Former Netherlands coach Rinus Michels passed away this morning at the City of Aalst hospital in Belgium. The 77-year-old had recently undergone heart surgery.
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Watch the 1974 Netherlands v Brazil FIFA World Cup semi-final
Rinus Michels was coach of Ajax between 1965 and 1971, and Barcelona supremo from 1971 to 1975. The "General" will be remembered as a great advocate of attacking football and as the inventor of "total football". In 1974, Michels coached the great Dutch side, which included Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, to the FIFA World Cup final in Germany.
"The sad loss of Rinus Michels fills FIFA and the whole football world with immense sadness. Rinus Michels carried the colours of the Netherlands to great heights by assembling the magical team led by Johan Cruyff that spawned the phrase "total football," said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter when he heard the news.
In 1988, Michels was again at the Oranje helm when a side boasting the talents of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard won the country's only international title to date, the UEFA European Championship. "As he led them to victory at the 1988 European Championship in Germany, their fluid and resolutely attack-minded style left a lasting imprint on the modern game," said Blatter.
The news came as a shock for FIFA and for the football world in general, just a few days before the draw for the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands. "There is a certain irony in the fact that he has left us just before our FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands, the draw for which takes place on Sunday. Here at FIFA, we regarded him as one of the family, as he had continued to take an interest in football and had taken part in several TSGs [Technical Study Groups, editor's note], including at France 98. But our thoughts are first and foremost with his family at this difficult time," concluded a clearly moved FIFA President.
In Holland, the news has come as a shock to all football-lovers, and the big names have been emphasising the crucial role played by Michels in Dutch football.
Marco van Basten, who played under him for the national team in 1988, struggled to find sufficiently powerful words to pay tribute to his mentor. "The death of the father of Dutch football represents a tragic loss for the game as a whole. Michels possessed all the qualities of a top-class coach.
Van Basten: "Firm, yet at the same time warm"
Michels' ability and manner clearly left a lasting impression on the former AC Milan striker, who still remembers the management technique of "the general": "He knew how to motivate a team and had a way of using his unique sense of humour to make players relax when necessary. He could be both firm in his decision-making and at the same time very warm and friendly. All these attributes explain why he remains the only coach to have lead a Dutch side to a major title, the 1988 European Championship. Consequently, it was a very special moment when he presented me with my own coaching certificate two years ago."
Jeu Sprengers, the Chairman of the Dutch Football Association, also touched upon the coach's hugely important contribution to Dutch football: "He is nothing short of the greatest coach that the Netherlands have ever had. It was under his stewardship that the national team obtained their best results: in 1974 and in 1988. Michels symbolised what has made the Dutch team so greatly appreciated around the world: total attacking football."
Sprengers also recalled the still-tangible influence of Michels in the Netherlands: "At national level, Rinus Michels was regarded as the Master of all Dutch coaches and was always invited to the meetings of the UEFA technical committee as an honorary member.
This shows the international recognition acquired by this man, whose name will feature forever in the football hall of fame alongside such greats as Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Helenio Herrera and Ernst Happel.