The Dutch team of 1974 was in my opinion the greatest footballing team of all time – a free-wheeling, total-footballing Orange whirlwind led by the legendary Johan Cruijff. I was privileged to be in Holland at the time of the ’74 World Cup and watched all the games live on TV. In South America the team became known as la naranja mecánica – the clockwork orange. In this clip they destroy Argentina 4-0 in torrential rain:

The supposed guardians of “the beautiful game”, Brazil, resorted to physical violence to try and stop Holland, to no avail: 2-0 (the physical battering probably cost Holland in the final, and with it the title):

In the opening game the Uruguayans were played off the park (2-0: it could easily have been 8-0). Note the pressing tactics, hunting in packs, rotation of positions – all revolutionary at the time and a complete surprise to their opponents:

Compared to today’s game it may sometimes look like a slow ballet, but the point is that this team was so much better than its peers at the time, it was scary. Watching them play still makes the hairs stand up on my neck…

In those days national leagues featured most of the nations’ best players. The globalisation of football had not commenced which meant that countries still had national styles of play. The World Cup was a stage for heterogeneous playing styles and cultures and because of that and the non-ubiquity of football coverage on TV, the ability to surprise opponents with individual talents and tactical revolutions was possible. These days, as the best players all play in a few big leagues, playing styles have homogenised, teams are studied and analysed at length, with the result that most top-level matches look much the same whether the players hail from Europe, South America or Africa. So to talk of “English” or “Italian” or “Argentinian” football these days is pointless and misleading. National teams at World Cups feature the same players from these same few leagues and play in similar styles. The result is more competitive matches where almost any team can beat any other team, but a loss of diversity…

Other football musings: