Total Football Journeyman: Jogo Bonito Benfica

The advantage of using world-class team in FM20, is in the variety of tactics you can try on season-to-season basis. I started out my Benfica save attempting a more patient possession approach, reminiscent of Guardiola’s Barcelona. Yet as my campaign continues, I find myself experimenting with more adventurous tactics. So in 3rd year with the Portuguese giant, I attempt to show that Total Football does not necessarily equal boring possession-focused football. It can also be an exciting attacking style. In fact, one way to fail at Total Football, is to create an overly conservative possession system. This is especially true when playing with a relatively strong team. In FM20, as in real football, you don’t want to give too much time for opponents to organize their defence. But how to break them down while playing attractive football? The answer was, and still is, Jogo Bonito, Brazilian cousin to Totaalvoetbal.

Once Upon at Time in Mexico

This story begins in Mexico, in the year 1970. The year when most people still watched football in shades of black and white and when name Pele meant Football God. It was also the year when all the best footballers in the world, gathered for what became one of the most memorable tournaments in FIFA World Cup history.

It was truly a tournament of firsts. 1970 Mexico World Cup was the first World Cup tournament staged in North America. As well as the first held outside Europe and South America. And it was also the first to be broadcast in full colour. Millions of people throughout the world cheered on as the team in vibrant yellow and greens created magic on the television screen. So not surprisingly, it was this last fact that crystallized this Cup in the minds of a whole generation of football fans.

It was also the Cup that gifted us this beautiful goal. According to many it was the finest World Cup goal yet scored.

So it wasn’t just their charisma and colourful uniforms. The Brazilians did play some amazing football. Their manager Mario Zagallo (amazingly still alive in 2020 at 89 years old!) lined them up in a traditional Brazilian 4-2-4. On paper at least.

The back four included the world-class right-back Carlos Alberto (the author of the goal above), left-back Everaldo, and centrebacks Piazza and Brito. There was nothing extraordinary about this setup, except that Carlos Alberto enjoyed greater license to get forward, compared to his left-back partner. In the central midfield you had the double pivot of cultured holding midfielder Clodoaldo and deeplying playmaker Gerson. They held their positions for the most part, except one or the other would occassionally dribble forward to orchestrate attacks. As was the case in that Carlos Alberto goal.

Speaking of which, lets take a look at it again. I cannot get enough! BEFORE…


So yes, Carlos Alberto was a hell of a player. But what made this team so amazing was that the other 10 players on the field were just as good, and in same cases even better.

Upfront you had the four of the five playmakers. On the left side there was Rivellino. He started in deep left position, as almost a central midfielder and then in when in possession of the ball would dribble out wide. From there he would either make diagonal runs towards goal or send long, laser-long balls towards the right side. On that flank we had Jairzinho who was a natural right-footer, best know for his lightning fast pace. Yet he would often fall back to wide midfield position when pressing the opposing full-back. Hence this how Brazil would look like 4-2-3-1 when in possession and as 4-4-2 when defending, out of possession.

Making up the tactic’s spear-head (ponta de lança) was the visionary Pele, greatest footballer ever. Pele, while playing as the #10 second striker, caused havoc through his intelligent movement with and without the ball. It was his timely pass to Carlos Alberto that was the final key to unlocking the defence. The other striker, #9, didn’t play so much as an all-out attacking striker, as another supporting spear-head role similar to Pele’s. This is a bit unusual to how Brazil would usually set up their 4-2-4. But Tostao was perfect for this role since he also played as a classic #10 playmaker for his club. Much like Pele he was a versatile attacker capable of playing all across the final third. So there you had it, the five traditional #10 playmakers playing on the same team, at the same time. Gerson, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Tostao and Pele.

If you would like to read up more about ponta de lança, the most fascinating role in Brazilian football, then please check out this great blog post:

Too Many Playmakers Dilemma

Starting my third season with Benfica, I am facing two distinct problems. And they are something that every FM manager will face at some point. That is breaking down tough defences while trying to fit all your best players into the First Team XI. Much like Zagallo’s Brazil, I don’t know what to do with all my forwards who also happen to be great playmakers. The obvious solution might be simply not to play all of them at the same time. Yet we risk losing a lot of our unpredictability and attacking flair as a result. As well as missing out on the development of some of Benfica’s rising prospects. But like with 1970 Brazil, maybe somehow all of 2021 Benfica’s creativity could be channeled into a single tactic. To summarize my problems (and essentially objectives for this season):

  1. Firstly, I’m not sure whether it’s the nature of Portuguese League or my reputation, but I’m facing many parked buses. That is specifically, domestic teams which use 2 DMs and sometimes 3 CBs against us. It has gotten to the point where it cost me two League titles in a row. Coming in second to Porto was especially painful last season because we did so great in continental competition, winning Europa League for the first time in club’s history. The team has been very solid defensively (only concededing 14 times!) but just couldn’t score enough goals. When you get 7 draws in one season, you might as well kiss the title goodbye.
  2. My second problem is sort of two problems in one. As our youth team matures we are facing the problem of having too many players with a similar skillset (playmaking). Also there is the added issues of trying to fit a great young traditional striker star into a tactic that seemingly has no place for his role. Some might say that this is not a problem at all. Just loan him out until your formation can accommodate him! Well, here is my dilemma. I don’t believe in loaning young developing stars out of the club.

The Benefit of Youth

In fact, I try to never loan out my young prospects. My one simple rule of thumb is the following. If a youngster is not good enough to even sub during a Cup game, then they will never make it. From day one, you need to have faith in your future First Teamer. If you believe he could one day be in your starting eleven, then you should nurture him in your reserves at least. Or even better, use him as a regular first team substitute. Remember that 20 minutes in a match will do more for his development than 90 minutes on the loan bench. This is why for this piece I decided to showcase a club with one of the best football academies. Welcome to Benfica and its Golden Generation of playmakers in FM20!

