Total Football. A strategy? An ideology? An over-elaborate myth? Poetry in motion? Football’s perfection? Out-dated? Unnecessarily complicated? A failure? Revolutionary? The pinnacle of football? The game’s biggest influencer?
Well, it’s not boring anyway.
No tactical setup in the history of the beautiful game has received as much scrutiny and coverage as Total Football.
In its essence, the system removes boundaries and rigidity, encourages expansive, entertaining football, but is dependent on intelligent, well-rounded and highly-skilled players. At its worst, the tactic is vague, impractical and unsuccessful. To those who question its merit, Total Football is romanticised by a generation of football supporters who were still somewhat ignorant of the game’s tactical nuances.
Better authors than I can, and have, explored the approach and attempted to provide clarity on its structure, intricacies and success. Yet, what is broadly agreed upon is that Total Football, while influenced by others, was devised in the early 1970s by Ajax manager Rinus Michels, and expanded through his star man, Johan Cruyff. Under their reign, the Amsterdam club won four league titles between 1966 and 1970, the European Cup in 1971 and were lorded for their breathtaking style of play.
From this great Ajax squad was borne the much-fabled Dutch team of the 1974 and 1978 World Cups and is often credited as being the inspiration behind Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Spain’s tiki-taka marvels and Pep Guardiola’s treble-winning Barcelona.
Michels, Cruyff, Ajax and Total Football have, justifiably, become intertwined in the history of Dutch and world football. They have become revered to such an extent it now seems almost impossible to imagine how any side could have defeated Ajax during this era.
But they were.
While even the greatest sides can lose one-off cup games, Michel’s unstoppable Ajax band were thwarted – twice – over the course of an entire league season in 1969 and 1971.
Not only did Feyenoord overthrow their great rivals, but they also found a consistent way of counteracting Michel’s tactical set-up, and some in Rotterdam even claim to this day that Feyenoord, and manager Ernst Happel, remain largely forgotten about in the annals of Total Football history.
It was, after all, the Austrian who introduced the famous 4-3-3 shape into Dutch football and instructed his midfielders to look for space between the opposition lines of defence and midfield, while encouraging the team’s attacking midfielder and striker to fluidly interchange position. Happel was also renowned for his belief in players being physically strong and fit, necessities for Total Football to succeed, and it is often overlooked that the Netherlands squad at the 1974 World Cup contained more players from Feyenoord than Ajax.
Yet, it would incorrect to remember that great Feyenoord team as Ajax’s poorer neighbours, as it would be to think of Arsenal’s invincibles as a knock-off Manchester United. The Rotterdammers created a side full of quality, ingenuity, and guile and consistently vied at the top of the Eredivisie at a time when the Dutch were establishing themselves as the pinnacle of world football.
It was also erroneous to view Happel as the sole architect of Feyenoord’s acclaimed ‘dream team’. In fact, he only arrived at De Kuip after the club had won the 1969 Dutch title under the stewardship of Ben Peeters. The coach had previously been in charge of the club’s youth team before making the set up to the senior side in 1967, a surprise for most given Feyenoord’s track record of hiring foreign managers.
Yet Peeters took to the role instantaneously and in his first season guided the club to their biggest points tally since the introduction of one national Dutch league in 1956. Despite this, Feyenoord failed to win the title and finished second to an Ajax side who won 27 of their 34 league matches.
Peeters and his staff were not dismayed, however, and encouraged by their excellent points tally, rallied again the following season. Feyenoord strengthened in the off-season, adding Theo Laseroms, Willem van Hanegem, and Henk Wery to their already star-studded squad and managed to amass a total of 57 points in 1968/69, then the second highest in the history of the Eredivisie (during a time when it was only two points for a win).
Ajax lacked the same ruthless consistency they had shown in the previous campaign and fell three points short of their rivals. Ultimately the Rotterdam club’s victory against Ajax in November proved decisive – a reversal would have seen the championship return to the Dutch capital for a fourth successive year.
Feyenoord also outsmarted their old foes in the third round of the Dutch Cup that season, thanks to a double from Swedish striker Ove Kindvall, whose 30 league goals had helped Peeters men towards the title. They went onto beat PSV Eindhoven 2-0 in the replayed final after drawing the first meeting 1-1, meaning Feyenoord’s 1969 band became just the third side in Dutch history to win the double.
