give the beast a side parting and Eddie will be back like a shot

  35. mickydidit89 says:

    Cheers Chas, must go

  36. Big Raddy says:

    Morning All,

    7.27 could be finest slider ever produced. I thank you.

    Who is 6.55?

  37. Big Raddy says:

    GB. Thank you for a terrific read which stimulated some interesting responses.

    My tuppence worth is that specialisation is only possible if the quality of the team allows it.

    Barca can afford for MSN to weave their magic because they have such a hard-working 8 behind them all of whom can multi-task. Iniesta can tackle, pass, beat man – the whole package and he works non-stop.

    I don’t think this is possible in the PL.

    As to The Ox, I agree with others that his day will come – hopefully at Arsenal.

  38. fatgingergooner says:

    For some reason the 7.31 reminds me of what it’s like supporting this Arsenal side. I think it’s the slow slip off the edge whilst being frozen in fear!

  39. chas says:

    6.55 is Grace Kelly at 19 years old.

  40. chas says:

    I keep seeing clips that seem to represent being an Arsenal supporter this season.
    As you say, that 7.31 is perfect. 🙂

  41. chas says:

    Reaching for the Premier League title?

  42. LB says:

    Good podcast, I learnt that we have a fully fit squad for the first time this season and that includes Cazorla.


  43. Big Raddy says:

    On a dull day I present a dull….

    New Post

  44. chas says:


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