When it comes to youth development, it is almost always better choice to keep the youngsters you want to retain, close to your club. If I loan them out it is usually because I don’t intend to keep them. That is because they don’t possess enough potential for our First Team or their roles will never fit our style of football. For instance, a mentally-weak but technically-strong inside forward can improve his mentals with age, becoming a very well-rounded Total Footballer. On the other hand a selfish winger who cannot dribble or finish will be harder to retrain and even harder to justify his continued presence on the team. But a potentially world-class striker is much more difficult to let go.

So the following are the young players that I want to build my team around. Its an interesting group made up of very creative technical players with one pure striker thrown in the mix.

Tiago Dantas – unquestionably most talented of the group. Captain material
Goncalo Ramos – is turning into a very creative complete forward
Chiquinho – the older role model to the kids
And finally Diogo Nascimento – the younger understudy to Dantas

As you can see I probably have more creativity in my midfield than most teams have in their whole 25+ player roster. It is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to First Team selection. To add to my troubles I also have a playmaker among my centrebacks.

Ferro is probably the most creative defender I have even seen in any of my FM20 saves. But over the last couple of months I have been getting incessant offers from most big clubs. Some going as high 100 million! Luckily for us he is our current vice-captain and exceedingly loyal.

Finally here is my young striker who I think has world-class potential. Definitely not as creative as the other bunch, but I simply cannot ignore his potential. And I am not one to believe that pure strikers have no place in a Total Football tactic.

Joao Resende – a world-class striker in the making? Or future Romario

Total Football and Pure Strikers

It is between Romário and Van Basten.

Diego Maradona
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 0_Soccer-UEFA-Champions-League-Group-A-Manchester-United-v-Barcelona-Old-Trafford.jpg
Romario – a key part in Cruyff’s Total Football “Dream Team” at Barcelona

Because even within a Total Football tactic, there can always be a benefit in having an opportunistic poacher. Just look how Johann Cruyff managed to fit Romario, one of the greatest strikers of all time, into his 3-4-3. Some might even argue that Cruyff moved away from his favourite 4-3-3 formation to an innovative for its time 3-4-3 at Barca, in order to accommodate pure strikers like Romario. Mr.Total Football himself called Romario “genius of the goal area” and the probably the best player he ever coached.

Romario wasn’t known as a teamplayer or having top workrate. He might have spend a little over a year at Barcelona yet enjoyed the best season of his career there as he formed a deadly striker partnership with Hristo Stoichov. During this time, Romario scored 30 La Liga goals. In 1993/94, this ended his best ever record in a single domestic league. He also played in the Champions League final before winning 1994 World Cup with Brazil.

So hopefully Resende can become Benfica’s Romario. Only time could tell.

The Lesson of History

And speaking of Brazil. Let us go back to Mexico to that scorching summer of 1970.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1451970.jpg

On paper Brazil’s set-up could have be described as a rather traditional 4-2-4, a mainstay of Brazilian tactics for over 30 years. In practice however Zagallo’s tactic was a combination 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 or even 4-3-3 at times. Which was rather nontraditional at the time. I suspect that only Brazil could pull off such free-roaming style at the time. A perfect demonstration of the freedom of Brazilian Jogo Bonito.

Jogo Bonito was also a perfect example of how player roles can sometimes define the formation. In fact the whole tactic can be coded through roles with minimal to none team instructions. So it puzzles me why some FM players spend a lot of time discussing why certain shape is superior to another. But then when it comes to assigning the roles, people tend to do it willy-nilly without much thought on how they will affect other roles or the attacking shape of the formation. I blame the game design in this to some extent. Mainly because those full green circles on the tactical creator screen can be very misleading. And it leads to things like the following tactic.

WARNING! NOT A REAL TACTIC. Just a collection of full green circles. Looks pretty though.

Such tactic might look very nice in the tactical creator, especially if you are little bit OCD like me. In practice however, it could be the worst tactic ever with the roles that don’t work together or suit the style. The only thing that the green circle tells you is how closely the player’s attributes fit with the selected role. And sometimes it might not even include all the important attributes for that role. Thus it is always better to look at the player and judge yourself his suitability for a particular role.

1970s Brazil could be used as a case study of how the players themselves with all their unique instructions and traits make the formation into exactly what it is. And for that reason, Brazil’s famous 4-2-4 was not a simple formation. It was a collection of some of the best footballers in the world at the time, and specifically five playmakers. All playing in a specific way to compliment each other. And how could it look in FM20 you might ask? Maybe something like this.

My tactic is actually a mirror image of how I think Brazil played in 1970. This is done to fit the exacgt footedness and traits of my players. So to do an accurate representation of that Brazilian team, just imagine inverting everything left to right. Because the aggressove Complete Wingback Carlos Alberto, would be on the right, and not left. Now if you wish to try this formation out for yourself, be my guest and download it in the link below.

Tactic Download:

I am currently testing it with Benfica and the results look rather promising.

It’s still early in season, but winning two games with scorelines of 4-0 is longway from last season’s boring 1-1 and 0-0 draws. Although, other than Braga and Dynamo Kiev we have not faced that much strong competition. And Liverpool game was sadly one-sided, after one my players got send to the showers early in the 20th minute. So the real test of tactic’s mettle will come at Stadio San Paolo against Napoli. But that is a story for another day! For now, thank you for reading and if you enjoyed, please follow us @ Dictate The Game’s Facebook and Dictate The Game’s Twitter. And check out other similar articles:

And for some Ronald Koeman, before he was the Manager:

Written by crusadertsar


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