Peeters had undeniably assembled the strongest team in the division in just two years and ended the club’s three-season barren spell. In winning the league, Feyenoord also ensured they would return to the summit of European football the following campaign. Yet Peeters’ success would ultimately be his downfall. The club’s qualification for the European Cup meant the higher-ups at Feyenoord felt they needed a more experienced coach and subsequently dismissed their double-winning manager.
Peeters vacated his position with dignity and repose, claiming: “It’s part of our profession. It has happened in pleasant consultation. You just have to see it as a business issue.” He returned to his role as a youth coach and would once again help develop the level of prestigious talent the Feyenoord first-team had become so dependent on.
Whether the Rotterdammers had outlined Happel as their first choice is unclear, but after receiving a letter from the Austrian during the 1969 off-season, he became the only man for the job. Happel’s message to the Dutch champions was short and simple. “The future: Feyenoord? Kind regards, yours Ernst Happel,” he wrote.
It was no surprise that Happel and Feyenoord gravitated towards each other. Then aged 43, Happel appeared to have come to end of his immensely successful spell with ADO Den Haag. He had turned the side from the Hague from a club traditionally associated with loitering at the wrong end of the table, into one of the Netherlands top teams. The season before Happel’s arrival, ADO had only dodged relegation by a single point, yet within three years the club had achieved a third-place finish in the Eredivisie.
In 1968, the former Austrian international guided ADO to a fourth consecutive top-four finish and defeated Ajax in the Dutch Cup final to ensure the trophy returned with him to the Hague. That proved to be Happel’s acme with the Storks. The following year, they dropped to sixth in the table and the club’s much-anticipated first European run ended in just the second round after they were unceremoniously dumped out by FC Cologne.
For Feyenoord, Happel represented the perfect match. A proven strategist who could get the most from his players, while playing exciting, offensive football. It also meant a return to Feyenoord’s policy of hiring foreign managers.
Upon first arriving in Rotterdam, the Austrian correctly assessed that his new squad were in no need of an overhaul but made a few subtle upgrades. His biggest addition was that of compatriot Franz Hasil from Schalke, who brought some extra attacking flair to midfield. It would prove to be Happel’s masterstroke and within days of Hasil’s move, he began training the number 10 in how to rhythmically interchange positions with the striker, Kindvall.
While Happel’s preferred system of 4-3-3 was not yet commonplace in the Netherlands and his use of a number 10 was almost unheard of. It proved a constant nuisance for defensive players who faced the dilemma of following their man, losing shape and allowing gaps to appear, or holding their position and allow Hasil and Kindvall to find pockets of space all over the pitch.
Feyenoord also added Theo van Duivenbode from Ajax and in doing so he became only the third player to move directly between the great rivals. Michels believed the defender lacked physicality, but Happel thought otherwise and brought him in as a natural replacement for aging left-back Cor Veldhoen. Van Duivenbode would enjoy a sweet moment in the first De Klassieker of the season when he netted the winner against his former side.
Happel’s final change to the Feyenoord team was to refresh their goalkeeper and he dispensed with Eddy Pieters Graafland, who turned 36 that season. In his stead, Eddy Treijtel became the club’s new number one. This was highly controversial given that Graafland had been the club’s first-choice stopper for over a decade and had enjoyed a strong campaign in ’68/69. His replacement, Treijtel, also failed to live up to high standards his predecessor had set and could be flighty and erratic at times. While the young keeper showed promise in his maiden campaign as a fully-fledged keeper, he lacked the consistency and handling of Graafland.
Despite that, Feyenoord began the 1969/70 campaign with a spring in their step. It was deemed that the double-winning squad had improved on and off the pitch during the summer and expected to once again claim domestic honours under Happel. They were, however, to be left disappointed.
Although they amassed a points tally of 55, that ordinarily would have seen them win the Eredivisie, the Rotterdammers finished second. It was their old foes Ajax who pipped them to the post that year after collecting a hugely impressive points total of 60 and scoring a remarkable 100 league goals. Feyenoord only lost one game all season, yet it was drawing that ultimately proved decisive for Happel’s men. They tied 11 of 34 matches, five more than eventual winners Ajax.
Ironically, it was Feyenoord’s irresistible attacking football that eventually proved their undoing. Sides, fearing a potential onslaught, dropped deeper against the champions and without space to exploit they often struggled to break down the opposition, especially away from home, and Feyenoord beat just two of the top nine on their travels that year. The team also suffered disappointment in the Dutch Cup and faced a shock elimination in the second round by Groningen, who were ultimately relegated from the Eredivisie.
There is no escaping that Feyenoord allowed their standards in the domestic competitions to drop in 1969/70, yet in truth, Happel and his charges had set their sights on an altogether bigger prize – the European Cup.
The club had played previously in the continent’s elite competition but had only once before managed a sustained run in the tournament – in 1963, when they reached the semi-final stage. Seven years later and Feyenoord had become somewhat forgotten in the echelons of Europe’s top sides. Happel, however, was keen to change that.
After blowing past Icelandic side KR Reykjavik 16-2 on aggregate in the first round, the Dutch outfit were drawn against reigning champions AC Milan, who had so easily disposed of Ajax in the ’69 final a few months earlier. Since the introduction of the European Cup, Dutch clubs had threatened to compete with the top sides from Spain, Italy, and England, but had rarely triumphed against them over two legs.
Not surprising perhaps, as Dutch football had only turned professional in 1954 and many clubs still retained amateur and part-time players. In fact, Feyenoord themselves still had two part-time players in ’69/70 in Piet Romeijn and Guus Haak.
While the Eredivisie had improved the standard of Netherlands football, Milan’s 4-1 victory against Ajax had, in many senses, highlighted the gap that still existed between Dutch sides and Europe’s elite. Therefore, it was with trepidation that Feyenoord headed into the clash with Milan, and in reality, few fancied their chances.
After nine minutes at the San Siro even fewer held hope for Happel’s men. Nestor Combin put the hosts ahead as Feyenoord were overrun in the early proceedings. Yet the Rotterdammers regrouped and by closing the space afforded to star man Gianni Rivera, managed to emerge with just a one-goal deficit.
Feyenoord had been forced to defend for long spells in Italy, but back at De Kuip, it was a different matter and Wim Jansen levelled the tie after just six minutes, when Milan goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini misjudged the flight of his arched cross and it looped over his head into the back of the net. The Rossoneri were well versed in breaking sides down, but that evening in Rotterdam they struggled to play in their usual cohesive manner, much in part to Feyenoord’s tireless red and white hordes. It was the less-fancied Dutchmen who were creating the game’s real openings, but with 10 minutes left the tie remained level.
It took a moment of brilliance from the ever-elusive Coen Moulijn to decide the tie. In the 82nd minute, he picked up the ball, junked past an opposition defender and picked out Van Hanegem at the back post, who duly headed in the game’s decisive goal. Feyenoord held on in what little time remained and incredibly, the champions were eliminated.
The win inspired Happel’s men. They had beaten Milan, they could beat anyone, surely? Yet ironically, it was their lack of league wins that made the European run so essential when they returned to the competition in the spring. Feyenoord were trailing Ajax in the table by a significant margin and after being handed a relatively kind draw in the quarter-finals against East German side Vorwarts Berlin, some even suggested the club’s best chance of silverware that year was in Europe. This notion was only further strengthened after Feyenoord crashed out of the Dutch Cup in between the first and second leg against Vorwarts.
The quarters, it turned out, followed a similar pattern as the last 16, with Feyenoord returning from the away leg with a 1-0 loss, only to turn the tie around in Rotterdam. On this occasion, it was a slightly nervier affair with Happel’s side leaving it until the second half to score via Kindvall and Wery.
Feyenoord were joined in the last four by the formidable Don Revie’s Leeds United and Jock Stein’s Celtic. Yet lady luck smiled upon the Dutch champions again, and they were instead paired with the less daunting prospect of Legia Warsaw. Somewhat surprisingly, given their shoddy away record in the tournament, Feyenoord did not lose in Poland, instead, returning after a goalless draw behind the Iron Curtain.
It was in the second tie that normal service was resumed, and for the third round in a row a 2-0 win at De Kuip saw the Rotterdammers progress to the next stage. It was Van Hanegem who put the Dutchmen on their way after just three minutes before Hasil’s outrageous long-ranged volley settled proceedings.
Incredibly, this relatively inexperienced Feyenoord side had made it to the final ahead of European superpowers Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Benfica, and Milan. After years of substandard football, many on the continent began to take notice as for the second season in a row a Dutch side made to the very top table of European football.
Yet, with three weeks between the semi-final and final, Happel was forced to somewhat reluctantly turn his eye back towards the Eredivisie as the second De Klassieker of the campaign approached. While the chances of Feyenoord winning the championship were slim, the game presented the Rotterdammers with the opportunity to reduce the arrears at the league’s summit to just three points.
And with 20 minutes remaining at De Meer, Happel looked to have outsmarted his rival again, with the reigning champions leading 3-1. But two costly errors from Treijtel would prove significant for both the Feyenoord’s domestic and European campaigns and the game ended level at 3-3. Any hopes of a title race were now extinguished as Ajax, who prior to the game had won 24 of 27 league matches, held a significant five-point lead over their nearest rivals with just six games left.
