As a title, Total Football didn’t just fit the style but the success. For three exceptional years out of eight excellent ones, Ajax won virtually every trophy and every game. In doing so, they also went unbeaten through a European Cup, secured one of the highest points hauls in the history of any league and regularly scored over 100 goals a season. And all of this while a formidable Feyenoord team breathed down their necks.
But it wasn’t just the numbers. It was the nature of the performances that brought them.
After Rinus Michels had first rescued the club from relegation and then immediately delivered a title, the first signs that something special was happening came in the second round of the 1965-66 European Cup. A disregarded Dutch team dismissed Bill Shankly’s Liverpool 5-1. At that point, Michels’s new techniques and alterations seemed minor. But they lead to major conclusions and results.
The path to perfection wasn’t without pain though. The 4-1 defeat to Milan in the 1969 European Cup final illustrated that neither the football nor the philosophy were complete. But, in the following season, it finally clicked. Until Milan 1994 and the current Barcelona, there had probably never been three European Cup finals as utterly emphatic as Ajax’s between 1971 and 1973. Total Football left them in total control.
Most of all, though, there was the 1973 peak in which they thrashed the team that would follow them, Bayern Munich, 4-0. That win was shortly before Johan Cruyff and others left. And it emphasised that it wasn’t any opposition that could ended this all-conquering team’s era but individual wanderlust.
Trophies won: European Cup 1971, 1972, 1973; Dutch league 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973; Dutch Cup 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972; European Cup runner-up 1969
Managers: Rinus Michels, Stefan Kovacs
Best XI: Stuy; Suurbier, Hulshoff, Vasovic, Krol; Neeskens, Haan, Muhren; Rep, Cruyff, Keizer