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So, now let’s examine how I emulate this on Football Manager 2023
In this emulation, we are looking for player rotations, high press, and attacking mentality where everyone contributing to the attacking phase because this is what total football means, every player must be able to play in every position, attack as a team and defend as a team.

1. Formation Line-Up and Mentality

First of all, formation and mentality.
For total-football, an attacking mentality is a must, so let’s start with this.
The formation, as mentioned before, when in possession was a 4-2-4 or a 4-2-3-1 depending on Crujiff’s position, while when out of possession, it was a 4-4-1-1. It’s my personal opinion that to decide what formation to pick up, you must start using the out-of possession formation, because when the team gets the ball back, the players will move to form the attacking formation.
Having that said, in this case, we have the two wingers, Rep and Rensenbrink who are a part of a block of 6 attacking players which includes them, the two full-backs and the two forwards. To replicate this, we can’t put the two wingers too down, in line with the midfielders, so we must make a compromise. I believe the best compromise is a 4-3-3 with two wingers high-up and instead of 2 midfielders on the same line, one close to another, we will have 3 midfielders, one of them will drop down, in front of the defense to cover up more, while the other two midfielders will have more attacking duties.

2. Team Instructions
In total-football, possession is one of the keys, so your team must control the ball. To do so, I chose shorter passing, so that the players will pass the ball to each other with greater accuracy and less mistakes while they move all around the pitch. Michels wanted his team to play wide, so a wide attacking width is also a must.
What about tempo? Well, players in total football moved very fast, but to replicate it on Football Manager Match Engine, you should select Higher tempo, but this will lead your players to mistakes sometimes, so a slightly higher tempo is maybe a better choice to retain possession more. Work the ball into the box is also a good choice if you want to see good possession play.
Another instruction you can give ONLY if your players have good skills is be more expressive. Why? Because this way those more skilled players will sometimes try something different from the tactic instructions and probably create more opportunities to score.
The other thing we must notice is Crujiff and Neeskens roles, they are real playmakers in attack, they create space for other players, they switch positions and duties, one drops deeper the other moves forward, they are an example of non-positional forwards.

In the transition phase, counter and counter-press are both a must, if you search some video of Rinus Michel’s Holland games, you will see how they pressed the opponents and immediately started fast counter-attacks. With the aggressive defense, the off-the-ball movement in possession and the density they had, when they lost the ball, there were many players close to the opponent who had the ball so they could immediately counter-press to regain control and once won the ball they will play quickly to the nearby teammates or try a fast counter-attack.
In defense, as we said, we want high press, so to keep the team compact, our defensive line must be higher or much higher too. Obviously, trigger press will be on much more often and also prevent short Gk distribution and stay up (to use off-side trap). On football manager 22 the instruction was “use offside trap” but on Football manager23 they changed it to stay higher. Well, we have other two options here, trap outside or inside and stop crosses or invite crosses. I chose trap outside and stop crosses too. Let’s explain this. Trap outside as written in the game instructions means that you force your opponents to attack from the flanks, to play the ball wide because the center is not an available option. If you do that, you have one great advantage, because your opponent can dribble just straight or cutting inside because he can’t go wider or it will be a throw-in, or he can pass the ball back to another player and this means slowing down the play making it easier for our players to steal the ball. If you trap inside, you funnel the ball into the center and force turnover in advantageous areas but it’s always a risk that the opposition tries to exploit the flanks. The other two options, if you invite crosses it means you want to allow the opponent to cross the ball in the box because you know your defenders are taller than the opponent’s forwards, it’s quite risky if your opponent usually likes to play long balls or a lot of crosses so I often choose to stop crosses or I don’t choose any of those two options.

3. Players roles and instructions

Let’s start from Jongbloed, he was comfortable in playing the ball and he can be considered a pioneer of the sweeper-keeper role. He is a sweeper-keeper on attack duty.
As I said before in the tactic explanation, the two full-backs were pushing forward to provide width. That means we have two options here. One is to choose a role like complete wing-back or wing-back because they already have the “run wide with the ball” as preset instruction and in the case of the complete wing-back there is also another preset instruction, “stay wider”. The other option is to choose a full-back and give the instruction myself. If I give this instruction, it is enough to provide width and I don’t need, unless I want, to choose overlap right and left in the team instructions. Conversely, if you choose the overlap instruction you can avoid to give the full-backs. For this tactic I chose one wing-back on support duty on the right to emulate Suurbier and one complete full-back on support on the left to emulate Krol.
Let’s see now the two central defenders, one was Rijsbergen, the more defensive one so I will choose a simple central defender on defense for him and tell him to mark tighter while the other was Haan a ball-playing defender, the more technical one. I will put him on defense duty because in my opinion it’s always better that the two defenders even if they have different roles (such as in this case a central defender and a ball playing defender) have the same duty, to avoid one of them moves later than the other and the offside trap does not work. If you still want to emulate Haan’s stopper duty, you can set him as stopper (he was a former midfielder converted by Rinus Michels into a central defender), besides, since he often moved forward and carried the ball into the opponent’s half, I will give him the instruction to dribble more.
Let’s now examine the midfielders, the one in front of the defense, the one who dropped more to help the defense to cover was Janssen, very good at tackling and marking. For him, I think a defensive midfielder role on defend is the best to stop opponent’s attacks in the central area of the pitch between our midfielders and our defenders. The other two midfielders, one of them. Van Hanegem was more technical and had great skills with the ball and great passing skills, I think for him, a deep-lying playmaker would be a good choice.
Now, the other midfielder of our 4-3-3. I believe a central midfielder on attack or a mezzala on attack with the instruction to get further forward is the best way to replicate his movements to replicate the attacking fluidity of the classic Total Football system.
I think if we pair a deep-lying playmaker with a mezzala, the first one can dictate play from deep positions, meanwhile, the mezzala on attack is an attack-minded role that looks to make forward runs into the box and contribute to the attack. This combination can create overloads in central areas during possession, resembling the 4-2-4 shape more realistic.
If we pair a deep-lying playmaker with a central midfielder on attack, we provide a balance between creativity and forward runs. The central midfielder will join the attack with more urgency and this setup can also mimic the 4-2-4 shape in possession.
In my tactic I choose a mezzala, even if the central midfielder is also a valid option because you can edit him more compared to the mezzala.
Then, the attacking three, I think both wingers, Rep on the right and Rensenbrink on the left should be considered as 2 inside forwards on attack duty. You can instruct them to shoot more often, roam from position to encourage specific movements and decision-making, cut inside with ball and to sit narrower if you want them to be closer to the box, since Crujjff’s role, a trequartista, allows him to drop down, even to the midfield to get the ball and play it as he wants. Crujff was a genius who moved all around the pitch without any tactic limitations and other players could exploit the space left by him and attack the box.
Finally, Cruyff. The best choice if you want to replicate his style of play and his movements is the Trequartista role. You can instruct him to roam from position to encourage even more movement and creativity.
That’s all for this tactic creation explanation.
I follow the same path to emulate my tactics, also when I want to create a tactic which is not the emulation of some great manager’s tactic. After choosing the style I want to play, I must consider my players qualities and if they suit or not my style, if not, I can use transfer window to bring better players to my team, if yes, then I will train them to learn my tactic.
Thank you all!
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