The defeat in Amsterdam altered Happel mindset and team selection ahead of the European Cup final in Milan. While the Austrian viewed Treijtel as the future, he worried the young stopper lacked the mental resolve for the biggest stages. Remarkably, Happel decided to drop his number one in the club’s final league game before the final, and for the cup final itself. He was replaced with the experienced Graafland, who was so aghast initially that he rejected the opportunity and reportedly told his boss: “You have not seen me all season. I will not do it.”
Eventually, it was Graafland’s wife who persuaded him to play and with the legendary Dutch keeper set to retire at the end of the season, it would mark his last professional game. Happel, at least, slept a little easier the night before the final. Ever stern and ruthless, the manager habitually put the needs of the team first, as was evident in Milan. Happel was renowned for his coldness towards players during his managerial career, and always a man of few words he reportedly said little to his side ahead of the European Cup final.
Standing in Feyenoord’s way were Celtic, with the Scottish champions overcoming Leeds in the ‘Battle of Britain’ to make it to the final. Celtic were an experienced European side and had even lifted the cup three years earlier, therefore few rated the Rotterdammers chances. Yet, Happel managed to instill a sense of calm and belief in his charges. “Happel taught us that we did not have to deal with any team,” captain Rinus Israel claimed some years later. “We did not have to be afraid of Celtic, then a superpower, and he could convey that in a good way.”
It has since been claimed Celtic approached the game a little arrogantly and Stein perpetrated this when he claimed before the match that Feyenoord lacked the ‘calibre’ of Leeds. “A quick goal and we should do it,” he said. “The one big danger to us is ourselves.” While assistant Sean Fallon did refer to their opponents as ‘first-rate team’ and stated they had no weaknesses, it appeared Stein’s words that stirred more with the Celtic players, some of whom admit to this day that they underestimated Feyenoord.
If they were confident before the game, their resolve quickly wilted when proceedings kicked off at the San Siro. The Dutchmen dominated possession through midfielders Hasil, Van Hanegem and Wim Jansen, and they were fitter and more organised than their counterparts. However, when the goal did come on an unseasonably wet Italian night in May, it was Celtic who found it, through Tommy Gemmell. The defender, who was also a scorer in the final against Inter Milan three years earlier, drilled past Graafland and gave the Bhoys early hope.
The lead lasted just two minutes, however, and Isreal headed home from a free-kick soon after. Feyenoord continued to dominate the ball in the centre of the park and Celtic’s two central midfielders were ran more and more ragged as the game went on. Happel was a great believer in the training, in a time when many managers overlooked its necessity, but few watching that final could deny Feyenoord’s well-rehearsed and fluid tactics were the difference between the sides.
Hasil and Kindvall proved impossible for Celtic defenders to mark and Wery and Moulijn’s direct dribbling caused problems all evening for the opposition defenders. Off the ball too, Happel had ensured his side were well drilled and Celtic talisman Jimmy Johnstone was given no space or time on all the ball by van Duivenbode, while Moulijn worked doubly hard to ensure the opposition full-back, David Haye, could not supply Johnstone.
But for all their dominance, Feyenoord failed to find that decisive second goal. A string of outstanding stops from Celtic keeper Evan Williams prevented the Rotterdammers, as did the woodwork on two separate occasions, and the game finished 1-1. In extra time Feyenoord failed to overawe Celtic to the same degree, and the game dwindled in the later periods, destined, it seemed, for penalties.
Yet, just minutes before the game’s climax Kindvall pounced. The Swede latched on to some patchy Celtic defending and slotted past Williams. Soon after the referee’s full-time whistle blew, and Feyenoord were crowned European champions.
It truly was a remarkable achievement. The Dutchmen had been outsiders before the tournament and were unfancied in most of their ties, certainly those against AC Milan and Celtic. In winning the tournament Feyenoord became just the seventh side to become continental champions and the first Dutch side to lift the trophy. In Stein’s eyes, there was only one reason his side had lost. “Celtic has not lost to Feyenoord. I have lost to Happel,” the manager said after the game.
Yet, while Hasil and Kindvall’s interchangeable positions proved crucial to Feyenoord’s success, it was the individuals’ commitment and talent that saw them perfect the roles. Kindvall, as a small and nippy striker was unconventional in the early ‘70s, proved to be an unrelenting goal machine in Rotterdam, netting a remarkable 129 goals in 144 Eredivisie games during his time with the club. He was also a hero in his homeland where he guided Sweden to the 1970 and 1974 World Cups.
