Continuing the Legacy of Johan Cruyff & Total Football at Leeds United in FM20
Nothing is more liberating in Football Manager than creating a legacy with a club, trying to win as many trophies as possible, or to take the club to another level they’ve never been at. While it’s one of the greatest challenges in Football Manager, as you aim to build a club from the ground up and hunt for titles and promotions, it may take tens of years to complete.
Continuing the legacy is an adopted version, where I’ve played around with the words as I look to create a legacy at Leeds United by applying the Johan Cruyff vision and what he left behind, both as a player and a manager, in terms of his tactical vision about utilizing space, his overall football philosophy, his influence on other managers- (including me), his ideas on youth development and incorporating a club DNA.
Welcome my brand new FM20 youth development series entitled ‘The Cruyffian Way‘. Here I’ll write about my latest managerial project with Leeds United in Football Manager 2020, continuing the legacy of Johan Cruyff and the Dutch totaalvoetbal aka Total Football by restoring the glory of Leeds by aiming to transcend AFC Ajax’s honours.
It’s time to create new history at Leeds United and make Don Revie and Peter Lorimer proud!
A Brief Background: Leeds United & Total Football
Established in 1919, the club celebrated their centenary on October 17th 2019. As one of few clubs these days, they’ve played their matches on the honorable stadium, Elland Road, since the club was formed. Based in West Yorkshire, which is populated by 2.32 million people, City of Leeds finds itself close to Bradford, Huddersfield, York, and only 70 minutes’ drive from Manchester – pretty close to the English football metropol.
Leeds Utd or the Whites experienced their best era in the 1960-70s. Under the managerial tenure of Don Revie, Leeds became both a national and international powerhouse, leading the club to two First Division (now Premier League) trophies, one FA Cup trophy and one League Cup trophy. Finishing as runners-up both in the European Cup (now Champions League) in 1974/75, UEFA Cup Winners Cup runners-up (1972-73) plus 3 FA cup runners-up, 5 First Division runners-up and two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup titles (now UEFA Europa League), the club didn’t only take Europe by ‘storm’ but also became a favorite of the past generation of Norwegian football fans, such as my uncle, as they were able to watch English First Division live for the first time with the broadcasting rights of NRK, and experience players like Peter Lorimer every Saturday at 4PM.
Around the same time, on the other side of the English Channel, Netherlands and AFC Ajax with Johan Cruyff as THE icon of the Dutch Total Football, dazzled the world with their unique playing style based on fluidity and position-switching. While Leeds recorded 8 trophies between 1965-1975, AFC Ajax 15 trophies in the same period including the incredible task of winning the Champions League three times in a row (1970/71, 1971/72 and 1972/73) and managed a continental treble by winning the Eredivisie, KNVB Cup, and the European Cup in 1972. Making the club only one of five clubs who have achieved this remarkable feat in the history of football.
Led by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, the Netherlands national team and de Godenzonen’s way of playing amazed the world…and my uncle! Players like Johnny Rep, Johan Neeskens, Gerrie Mühren, Arie Haan, Rob Rensenbrink, Wim Suurbier, Ruud Krol, Piet Keizer, the van de Kerkhof brothers and Wim van Hanegem, they became childhood stars for a young teenager in the 70’s.
The unique playing style of AFC Ajax and the Dutch National team didn’t actually get the name of Total Football before 1974… at the peak of the era, when Netherlands reached the World Cup final after sweeping aside Argentine, East Germany and Brazil off the pitch with magnificent football, before facing West Germany in the final. After loosing narrowly 2-1, the Dutch National team went into the history books as one of the greatest teams to never win the World Cup trophy.
Now I won’t get in details with the history of AFC Ajax as we’ve done it before, but the similarities in the history of Leeds and Ajax are a bit remarkable, especially as their best era was around the same decade. The only difference was the playing style. An aggressive physical football at Leeds, that does not appeal to me versus the Dutch short passing attacking football, where movements and pressing made it to a formula for not only success, but to entertain the fans and the media.
From that time on, football was no longer a sport. Football became art. To use Eric Cantona’s words, one who was influenced by Total Football as well;
Total Football embraced this vision about spontaneity and creativity. It was individual creativity put into a system, brought to life by one man’s vision on how to play football and his ways of anticipating the football pitch and the spaces on it – given or denied by the opponent.
