Home » Managerial Legends » Portrait of an iconic manager – Rinus Michels

Portrait of an iconic manager – Rinus Michels

Rinus Michels is best remembered as a pioneering football manager, but he was also an accomplished footballer. He began his playing career with Ajax in 1946 and over the course of the next 12 years he went on to play over 300 games for the Dutch club.

Operating as a striker, he scored over 150 goals in all competitions and won two league titles. He also earned five caps for the Netherlands national team.

Michels’ managerial stint began in 1960 with an amateur Dutch club named JOS and five years later he was at the helm of the club he became synonymous with: Ajax.

Tactics and man-management (Strengths)

Total Football, where players do not have fixed positions, but their movement is dictated with the passage of play, is synonymous with Rinus Michels and his protege Johan Cruyff.

Prior to that historic innovation, teams played with fixed positions, where a no 9 was confined to his place in the opposition box, the no 10 dictated play from behind the forward. The two centre-backs rarely ventured forward with their roles limited to hoofing the ball forward when in possession or putting it out of play when pressed, etc.

However, it all changed with Michels as he deployed extremely fluid tactics. The high esteem he held Cruyff’s inputs also tells us the story of a man who was eager to incorporate the views of his players.

Best Spell as a manager

The legendary manager had two separate spells with both Ajax and Barcelona and also won the European Cup with the Netherlands in 1988, but when it comes to consistent success then his first spell at Ajax takes the cake. He won four league titles, three Dutch Cups, and the 1971 European Cup in his initial six-year spell with the Dutch outfit.

Greatest players in his legendary teams

Michels worked with some of the greatest players of the 1970s and 80s. Some of the game’s legends who were influenced by Michels include Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Velibor Vasovic, Arie Haan, Migueli, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, and Ronald Koeman amongst others.


More than anything Michels will be remembered as one of the pioneers of Total Football. Without the legendary Dutchman we would have probably never witnessed the Netherlands side of the 1970s, Cruyff’s Barcelona dream team or the all-conquering Blaugrana of Pep Guardiola.

Place amongst greats

For the legacy of Total Football that Rinus Michels and his team that enchanted the viewing public at the 1974 World Cup, Michels will rank amongst the top five managers of all time.

Eredivisie: 1965–66, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1969–70
KNVB Cup: 1966–67, 1969–70, 1970–71
European Cup: 1970–71; Runner-up: 1968–69
UEFA Intertoto Cup: 1968
La Liga: 1973–74
Copa del Rey: 1977–78
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Trophy: 1971
1. FC Köln
DFB Pokal: 1982–83
UEFA European Championship: 1988
FIFA World Cup Runner-up: 1974

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