As for Hasil, his speed, reactions, and intelligence were vital comments for Happel’s plan, and in many ways, his countryman proved to be the final piece of the puzzle for the Feyenoord boss. Alongside Hasil, Jansen was superb in 1969/70 and offered slightly more defensive protection of the midfield trio. He enjoyed a 15-year career at De Kuip and would go onto manage the club in the future. On the international stage, he remains one of just a handful of players to have featured in two separate World Cup finals.
Van Hanegem was the last of Happel’s midfield apostles. He enjoyed a father-son relationship with the coach, and he would go earn 52 Dutch caps during his career, including one from the 1974 World Cup final. Still considered one of the all-time greatest Dutch players, he earned the nickname De Kromme for his running style and ability to curl the ball with the outside of his boot. Van Hanegem was a fantastic passer, a hard worker and strong tackler too.
On the wing, Feyenoord had Henk Wery, a rapid dribbler, and superb crosser, and Moulijn considered one of the club’s greatest ever players. Of his great team-mate, Jansen once claimed: “Coen was tremendous. I dare to say that in pure football skills he was as good as Johan Cruyff. Johan was a leader and would impact the whole team, whereas Coen was an individual player, but man oh man, was he good.”
The left winger could float past opposition defenders and was renowned for his ability to feign a pass and cut back inside. Moulijn played for Feyenoord between 1955-1972 and today there is a statue to honour the great man outside De Kuip. He sadly passed away in 2011 and his funeral parade began at the stadium before slowly snaking past thousands of mourners who lined the streets of Rotterdam to pay their respects.
While the Feyenoord ‘dream team’ are remembered for their attacking poise, they were also an organised defensive unit and conceded just 22 league goals that season. At the heart of it was Israel. Known as ‘Iron Rinus’, he was Dutch Player of the Year in 1970 and club captain. He earned 47 Dutch caps and, like Jansen, would go on to manage the team in the future.
His defensive partner, Laseroms, while perhaps not as competent technically as Isreal, added an extra steeliness and physicality to the defence. As for full-backs Romeijn and Van Duivenbode, they were never considered among the world’s very best, but proved ever-reliable for Feyenoord and rarely was Happel concerned about the impact opposition wingers could offer.
The squad’s strength meant Happel felt there was no need for major additions ahead of the 1970/71 campaign, with his only purchases being the likes Dick Schneider, Matthias Maiwald and Hans Posthumus, who were mainly squad players, along with Jan Boskamp, who had spent the previous season on loan at Holland Sport.
While Feyenoord’s European triumph was the source of great pride for the club, their domestic campaign had presented frustrations earlier in the year. Happel was determined to put that right despite competing for four trophies that year.
Quickly Dutch football had grown from the shadows of other European nations and was now perhaps the best standard in the world. In 1970/71 the Eredivisie did, after all, contain Feyenoord, the reigning European champions, Ajax, the tournament’s new champions that season, PSV Eindhoven, who reached the semi-final of the Cup Winners’ Cup and FC Twente, who made it to the last eight of the Fairs Cup.
Yet, before the league campaign truly got up and running, Feyenoord had to deal with the Intercontinental Cup – a game between the winners of the European Cup and Copa Libertadores. During the time, the winner of this game was widely regarded as the world’s best and a victory was hailed almost as much as the continental success of the previous year. Again, Happel’s men were underdogs for the game against Estudiantes, who were playing in their third consecutive final.
The first meeting of the two-legged tie was held in Buenos Ares at La Bombonera. The visitors faced such hostility in Argentina that they were guarded by 200 army officers and no one was allowed to wander off unaccompanied. The Estudiantes players too, were also far from welcoming and rumours existed at the time of them smuggling sharpened objects on to the pitch. So intimidating was the atmosphere in the first leg, Happel would later refer to Estudiantes as a ‘gangster team’.
The team that started the Intercontinental Cup final was identical to that which beaten Celtic three months earlier, bar Treijtel in goal. And it was the replacement, who fumbled again on the big stage and two moments of poor play saw the hosts race to a two-goal lead within 12 minutes. But, with the likes of Laseroms, Israel, Jansen, and Van Hanegem, Feyenoord were never going to be intimidated, and it was latter who halved the deficit midway through the first period. Kindvall netted a second after the interval and mercifully the European champions returned home with a draw, and even more thankfully, injury-free.
