Viktor Maslov is number 36 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next eight weeks.
You can find Tal Robinson's Dedushka all-time best XI here.
Viktor Maslov is one of the least known pioneers in football history. Admit it, unless you're a die-hard football fan, uncomfortably familiar with the ins and outs of Soviet football history, you've probably never even heard his name.
But in order to understand the origins of modern football, the innovations that led to the development of the game as we know and love it, Maslov's dynasty must be heralded from every rooftop.
Born in 1910 in the Soviet Union, as his country was embroiled in turmoil following a bloody revolution, Maslov grew up in an isolated and unforgiving environment. Football in Soviet Russia at the time served many purposes, as a tool for the Communist regime to assert their control over civilians, as a diplomatic tool, and also as an outlet for small acts of defiance.
The game's development in the Soviet Union was based in military sports programmes in the Red Army schools. It served an important role in keeping up the illusion that the state had complete control and was ultimately responsible for all success.
The prevailing teams at the time were state-owned - CSKA Moscow, established in 1911, was the official team of the Soviet Army, Dynamo Moscow was affiliated with the MVD (ministry of internal affairs) and the precursor to the KGB.
It was an era in which defeats on the football field were rarely treated with forgiveness. One of the most memorable examples was the Soviet Union's match against Yugoslavia in the 1952 Olympics, with the first leg ending in a 5-5 draw with Yugoslavia to go on to win 3-1 in the second leg. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was so angry that he disbanded the CSKA Moscow team that made up most of the national side, and stripped coach Boris Arkadyev of his “Merited Master of Sports of the USSR" title.
"Football is like an aeroplane. As velocities increase, so does air resistance, and so you have to make the head more streamlined." Viktor Maslov
Maslov's playing career wasn't entirely spectacular and gave little insight into his future success as a manager. He started his career at RDPK Moscow in 1930, moving to Torpedo Moscow several years later where he made his name for himself. He remained at the side until 1942, as his performance in midfield saw him captain the side between 1936-39. But with World War II starting to escalate, Maslov decided to hang up his boots.
المدرب الروسي Viktor Maslov— توتي الأردن (@tot2ti) November 17, 2018
هو مخترع طريقة اللعب ٤-٤-٢
هو من غيّر نهج كرة القدم وانتقل بها للعصر الحديث
حدث ذلك في مطلع الستينات
بعد ان فازت البرازيل بكأس العالم ٦٢ بخطتها التقليدية ٤-٢-٤
ماسلوف هو الذي انتقل بكرة القدم نحو سيطرة خط الوسط على العمليات التكتيكية والفنية في الفريق! pic.twitter.com/ZkGZ9YY2aG
He wasted no time in starting his management career, beginning his first stint at Torpedo Moscow immediately after his retirement. His early years at the club were largely unimpressive and didn't foreshadow the tactical revolution he would lead later in his career.
After four short spells in charge of the club, winning his first Soviet championship in 1960, Maslov began travelling within the Union, and after a single season at SKA Rostov-na-Donu he accepted an offer to manage Dynamo Kyiv. He went on to spend six years in Kiev, where he finally started to implement his vision and ideas for tactics which would go on to become cornerstones of modern football.
During the early 1960's the most prevalent formation in world football was 4-2-4 with two wide wingers, after the success of Brazil in the 1958 World Cup. The Soviet national team also adopted the tactic, leading most clubs to implement it to varying degrees of success.
|Soviet Champion (1960, 1966, 1967, 1968)|
|Soviet Cup (1952, 1960, 1964, 1966, 1972, 1975)|
However, Maslov saw something that no one else at the time had. His opponents' midfield, held together by two men in the middle of the park was vulnerable. While most managers using the 4-2-4 system had one of the forwards drop back to the midfield to give them when they were pressed in the midfield, Maslov took the next step by dropping his two wingers and beefing up the midfield to form the early 4-4-2, giving his side a two-man advantage.
Sir Alf Ramsey has been often credited with inventing the tactic, but in reality Maslov pioneered the strategy several years earlier. While Ramsey could have come up with the idea on his own due to the Iron Curtain and lack of international co-operation with the Soviet regime, Maslov was the one who saw what no one had before him.
" Football is not an individual sport. Perhaps in the distant past, it was—like cricket—a team sport made up of 11 individual performances. Since the implementation of pressing by Viktor Maslov at Dynamo Kiev and Rinus Michels at Ajax, however, it has been a systematised game.— ICC10 (@ICC____) September 27, 2018
Maslov's vision was to have the entire team to work in unison to form something greater than the sum of its parts. The traditional wingers became wide midfielders, able to give an advantage in every area of the pitch, and the full-backs were given attacking responsibilities for the first time, pushing play up when the wide men started their runs.
“Man-marking humiliates, insults and even morally oppresses the players who resort to it.” Viktor Maslov
At Dynamo Kyiv, Maslov's tactics were used to devastating effect, outnumbering the two-man midfields without hindering his side's creativity. Under Maslov, Dynamo dominated Soviet football in the late 1960's, winning consecutive Soviet championships between 1966 and 1968, as well as picking up the Soviet Cup in 1966.
It is the compression of space (via pressing) that marks out modern football from old. # the father of modern football viktor maslov.— Christopher Pinches (@pingonawin) September 29, 2009
Maslov also revolutionised the manager's involvement in other aspects of football, taking an interest in sports nutrition and conditioning. His side became known for having superior fitness to their opposition, as Maslov introduced strict dietary plans and an intensive training regime, which became a basis for modern sports science utilised in the modern day.
|Torpedo Moscow (1943-45, 1946-48, 1952-53, 1956-61, 1971-73)|
|Torpedo Gorky (1949-51)|
|SKA Rostov-na-Donu (1962-63)|
|Dynamo Kyiv (1964-70)|
|Ararat Yerevan (1974-75)|