Totaalvoetbal is dood


Like all soccer writers, I have a debilitating nostalgic streak, and like all soccer writers, I love Holland. The Dutch, who face Spain in Sunday’s World Cup final, are soccer’s most gorgeous losers, a team defined by a single generation of players who brilliantly failed to reach their potential. The Dutch teams of the 1970s—led by the mercurial Johan Cruyff, who’s widely considered the greatest European player of all time—launched a tactical revolution, played one of the most thrilling styles of their era, and lost two consecutive World Cup finals in memorable and devastating ways. In the process, they became the icons of soccer romantics who would rather see teams play beautifully and lose than win and be boring. That’s a harsh legacy for any team that just wants to take home trophies, and this year’s Dutch squad is trying hard to transcend it. The dreams of millions of fans are riding on their success. Personally, I hope they fail. The legend of Dutch soccer begins, and inevitably ends, with Totaalvoetbal: “total football.” The Dutch haven’t really played total football in years; their current World Cup team is constructed more in opposition to the system than in line with it. But embraced or resisted, it’s the idée fixe that looms over everything they do.

more from Brian Phillips at Slate here.