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Born: Thursday 9 February 1928, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Died: Thursday 3 March 2005, Aalst, Belgium (aged 77)
Position: Centre Forward/Manager
After a solid playing career with Ajax, Rinus Michels went on to become one of the game's most influential coaches. Having developed his ideas of 'Total Football' with Ajax, he introduced the tactic on a global level at the 1974 World Cup where he led his country to the final. Also coaching in Spain, Germany and the USA, in a later second spell in charge of the Netherlands he won the 1988 European Championship, the country's only major title to date.
Born Marinus Michels in Amsterdam on 9 February 1928, his interest in football grew after he received a pair of football boots on his ninth birthday. Playing in the streets and fields near his home, he was taken to Ajax by a family friend in 1940 and given a place in the club's youth setup. Although his junior career was interrupted by the Second World War, Michels eventually progressed into the first team at Ajax, making his senior debut against ADO Den Haag in June 1946 and scoring five goals.
Although not the most technically gifted centre-forward, Michels was a strong and powerful player and an excellent header of the ball. He scored 14 goals in all competitions as Ajax won a league title in 1947, and reached his highest total in a single season with 16 in 1949-50. That was enough to earn him an international call-up, making his debut in a 4-1 defeat to Sweden in June 1950. Unfortunately for Michels, his career coincided with a low ebb in the fortunes of the Dutch national team and he would be on the losing side in all five of his international appearances.
Michels' playing career continued until 1958, taking in Ajax's championship success in the first 'Eredivisie' season in 1956-57. He began to be plagued by injury problems however, and was eventually forced to retire at the age of just 30. With his playing days over, Michels began his coaching career with amateur teams in Amsterdam. That experience led to him being named as coach of his former team Ajax early in 1965, with the club battling to avoid relegation.
Michels quickly transformed the club's fortunes. Having beaten the drop, in his first full season Ajax won the Eredivisie title by seven clear points from Feyenoord. That marked the start of a run of three titles in a row, with a cup win in 1967 thrown in for good measure. Building his team largely around star player Johan Cruyff, Michels turned Ajax into one of Europe's leading clubs. A strict disciplinarian, he instilled in his team the crucial importance of technique, intelligence and hard work.
Michels took ideas such as attacking full-backs and deeper lying forwards which had been used elsewhere and developed a system whereby his ten outfield players could cover any position as required. His 'Total Football' fluidity, which eventually settled in a more balanced 4-3-3 formation, allowed his players the freedom of expression on which they thrived. Michels' team reached the European Cup final for the first time in 1969, but although they lost that match 4-1 to AC Milan it was clear that their time was coming.
After another league and cup double in 1970, Ajax reached the European Cup final again in 1971. Although they had narrowly lost the title to Feyenoord, they had retained the Dutch Cup and were well fancied to beat Panathinaikos in the final at Wembley. An early goal set Ajax on the way to a 2-0 win, starting off a run of three consecutive European titles. Michels however would not be around to see those later successes, as he left the club following the win over Panathinaikos to take over as manager at Barcelona.
Finishing third and second in his first two seasons in Spain, Michels saw Cruyff as the final piece of the puzzle and took him to Barcelona in 1973, after which the club stormed to the league title in 1973-74. During that season the Dutch national team qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1938, and Michels was seen as the man who could inspire them to success in the 1974 finals in West Germany. He had just three friendly matches to develop his team before the finals, but set about implementing the tactics which had served him so well at Ajax.
The Dutch were a revelation in West Germany, opening up with a 2-0 win over Uruguay and reaching the second stage in style with a 4-1 victory over Bulgaria in their final group game. The second group stage brought them up against Argentina, East Germany and holders Brazil. Impressive victories in their first two games left them needing just to avoid defeat in their final game against Brazil. That Brazilian side was a shadow of the team which had claimed the title in 1970 and Michels' team reached the final with a 2-0 win.
In the final against hosts West Germany, the Netherlands took the lead through a second minute penalty, in hindsight perhaps scoring too early. The Dutch seemed to relax after taking the lead and conceded a penalty of their own, from which the Germans levelled, and by half-time trailed 2-1. Several chances to equalise came and went, and despite all their attractive football and undoubted ability Michels' team were destined to go down as one of the best teams never to win the World Cup.
After the World Cup Michels returned to Barcelona, where apart from a brieft spell back at Ajax in 1975-76 he would stay until 1978 although he was only able to win one more major trophy, the Copa Del Rey in his final season. He later spent time as manager at NASL side Los Angeles Aztecs and Bundesliga team 1. FC Köln, with whom he won the German Cup in 1983, but it was his return to the Dutch national team in the 1980 that really sealed his place in his country's football folklore.
Returning to the job in 1984, Michels narrowly failed to lead the Netherlands to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, losing a qualifying play-off to near rivals Belgium on away goals. Despite having to take time away from the job due to heart problems, he was gradually building a new team around stars like Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard who would form the core of the Dutch side at the 1988 European Championships in West Germany.
Despite losing their opening game of that tournament to the Soviet Union, Michels' side reached the last four where a late 2-1 victory over West Germany gave them a measure of revenge for the defeat in 1974. The final was played in Munich's Olympic Stadium, scene of the 1974 World Cup final, and the Dutch side found themselves facing a rematch with the Soviets. After Gullit had given them a first half lead, a sensational second goal from van Basten sealed a first even international tournament victory for the Netherlands.
Michels briefly returned to club management with Bayer Leverkusen but following the failure of the Dutch team at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where he was an advisor but not coach, he was brought back for the defence of the European Championship in 1992. At the finals in Sweden, the Netherlands won through to a semi-final against Denmark but were beaten on penalties, ending their reign as champions and Michels' coaching career at the age of 64. Named FIFA coach of the century in 1999, in his retirement he continued to watch Ajax whenever he could until his death in March 2005, at the age of 77.
References (all accessed 3 April 2012):
- Published on Tuesday, 03 April 2012 11:29