If Feyenoord thought the Argentines would leave their brutality in South America, they were sadly mistaken. The second leg a few weeks later was a tighter and nervier affair than the previous meeting, and after an hour it remained goalless. Happel reacted by taking off Moulijn for Joop van Daele, who had started the season well. The reaction was almost instantaneous and two minutes later the winger rifled home from outside the area, past a helpless Oscar Pezzano.
He was to pay for that moment, however, as straight from kick-off Estudiantes’ Oscar Malbernat snatched Van Daele’s glasses, threw them quickly to Carlos Pachame, who smashed them to pieces. Their justification was that players in Argentina were not permitted to wear spectacles during games and they viewed as cheating. Regardless, Van Daele was forced to finish the match without them, despite unsuccessful efforts from the sidelines to glue the glasses back together. Thankfully it did not matter, and Feyenoord rather comfortably held on to earn the title of ‘world champions’, while Van Daele’s broken glasses are still displayed in the club museum.
While Feyenoord’s triumph was seen by many as a greater achievement than their European success just a few months ago the Rotterdammers had little time to celebrate, and the same month they returned to continental action. After spending the majority of last season being written off, they faced a rather favourable tie against UTA Arad. Yet the Romanians took a leaf out of Feyenoord’s book, causing a huge upset in the first round and eliminating the European champions.
Despite the disappointment in Europe, Feyenoord’s league form was superb and they maintained a three-point gap over Ajax from the start of the season to mid-November. The title race was to twist and turn throughout the campaign, until the penultimate matchday of the season, when Feyenoord travelled to Amsterdam with both sides level on 53 points.
It truly was a monumental encounter and one that would surely decide the title. The match was the first Eredivisie clash broadcast live in the Netherlands and due to Ajax’s involvement in the European Cup final, it was switched to a Thursday night. Earlier in the campaign, the sides had drawn 1-1, yet Ajax had eliminated Feyenoord from the Dutch Cup in April. The clubs also entered the game in tremendous form and both had won eight straight league games before the encounter.
Truly a game for ages, Happel’s Feyenoord against Michels’ Ajax, for what it turned out would be the last time. It was the host who took an early advantage through Piet Keizer, but it was a second-half comeback from Feyenoord that ultimately decided where the title would reside. In a blood-and-thunder tie of yesteryear, Kindvall netted his 24th league goal of the campaign to put the Rotterdamers on level terms before Schneider scored a late brace. Feyenoord wrapped up the title the following week and ensured it was another season to remember for the club’s fabled ‘dream team’.
Yet, it would prove, to an extent, to be the end of the road for Happel and his all-conquering side. The coach would spend another two years in Rotterdam without lifting another trophy. Happel’s Achilles heel at Feyenoord was ultimately his inability to freshen and rebuild that European Cup-winning side. Kindvall left in 1972 and Laseroms and Moulijn followed suit the next season. Happel himself departed in 1973 and went on to manage Sevilla and then Club Brugge before reuniting with some old friends five years later as manager of the Netherlands.
He, of course, led the Oranje to the 1978 World Cup final when they lost to Argentina. Happel was to add another European Cup to his medal haul 12 years later after that night in Milan, leading another surprise outfit Hamburg to glory. To this day he remains one of only five coaches to achieve such a feat with two different sides.
Feyenoord would taste success immediately after Happel’s departure, under the guidance of Wiel Coerver, when they won the league and UEFA Cup in 1974, but it failed to live up to the excitement of their days as world champions. The ’74 triumphs also proved to be the last hurrah for the remaining band of the ‘dream team’ and the club would lift silverware just once in the next decade, before winning the double in 1984.
It was the club’s inability to build on the successes of 1968-71 that mean today they are not viewed with the same esteem and reverence as their great rivals Ajax. While they may have stopped the side some view as the greatest ever, the ‘dream team’ were truly just a short-lived footballing juggernaut. It is for that reason, Feyenoord remain less distinguished today outside of the Netherlands.
However, their legacy should never be overlooked. Happel’s revolutionary tactical approach influenced Total Football, Michels, Dutch football and still provides the origins of formations and tactical systems today. It was also in that period when De Klassieker became an institution in the Netherlands as it is today. While the rivalry existed before, the contests between perhaps, only briefly, the two greatest sides in world football intensified an already ferocious derby.
Today, Feyenoord remain one of the Eredivisie’s most prominent and successful sides. Many from an older generation still rattle on about Moulijn, Hasil and van Hanegem and how they were once European champions and conquered the world.