The parallel between Ted Lasso and Johan Cruyff in saving AFC Richmond

In Ted Lasso‘s episode of the week, finally, the series focused on football. Okay, let me rephrase: “Finally” spent more time on the field, but what drove the story continues behind the scenes.

With only one goal in weeks, one more defeat, and the threat of relegation, Ted (Jason Sudeikis) surprisingly retains the full and unqualified support of his boss, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), of his main critic, Trent Crimm (James Lance), of your team and your fans. Everyone relies on the “Ted Lasso Way”, which is to make everyone feel good, even if they are losers.

For an American, praising the defeated is curious, and now that I think about it, it’s almost offensive to use football precisely to invert values, but we’ll accept it because we know that a defeat or a draw can still be a great game. But that’s not what I want to talk about. In the seventh episode of the – supposedly – ​​last season, we finally get to see Ted work. Borrowing Johan Cruyff‘s ‘total football’ tactic, AFC Richmond proved that they have a much harder time adapting on and off the field than we might imagine from a Division 1 team. And the series, which has focused on the characters’ hearts, uses the strategy in everyone’s personal lives. Let’s review.

As Ted Lasso is an American series, it needs to be didactic for an audience that was not born breathing football. So literally had to draw what every boy knows since he picks up the ball (or any fan of the sport), which is the style “invented” by Cruyff in the 1970s, the “total football”. The tactic impressed the world in the 1974 World Cup (with the legendary Clockwork Orange) and made Barcelona the team it still is in the 21st century. In fact, what Ted doesn’t mention is that the Dutchman himself was inspired by the style of play imagined by the English, advanced by the Hungarians, and translated by the Dutch.

The concept of ‘total football’ was born in the 1930s, with Herbert Chapman, a legendary coach, and five-time Premier League champion who used the style at Arsenal and won the championship. Incidentally, Chapman is credited with being one of the main ones responsible for the modernization of football, from inventing innovative tactical schemes, improvements, and training practices, he was also the one who introduced the use of lighting reflectors so that the game could be seen and played even at night, the numbering of uniforms, and the creation of international club competitions. But then, in the following decade, the Argentine Carlos Peucelle used a similar model in the River Plate game, and already in the 1950s, the Hungarian national team almost won the 54 Cup under the command of Gustav Sebes – who called the tactic “magical Magyars” – and, finally, Cruyff’s mentor, the Iron General Rinus Michels, who continued the philosophy and inspired Cruyff. It’s Ted, it wasn’t the barbecue sauce that came out the obvious.

And even for those who don’t play, it makes sense. The idea is to “defend by attacking”, keeping possession of the ball, controlling movement, changing positions, and thus taking full advantage of the playing field. Control is key, and that’s the AFC Richmond challenge, with a team of likable and dysfunctional players. The difference here is that Ted is not confrontational either on or off the field, but Cruyff was obsessed with winning and therefore believed in the offensive. As the series showed, Cruyff created a model based on triangles using each player to form the geometric figure (no matter their position). In this design, each player would always have two options for passing and marking (‘diamond formation’). Although it seems easy, as it happened in Ted Lasso, it took a while to settle in, but soon the players understood that following the model, they had to decide when to approach their partner or not.

Do you know another strategy that Ted doesn’t mention, but that came from Cruyff’s mind? “Nate’s False 9,” he would say. That’s right, the False 9 that Nate (Nick Mohammed) coached and achieved victories for the team in previous seasons started with the Dutchman in Barcelona (Romário scored many beautiful goals with that move) and was solidified by Pep Guardiola with Lionel Messi, years later.

As we saw in the most footballing episode of the series, in terms of defense, the team is at greater risk and with the chance of conceding goals from the opponent, but the contra was in a clear maxim of Cruyff, the game is won when you score a goal more than the rival.

As always, football is the metaphor for what everyone is experiencing and interferes on the pitch. Being close, but at a distance, reversing positions, seeking unity, and achieving victory. For reasons of storytelling, lightness, and humor, AFC Richmond found it very difficult to absorb the basic concept, but Ted is hopeful, as are we. He listed 4 phases, explained 3 of them, and makes the 4th a mystery. Cruyff said there were only two: ball possession and accurate passing. As Trent realized, it will work. Because, as always, we believe in Ted Lasso.


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