Everything arrived from instinct in a group of players who had played with each other for years and knew each other’s strength and weaknesses. The task of the manager was just to ensure everyone pulled in the similar direction. Liberating individual freedom and creativity in one way while continuously setting restrictions so the team would play at their strength and becoming a part of the sum.
It was Total Football.
Since I’ve never been able to experience the Dutch national team or the magnificent AFC Ajax I thought to myself;
- How would it be if Johan Cruyff was active today? What would be required of the 21th century version of Johan Cruyff and how shall we develop players in a similar mould?
- Most intriguing is, how would Johan Cruyff fare in modern day football? How would his tactical system look like and how could he further revolutionize football?
- Is the legacy of Johan Cruyff still valid today and can it be applied to any other club, apart from Barcelona and Ajax?
These are some of the issues I’ll touch upon in the Cruyffian Way. Join me in the quest to restore the glory of Leeds and let the football philosophy of Total Football shine through.
NOTE 1. The legacy of Don Revie exist at Leeds even today, with their all-white strip kit colour and youth policy.
NOTE 2. Meanwhile Peter Lorimer recorded 151 goals in 450 appearances for Leeds between 1962-79, Johan Cruyff recorded 238 goals in 383 appearances.
The Cruyffian Way – The Beginning
Skyer Sportes: Live Stream
24th of June 2019
– This is Espen Høgli, reporting live for Skyer Sportes from Elland Road. We’re outside the training complex of Leeds waiting on further news about who Leeds United will appoint as the successor of Argentinian fine tactician Marcelo Bielsa. We’ve received rumours that the new appointed manager is about to arrive in his car any second now.
– With the news about Marcelo Bielsa being sacked made officially only a few hours ago, Andrea Radrizzani and the other board members have spend little time finding their next manager.
– After Marcelo Bielsa’s failure to promote the club to the English Premier League last season and the spygate scandal too difficult to forget, it sealed his destiny.
– With only a year in the hot seat, Bielsa who was on a two year contract, were forced to step down despite leading the club to their best achievement since the 2010-11 season where they promoted to the Championship and the 2016-17 season under Gary Monk.
– It will now be interesting to see who will take up his position, and which way Leeds United will go, as we head into a new decade.
– So far nothing has been leaked about who the new manager is …AND here he comes!
– Pulling up in a dark Porsche, the new Leeds United manager arrives at Elland Road!
– That-t-t *stutters* looked… surprisingly like Johan Cruyff! I only got a quick glimpse of him as he drew by, but … I can’t believe my eyes(!)… it clearly looked like a young Cruyff… THE Legend.. the one and only!
– This is Espen Høgli, reporting live from outside the training complex of Leeds United…where I can confirm the new manager and successor of Marcelo Bielsa is Johan Cruyff! What a day for Leeds United fans! What a day for football! Jürgen Klopp n’ Pep Guardiola, better watch out!
The Press Conference – Live Coverage
25th of June 2019
– Welcome to this live coverage of Johan Cruyff’s first press conference for Leeds United. This is Martin Hatchings reporting live for 90min.co.uk from Leeds’ press conference, where we all are waiting for Johan Cruyff to speak to the media for the first time and hear about his visions for future.
– It was a great day for all Leeds fans yesterday, as Johan Cruyff somewhat surprisingly was appointed as the new Leeds manager. We are now waiting for Johan Cruyff to enter the press conference together with the Chairmen and Liam Cooper, the current captain.
– I’m sure all journalists in the room has lots of questions for Mr. Cruyff and his thoughts about the future! Hopefully we’ll be able to hear a little more about his plans for the club, future transfer activity and football philosophy.
Johan Cruyff enters the room with a big smile and oozes confidence and energy!
Martin Hatchings: Welcome Johan Cruyff and congratulation! You’re now the 49th manager in Leeds 100 year long history. You seem very happy, what’s your thoughts on taking the job?
Johan Cruyff: It’s a huge day for me! When the offer came in I couldn’t say no! Leeds is a great club with lots of history and actually lots of potential. I’m really proud to be here and I felt immediately at home as soon as I entered the doors of this special club. I’m really itching to get at work and meet the players and have individual talks with them!
Espen Høgli (Skyer Sportes): As a former player with huge success and almost a legendary status, what are your ambitions for the club?
