I have been dabbling with the odd tactic with a striker lately. This has lead me to try and replicate the style of play Frank de Boer applies to his Ajax side in real life. De Boer’s style is unique in that it combines elements from the fables Total Football style with the more pragmatic style Louis van Gaal introduced during his tenure at Ajax. It is basically a one-touch, combination football tactic, heavily based on possession and positional interchange, but with room for one or two truly talented individuals to shine and excel.
Total Football 2.0?
Why the link with such a difficult subject as Total Football? Allow me to explain. Each individual’s strength combines to make a unified eleven: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and all that. Within his system, every position is assigned with several basic tasks to carry out with our without the ball. Every player contributes collectively, teamwork is fundamental the success of the formation. For example; if player A moves in to press the opposing defence, it allows players B and C time to re-group for example. This has been covered before in my counter-pressing articles, but it does suit the whole Total Football concept.
The whole moving as a unit and shared responsebilities for the team effort pretty much leads us to the concept of universality, one of the key elements of the Total Football. Players need to be comfortable in multiple positions and roles. They need to be able to cover for a team-mate when he ventures forwards or drops back. However, there are a few specialists in the formation, players that have their own specific roles to play within the formation. In conclusion, a combination of universality and individualism.
There are two (well, three really) specialist roles in this concept. The False Nine and the Deep-Lying Playmaker are specialists, players whose position and role cannot and should not be copied by others. The Central Winger is also a sort of specialist role, but that’s mostly because FM does not yet recognise the role.
The concept is simple. The team should dominate possession, not as a goal in itsself but as a means to an end, to break down opposing teams. Our forward role is therefore a False Nine, which effectively means he frequently drops back, helping out in keeping the ball, as well as allowing his team-mates time to link up and take up more advanced positions. The Ajax of Frank de Boer doesn’t employ traditional wingers, instead favoring players who cut inside to link up with the forward or central midfielders. This allows space on the flanks for the wing-backs to maraud down the wings. The central midfield comprises of a Central Winger and a more defensively solid Box-to-Box midfielder. On average, the team shape should be something like this.
Whilst this sounds peachy, we all know that sound ideas don’t always equal brilliant tactics within the Match Engine of Football Manager. So how does it actually work within the confines of the Match Engine FM14 uses?
I’m a big fan of show and tell. I will show you how the team plays and operates in reality. Please ignore the second part of the video, which is FM just randomly cutting off part of the clip of the second goal I wanted to show.
The first goal shows an attack down the flanks, being finished by the same player who helped initiate the attack; the False Nine. It also showcases the movement of the False Nine, constantly dropping back to help overload the defenders. When the False Nine drops deep, he is moving away from the center-backs, who would normally mark him. If the defender tracks the run, he risks leaving space that can be exploited by wide players cutting in, or by midfielders coming from deep, both a very real threat in this tactic with Inside Forwards, Complete Wing-Backs, a Central Winger and a Box-to-Box midfielder. If the defender waits and stands down, the deep-lying False Nine has freedom, time and space either to pick his pass or to turn and run at a defence so he is arriving at the centre-back at pace, which makes him far harder to stop.
The second goal showcases the movement even better. The Complete Wingbacks overlapping the Inside Forwards and becoming the effective wingers, the second wing-back cutting inside after he overlaps to pick up the rebound, it’s all fluid and seemingly effortless, players have taken over each others roles and respective duties.