Indian hockey has a new coach, Paul Van Ass, and his first real big test comes when the men in blue participate in the Hockey World League semifinals beginning June 20 in Belgium.
The Dutch manager has decided to try out a brand new strategy dubbed ‘Total Hockey‘.
Van Ass said:
“We are working on the new set up of 10 players going on the attack and all 10 coming back to defend. We have been practising the style for some time, but we will come to know about the outcome when we start playing.”
The concept is not novel.
It was first introduced by Dutch soccer club team Ajax Amsterdam in the mid-sixties.
It was refined further and used by the national side at the 1974 World Cup.
The Football Bible website describes the strategy thus:
“Total football’s main strategy is to possess the ball as much as possible. Players position themselves far from each other and pass the ball around. While the ball is being distributed, some players move around to get into good scoring position.
There are three main objectives in a total football defense: keep the ball away from the goal, intercept passes, and mark deadly strikers. Total footballers work as a unit in defense. They narrow down passing lanes and work together aggressively retrieve the ball as soon as possible.”
Total football was a response to tight man-marking employed by Italian teams. They termed it “catenaccio calcio” which literally translates to mean “door bolt football”.
The Football Bible adds:
“Coach Rinus Michels of Ajax defeated it by making his players move to different positions. This soccer strategy created a dilemma for the man-markers.
If they chased their man, they would find themselves in the wrong position when it is their team’s turn to attack. If they let their man go, they are risking the chance of leaving an attacker open.
Rinus trained his players so they can easily adapt to any position. Opponents who were not as well-adapted as the Dutch total football players found it difficult to keep up.”
Total Football, however, was not invented by Michels. It was an Englishman named Jimmy Hogan who laid its foundation in 1910. Its basic tenets were player stamina and ball passing.
Johann Cryuff, the fulcrum of Michels’ strategy, introduced a variant of Total Football as a manager with Barcelona.
It goes under the name “tiki-taka”. It is this very style that took Barcelona and Spain to the pinnacle of European and World soccer.
Can Total Hockey work for Team India?
Indian players have the dribbling skills to implement the strategy. It can also help defeat heavy man-marking of the forwards.
Do Indians have the stamina to fall back on the counter-attack? The forwards have traditionally been too laid back to rush back and defend. Can they overcome this inherent trait? Does the team, as a whole, have the stamina and versatility, especially in defense, to make this strategy successful?
Brazil, arguably the team with the best footballing skills, have never resorted to Total Football.
Can India, hockey’s Brazil, make it work?
We shall see. And we shall certainly cheer.