Rinus Michels’ Vision: The Brain & Soccer Strategy Evolution

 the visionary of Dutch football strategy

Rinus Michels, often celebrated as the pioneer of Dutch football, is lauded for his groundbreaking notions that have forever revolutionized the sport. Heralded as ‘The General,’ Michels displayed a foresight about the brain’s role in football much ahead of his time.

Read more: Rinus Michels’ Vision: The Brain & Soccer Strategy Evolution

A Glimpse into the Past:

In a documentary by Fox Sport and AjaxTV about Ajax legend, Sjaak Swart, Rinus Michels is spotlighted. Sjaak heaps praises upon his former coach, attributing numerous successes to him.

When a journalist probes Michels about his statement that technically, footballers should be akin to robots, Michels delivers a profound response. He elucidates, “Players reach a juncture where they need to bypass their cognitive abilities, transitioning into a more automated mode.”

Scientific Backing:

Decades after Michels’ assertion, researchers like Terry Mc Morris and his team from University College Chichester in the UK delved into this theory. Their findings indicated that when athletes are fatigued, their working memory’s performance dips significantly. This working memory, often deemed the ‘conductor’ of our brain, prioritizes daily influxes of information, holding onto what’s pertinent.

Studies suggest that younger players benefit most when they learn new movements without the constant conscious processing. This emphasizes the importance of experiencing movements, sidestepping the working memory as much as possible.

Two Systems of Thought:

Nobel laureate, Professor Daniel Kahneman, delineated that the human brain processes information in two distinct ways – System 1 and System 2.

System 1 encompasses effortless thinking, routinely deployed in everyday situations, like discerning someone’s mood. Operating on auto-pilot, it doesn’t possess the capability for deep analysis. This in-depth, rational, and deliberate thinking rests within our System 2. This system comes into play when tackling intricate problems or tasks demanding deliberate attention. It is often believed that System 2 sets us apart from animals.

Aligning with Michels’ theory, the objective is to encode all movements and strategies into System 1, reserving System 2 for on-the-fly decisions during a game. The more experiences housed in System 1, the swifter and more successfully strategies can be executed. This might just be the dividing line between the greats and the absolute best – from Messi to Ronaldo, and from Schumacher to Nadal. Their genius, arguably, lies in having most of their strategies embedded in System 1, conserving energy, while System 2 enables them to shine in pivotal moments.


In retrospect, Rinus Michels was undeniably a visionary, aspiring to condition players to transcend their cognitive functions, emphasizing ‘automated action.’ It’s fascinating to realize many theories aren’t novel. As of 2018, we’ve merely rebranded them, better comprehending their essence. Stay tuned for more historical insights!

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