Johan Cruyff: There are no other leagues as competitive as the Championship. So it will be tough! While Leeds has a history they can be really proud of, my aim is to take the club back where they belong and create new history. My plans are to get the club back to Premier League within two seasons and hopefully be able to qualify and compete in Europe on a regular basis within a five year period. I got my eyes on adding one or three Champions League trophies within the trophy cabinet. How long it takes? Who knows, it may take 5 years, it may take 10, but we’ll work towards competing for a top 3 Premier League finish.
Billy Tulley (Yorkshore Evenings): With such high ambitions, have you been able to assess the players? And since it didn’t went well for your predecessor, what do you expect from your players?
Johan Cruyff: I have only introduced myself to the players, but have spend the last week looking at footage’s of the players and I have inherit a great squad with some great players. I’ve done my analysis and I have a pretty clear image of who will stay and who will go.
I expect my players to work really hard and make an effort to not only constantly improve themselves by individual training focuses and have the goal of becoming the best players in the history of Leeds, but give their best in every training session to increase the competitive level.
I want my players to show team spirit and passion! I want to see players enjoying themselves on the training ground and show themselves from a positive side to their teammates, to the media and to the fans, and that they will eventually become a close-knitted squad, like how it was when I played for Ajax.
I want them to treat their teammates as if they were family, supporting and being there for their teammates, as if they were their brother or sister. I think it’s the only way to take big steps forward together, and make this journey unforgettable.
Apart from that, I simply want them to be professional. I demand them to take care of their body and think about what they eat, what they do outside the training ground that drains energy and how much recovery they need. They need to understand that they need to sacrifice something to become the best. It’s what makes an athlete.
When that’s said, I can’t tribute the current dressing room atmosphere enough. It is really good at the moment due to the fact that a number of players are at a similar age. Their friendship and togetherness pleases me.
Taylor Spence (Metro.com): What types of players do you want and have preference for?
Johan Cruyff: My preference will always be to look for ambitious players. Players who wants to go somewhere, who wants to reach the next level and are determined to score goals, win the ball and come out as the winner in a specific situation. I’ll be looking for players with the natural instinct… it’s something that can’t be taught… as it isn’t an attribute. But when someone plays by instinct, that’s what makes football beautiful.
Personally, creative and technical gifted players like Andres Iniesta, Zinedine Zidane or Xavi have always had a special place in my heart. Their excellent vision and ability to grasp the situation and play how it comes natural to them makes it entertaining to watch.
Next question, please!
Ben Tedson (4-4-2): You’ve talked a lot about the players, but are there any players who have stood out and you’d be eager to work with?
Johan Cruyff: There are a few yes! Tyler Roberts is definitely one. Another is Jamie Shackleton – a player who reminds me a bit my former teammate Johan Neeskens! Then you got Alfie McCalmont who have to be patient, but if he shows promise in training and develops at a good rate, he can become a great playmaker… His tactical intelligence draws similarities to the great Arie Haan. Finally we got Nohan Kenneh, a youngster with the aggression of Johan Neeskens, who I believe can become one of the greatest players in the history of Leeds!
Ben Tedson (4-4-2): As a former forward, are there any players at Leeds you can relate to… who you see yourself in?
Johan Cruyff: Definitely! Mateusz Bogusz seems like that player. Still only at the age of 17, but one who is highly creative and unpredictable, got great vision and off the ball movement and is also able to play in a number of positions. He can both create chances while also finishing off the attacks. If required to, he got the aggression to regain possession high up the pitch or the composure and technique to retain it.
I can’t wait to develop him and watch him progress! I’m sure he can become a useful player in the years to come! Perhaps I’ll hand him the number 14 shirt!
Ben Tedson (4-4-2): Does this indicate that you would like to take part in training?
Johan Cruyff: Yes. I want to continue the tradition of developing youth using the current setup. That’s expected by the board, but is also something that’s close to my heart! I’m fortunate to be in a club with superb training facilities and excellent youth facilities so it will be important to improve the youth setup further by putting attention to better youth coaches, an increased youth recruitment range and give local players the trust they deserves, and make sure they reach their highest potential.
I want Leeds to become the club who serves the English National team with the most players, yeah actually for all the grades! We can’t sit patiently watch our best English talents make moves abroad for more playing time… the English Premier League clubs have merely English players in their starting line up…. That’s just sad… really sad…!
