This is How the 1974 Orange Clockwork Played

· 18th April 2019
There have been legendary teams, and in 1974 the Netherlands displayed one of the best soccer games ever seen. Led by Michels and Cruyff, they played the first World Cup final for their country. 

In spite of not winning the title, the Netherlands national soccer team, that played the German World Cup in 1974, has gone down in history as one of the best teams ever seen. Nicknamed the “Orange Clockwork”, this squad revolutionized the way of seeing, playing and understanding soccer forever. 

The creature’s father was Rinus Michels. He’d trained Amsterdam’s Ajax for many years as well as FC Barcelona. His teams played very well. He was also known for taking Johan Cruyff, a symbol of those teams, to his best level.

For this, the Royal Football Association of the Netherlands decided to assign the national team to this experienced coach. His mission was to break the paradigm of poor results in previous world cups to that moment. As you well know he was very successful.

Who was in the 1974 Orange Clockwork?

The squad was mostly made up of Ajax players whom Michels knew from his time in the team. The team had figures such as Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Rob Ressenbrink and Ruud Krol, to mention some of the best known.

To point out some of the unforgettable players on this historic team we can mention the line up that played the final match against Germany. The team played with: Jongbloed, Suurbier, Rijsberger, Haan, Krol, Jansen, Neeskens, Van Hanegem, Rep, Cruyff, and Ressenbrink.

The formation most used was 4-3-3, so popular nowadays since Joseph Guardiola’s Barcelona. However, this team hardly had fixed positions. The game style, as we’ll see next, demanded switching positions and functions constantly.

The 1974 Orange Clockwork game characteristics

There aren’t many teams that have lost two world cup finals. Holland lost the 1978 final match against Argentina. In spite of this, they’ll be remembered forever. The Netherlands achieved this by playing a game of totally revolutionary soccer for that time. 

johan cryuff holland player
Johan Cruyff

This is how the Netherlands played:

  • Possession as a main idea: the “Orange Clockwork” tried to have the ball as long as possible. They would not force the attack, instead they would move the ball patiently until a space was produced. In those days, soccer was more direct than it is now. Maybe that’s why this careful play impressed so many.
  • Constant rotation: in the Netherlands team of 1974, all players attacked and all players defended. Michels transmitted the idea to his players that collectivity was going to lead them to great achievements. This way he also took advantage of the great individual skills that his players had.
  • High pressure: another frequent trait now, but not back then. When they lost the ball three, four and up to five dutch players would shoot out towards the rival player that had the ball. This way, when the ball was recovered in the other team’s field, they’d find the defense in a vulnerable position.
  • Offside as a defense strategy: this pressure also moves the defense forward to avoid possible long passes or between lines. This innovative element made it very hard to score against Michel’s team.
  • Physical preparation: this fact cannot be ignored no matter how complementary it may seem. The “Orange Clockwork” had great mobility and deployment. This logically, requires well trained players.

Perfect soccer

All of these weapons, combined with the precision worthy of the best orchestra, managed to immortalize the motto, “Total Football”. These two words perfectly symbolize this team’ s game style that lured many fans for years.

Soccer consists basically of two things . First, when you have the ball you must be able to pass it correctly. Second, when they pass you the ball you must able to control it. If you don’t control it, you can’t pass either. You can play a lot, but if you can’t score, you can’t win.

-Johan Cruyff-

The “Orange Clockwork” results

In the groups phase, Netherlands defeated Uruguay (2-0), Bulgaria (4-1) and tied with Sweden (0-0). This is how they qualified in the first place of group three. 

In the second round, they made their debut with a memorable beating against Argentina (4-0). Then they beat German Democratic Republic (2-0) and defending champion Brazil (2-0). Besides not being scored against, the Netherlands advanced as leader of its group.

holland versus argentina

After this journey they made it into the finals against West Germany. The beginning of this match was simply amazing. In a minute of play time, without a German player touching the ball, Holland placed Cruyff against the defense. He faced the defense and was fouled. A penalty kick was called and Neeskens converted.

Still, in the first half of the game, a penalty kick provoked by Jansen gave way to Paul Breitner scoring the equalizing goal. Two minutes before the half time, historic scorer Gerd Müller -until recently top scorer in world cup history- put his team ahead with what would end up being the final score.

Despite this stumble, the Dutch team has remained in everyone’s memory. Some feel this makes them even greater. It may be true: nobody dares to relate the “Orange Clockwork” with the term, “failure”.

  • Jensen, R. (2014). Looking at the extraordinary success of the “Clockwork Orange”: Examining the brilliance of total football played by the Netherlands. Soccer and Society15(5), 720–731. https://doi.org/10.1080/14660970.2014.912018