Whether you like it or not, defensive football is part and parcel of the game. The more clubs defend, the more complex and fluid attacking sides become and it is for this that we have Karl Rappan to thank, in a roundabout way.
Rappan had a humble playing career in Austria, although picking up two caps in the Wunderteam era is nothing to sniff at. It was Rappan’s move to coaching that changed the direction of football for good though, as he searched for ways to make a rigid solidity out of teams made up of less talented players.
He came up with this, the verrou (door-bolt). At a time when the W-M was somewhat revolutionary, Rappan’s idea of using four defenders – a sweeper protected by three others – was truly pioneering, almost certainly unseen anywhere else. About ten years after the peak of the 2-3-5 system, Verrou had very nearly flipped that on its head, inverting the pyramid long before the 5-3-2 became popular.The extreme opposite, but only 4 defender based brother, of the verrou, the 4-2-4, would not come into ‘fashion’ until the 50s, so in many respects Verrou was at least ahead of his time. Perhaps a trendsetter. Perhaps.
The system was largely undocumented however, despite it being used to beat a combined German-Austrian national side at the 1938 World Cup. Rappan was eager to keep the ideology behind the verrou under wraps and the World Cup was one of the only chances the rest of the world had to forecast the success of the catenaccio system in 25 years time.
Whether Nereo Rocco and Helenio Herrera developed catenaccio independently of each other and indeed, of Rappan is debatable but the development of defensive tactics is one of the most key revolutions in footballing history. Herrera is the only one to bring the cagey style of play to the forefront of football’s attacking pioneers’ minds and he is sure to have been the victim of his own success.
Catenaccio was supremely prosperous for Herrera and Internazionale in the 60s but it was only a matter of time before a counter-mind summoned up a counter-strategy. That mind was Rinus Michels, who gave us the best side of the 20th century. The most advanced, but somehow most simple attacking strategy that football has ever seen was built upon the premise of unlocking the chunky padlock that Inter had now set as a precedent. Total football was born, and on or around 1970, catenaccio was dead.
Rappan’s desire for a playing style for amateurs had indirectly led to a move towards attacking fluidity and free-flowing movement. Need any more irony? Rappan played in the Wunderteam that is credited with influencing Total Football.