Andrew Musk (BCC Leeds): Some of us here remember you as an active player, but I assume most of us know you as the manager. Last time you managed Barcelona, despite it being tens of years ago, my question is, can you update us about your visions on football? How would you describe your football philosophy?
Johan Cruyff: Personally I favor the possession game. I feel more relaxed when the team is controlling the match by keeping the ball. I enjoy dazzling the opposition with intricate pattern play, those quick short passes ..you know? I aim to try to penetrate the opposition lines with through balls and smart movements, rather than direct play and long balls. Of course, possession football will be part of my systems, but it’s just a tool to control the match, and I don’t want to solely depend on it.
I like to be flexible and got a few systems in my repository which I can use depending on what’s required, whether it’s playing with three at the back, controlling the center with six midfielders or using the ‘traditional 4-3-3 formation’.
I want to entertain the fans and the media with thrilling attacking football where creativity and movements makes it remarkable to watch!
I’ve always favored to control the moment of chaos by using a high defensive line which squeezes the play. I think it’s beneficial to look to win back the ball immediately after losing it. I would definitely feel more relaxed when play is in the opposition’s half. Just think about how it affects the opposition mentally to be pressured all over the pitch and not give them a second to think. Players like to attack, right? They want to have the ball and be creative. That’s what I’ll give them!
Andrew Musk (BCC Leeds): Possession is all good, but can you reveal more about your tactics and style of play you’ll incorporate?
Johan Cruyff: Football these days is all about control. It’s nothing like when I played. The tempo is higher, there’s hardly any space on the field anymore. Football today is somehow similar to the catenaccio of my days. Instead of controlling a specific player of the opposite team, modern football is about controlling the space and the tempo of the match. It seems the focus is on denying space for the creative players and control the match on their own half by sitting deep and play on the counter. I’m not totally on board with that style. Yes it has its benefits…but that’s not my personality.
That’s why I’ve come up with a system that creates space… creates gaps to penetrate in and which takes advantage of the moment of chaos to take the opponent off guard. After extensive analysis I’ve discovered some weak areas I like to take advantage of. I believe it’s some of the tools to turn the favor for my team. I believe it will appeal to the fans and media, but requires time and patient to apply it successfully.. I need certain types of players for it… I’ve spend the last months coming up with the system…, and I’m excited to try it out.
Andrew Musk (BCC Leeds): Care to elaborate?
Johan Cruyff: The system is an adopted version of the tactical system that’s most natural to me. It’s a highly fluid attacking system which looks to penetrate the opposition with through balls and opposite movements. I don’t think it’s right to talk about ‘Space Invader’ and reveal too much…otherwise I give too much away!
Next Question…and the last one, please!
Danny McArthur (Daily Records): On the off chance any agent reads this, are there any positions you’d like to strengthen?
Johan Cruyff: The current transfer budget is minimal. For the moment, I don’t got the money to strengthen, so I need to sell before anyone comes in. For the moment, the average age is only 23, which is one of the youngest in Championship, but I’m not afraid to sell some of the more experienced players to bring in youngsters with lots of potential.
Truth is, I find the depth of the defensive line a bit weak. Perhaps a wing back or an additional central defender could be useful. But with a squad size of nearly 30 players I’d like to trim it down a bit and give youth prospects a chance to feature on the bench or get a few minutes here and there.
Then there are some players that does not have the quality I’m after nor fits the playing level I seek for. But any signing needs to possess;
- Off the ball movement (incl. agility)
- ..and last but not least Speed
You can say that’s my tactical DNA, the attributes my tactics are based upon.
It’s also a bit worrying that almost the entire attacking line is based upon loanees. How shall I develop this squad when 50% of the starting line up won’t be here next year? I have to find a solution…
Poppy Smith (Leeds’ Press Officer): No further questions?
*Three journalists in the back of the room raises their hands*
That concludes this press conference! Thanks for showing up and you’ll all be able to watch Johan Cruyff in action in the Johan Cruyff Memorial Cup which is scheduled this weekend! We’ve been able to get AA Gent, RC Lens and Hannover 96 to take part. Liam Cooper will be available for personal interviews in 10 minutes from now.
It’s been a day to remember for all Leeds fans and we are excited for the future! Take care!