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'The Father of Dutch Soccer' dies at 77
(Agencies)
Updated: 2005-03-05 09:53

Rinus Michels, who helped bring a fluid, attacking style to Dutch soccer and coached his country to its only international title in the 1988 European Championships, died Thursday at 77.

Michels died in a hospital in Aalst, Belgium, following complications from heart surgery two weeks ago, the Dutch soccer federation said.

Former Netherlands soccer coach Rinus Michels is seen in this April 2002 file photo. Michels died early Thursday morning, March 3, 2005 in Aalst, Belgium at age 77. Rinus Michels, referred to as 'the General', led the Netherlands to its only international title, the 1988 European Championship. [AP]
Former Netherlands soccer coach Rinus Michels is seen in this April 2002 file photo. Michels died early Thursday morning, March 3, 2005 in Aalst, Belgium at age 77. Rinus Michels, referred to as 'the General', led the Netherlands to its only international title, the 1988 European Championship. [AP]
Michels, known as "the General" for his strict discipline and tactical insights, regarded the 1988 triumph as a pivotal point in his life.

"I think that that moment and the explosion that enveloped me that was one of the most beautiful moments," Michels said recently on Dutch television.

He also coached the team at the 1974 World Cup, where the Dutch lost to West Germany in the final. Dutch fans widely viewed a semifinal win over Germany at Euro '88 as revenge for both the earlier World Cup loss and the occupation of World War II.

"I think we're liberated now," he after the victory.

Dutch teams are to wear black armbands in upcoming games, and flags were at half-staff at soccer stadiums.

Marco van Basten, a striker on the 1988 championship team and current coach of the Dutch national team, called Michels the "father of Dutch soccer."

"He knew how to motivate a group and how to take away the stress at the right moments with his sense of humor," Van Basten said. "He could also be unusually hard in his decisions, and at other moments show his warmth."

Michels retired from the national team for the third time after Euro '92. He is credited with helping create the flowing "total football" style in the 1960s and '70s, together with players like Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens.

The system evolved from drills Michels employed while coaching Ajax, with midfielders and fullbacks seamlessly shifting position to join the attack. All players passed frequently, and the team put a premium on maintaining ball possession.

Cruyff played for Michels at Ajax, on the national team and at FC Barcelona. Cruyff said Michels' legacy would be the philosophy that the best soccer is not only successful, but exciting and beautiful to watch.

"With him, as well as with me, results may have come first, but quality of soccer was No. 1," Cruyff said from his home in Barcelona, Spain. "Just winning is not enough."

Michels was "the greatest coach the Netherlands has ever had," said Jeu Springers, head of the national association. "He stood for the model that made Oranje so popular in the world: attacking soccer."

A moderately successful player for Ajax in the 1940s, Michels coached the club in the 1960s and early 70s, winning several Dutch league titles and the 1971 European Cup. After leaving Ajax, he took over at Barcelona and won the Spanish league title in 1974.

Michels also coached in the United States in the North American Soccer League and in West Germany.

"He was a man who instilled fear and respect in the players," said former Ajax coach and 1988 fullback Ronald Koeman. "He spoke few words, but got his message across all the same. He was a fantastic man to experience as a player."



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