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John Giles: Holland an affront to Total Football legacy

IMAGINE what might have been if Rinus Michels had been Bert Van Marwijk all those years ago when Barcelona came looking for a coach with a vision.

I can guarantee one thing: Spain would not have won the World Cup in Johannesburg in 2010. Spain came good in the end and across the world most football fans heaved a sign of relief.

The best team with the best players overcame the worst cynicism I've seen in many years.

Van Marwijk has been rightly praised for moulding a Dutch squad unit which bucked the trend and remained both stable and united.

But in the last three games particularly, when the quality of the opposition improved dramatically, Van Marwijk decided that he could not win against Brazil, Germany or indeed Spain without kicking them off the pitch.

He obviously didn't think his players were good enough to win any other way and men like Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong became his poster boys when they delivered a place in the final at the end of a set of studs.


When Michels went to the Nou Camp and taught the Catalans the way of total football, he put in place a legacy which reached its full flowering in Soccer City last night.

It struck me forcibly after the dust had settled that the Dutch players and the Dutch FA will have an awful lot to ponder in the coming weeks – beginning with the fact that Spain won the World Cup playing as Michels would have wished Holland to play.

Some of the Dutch lads, at least, must be wondering what type of madness came over them to allow total football to become total annihilation.

We've seen teams bent on doing a hatchet job before at all levels in the game but I don't think I've ever seen one as committed and focused as this.

It's all the more annoying that it was the Dutch who chose to ignore everything they believe about the game in favour of a way of playing which is brutal, negative and almost unwatchable.

For the Dutch players who can play, it will be particularly galling to see the ethos which Michels developed in Barcelona used against them.

Thankfully for the rest of us, Holland's frontal assault came up short. It was an awful final, pockmarked with X-rated tackles and not just from Van Bommel and De Jong. Referee Howard Webb should have clamped down on the tackling in the first minute and we might have had a chance of a decent final, but he didn't.

Webb's control of the game was weak-kneed and he was lucky that the Spanish lads had the discipline and good sense not to react badly. Otherwise, the final could have been a fiasco of red cards.

A yellow or two in the first five minutes could and should have sorted it out. Everyone knew exactly the tactics Holland would use and any decent referee should have had his homework done to prevent flagrant rule-breaking.

It is depressing to think that all the negative points which were highlighted many times by all sorts of people within the game in the run up to this World Cup have come to pass. The referees couldn't cope, technology should have been available and was not, diving and cheating continues unabated ... and then we have the ball.

We've spent most of this World Cup complaining and with plenty of justification. It would be much easier for all concerned if we had spent the last four weeks raving about the football, the goals and the great players at South Africa 2010.


Instead, we've been talking about Sepp Blatter, video cameras, the referees and, of course, the ball. Would Pádraig Harrington tee off in the British Open this week with a ball he couldn't control and couldn't predict because a sponsor thought it would be a good idea? Not a chance.

Would an F1 driver trust his life to a set of tyres which are unpredictable? Again, not a chance.

Yet FIFA allowed the fundamental tool of the game to be tampered to such an extent that the best footballers in the world couldn't play properly with it.

Stupid beyond belief. But we should celebrate the fact that Spain managed to rise above all the nonsense and we should raise a glass to Vicente del Bosque and his players who stayed true to the real spirit of the game we love.

We should be optimistic that with the Spanish as world champions, their way of playing will be copied all over the world. Xavi, Villa, Iniesta and Fabregas will inspire a generation of kids.

But I would always be concerned that, when the next major tournament finals rolls around in a few years time, the stark lessons we have had paraded in front of us for four weeks will be ignored or fudged.