Throwback Thursdays: Ajax Introduce the World to Total Football

Exactly forty-five years ago today, Amsterdam powerhouse Ajax won the first of their eventual three straight European Cups by defeating Panathinaikos 2-0 at Wembley Stadium in London.

For Ajax it was their second trip to the final, following a 4-1 defeat to AC Milan in 1969. 

Throughout much of their history Ajax had a tradition of playing exciting attacking football, but it would be after the appointment of former player Rinus Michels as manager in 1965 that the club would forge the identity that the Dutch giants are known for today.

Building upon Ajax's existing ethos for playing a passing game and adapting the ideas of Gusztáv Sebes, who had managed a flexible and exhilarating Hungarian national side in the 1950's, Michels implemented a system that would come to be coined "Total Football".

Although his side played in a basic 4-3-3 formation, the Ajax players were well drilled in picking up positions left vacated by a teammate making a run. The team shape and the spacing between players was never lost, as players rotated across the pitch.

In order to play this system, the player needed to be exceptionally fit and possess great spatial awareness, so they could easily pickup where they should move and where they should not in relation to their teammates and opponents.

Their opponents in the final were Athens side Panathinaikos, who are still the only Greek club to make it to the final of the European Cup. 

Thanks to high scoring forward Antonis Antoniadis and under the watchful eye of manager Ferenc Puskás, the legendary former Hungarian striker, the Greek side had reached the final with impressive aggregate wins over Everton and Red Star Belgrade. 

After taking a 5th-minute lead through Dick van Dijk it was Ajax's defense, rather than their much lauded attack, that came to the fore as they completely negated their opponents forwards.

Antoniadis struggled to get into the game, and the gig was up in the 87th minute when Arie Haan added a second for Ajax.

Despite Michels departure for Barcelona following this victory, over the next two seasons the Amsterdam club would go on to win two more European Cups, making it three in succession.


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