It is becoming evident in today’s game is that every player in the game today should have the all-round components and ‘key skills’ which the modern game requires. This is why we are seeing the development and growth of universality; the idea that every player on the pitch should possess the key attributes of a footballer and be capable of filling in to different positions when and if required.
It appears that Sacchi’s philosophy has the potential to become real. And as we have seen in the evolution of everyposition, players and teams are becoming more ‘complete’, which is allowing teams to embrace fluid systems of play.
Of course it was Dutch football and its totalfootball philosophy which allowed these ideas on the game to develop. In fact Ajax’s influence on the world of football is startling. Ajax has been the epicentre of innovation and future game development for decades and by the 1990’s we were seeing the development of totalfootball across the continent.
Johann Cruyff was at Camp Nou laying down his Dutch vision with Barcelona, putting foundations in place which would last decades and produce one of the greatest sides ever seen. Sacchi was developing his own ideas taken from Rinus Michels and seeking to play totalfootball with AC Milan, embracing something close to universality. With his Dutch trio of Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard Milan were on top of the world, European champions for Holland and back-to-back winners for Milan in 1989 and 1990.  Yet it was perhaps another Dutchman who would have a major influence on the development of the game we see now. Louis van Gaal had just taken the reigns at Ajax after being previously the youth coordinator. Forthright and assured in his beliefs and philosophy van Gaal would take Ajax to the top of European football playing his brand of totalfootball.
As Bergkamp explain in his auto-bioography Stillness and Speed, for van Gaal“All players are equal. For him there’s no such thing as big names, because everyone serves the team and the system – his system.” Maarten Meijer, who studied van Gaal’s career for his book: Louis van Gaal – De Biografie, offered more insight: “What van Gaal was looking for was, as he put it, ‘multi-functional players, players who could play with both legs, had both defensive and offensive capabilities, were physically strong, were quick starters, had the necessary tactical acumen to function smoothly in rotation football, and, above all, put their skills in service of the team effort.” That may be the best summary of universality we have seen.
In players like Rijkaard, Seedorf and Edgar Davids as well Marc Overmars, the De Boer twins and Danny Blind, van Gaal had a group of versatile, technical excellent and tactical astute players. The 1995 Champions League success was a deserved triumph for van Gaal’s philosophy and the quality in which that Ajax side played. It was proof once more that Ajax was the centre of developing complete players and progressive coaches.
It is fair to say that the influence of Louis van Gaal on the modern game and his vision to develop of team akin with universality makes him one of the future game’s most important visionaries.
After Ajax van Gaal moved to Barcelona, following in the same footsteps as Michels and Cruyff before him. And like those two men van Gaal would have a major influence on the future game. His impact on two of the modern game’s greatest coaches in Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, as well as his influence on players (now top coaches in the present day) Frank De Boer, Luis Enrique and Ronald Koeman highlights how influential van Gaal and his philosophy and methods were. And as well as his influence on present day coaches, he also put in place the beginning of Barca and Spain’s rise to dominance. He would identify and play a major role in bringing through and nurturing the world class creative talents of Xavi and Iniesta while at Barcelona.