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.
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.
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.
His teams kept the ball moving continuously to seek out space and create advantages, while a holding midfielder covered the back four. He created defensive zoning and abolished man-marking, instructing the players who didn't have the ball to limit the spaces given to the opposition in order to gain a positional advantage higher up the pitch.
“Man-marking humiliates, insults and even morally oppresses the players who resort to it.” Viktor Maslov
This tactic is thought to be first form of pressing in modern football, pressuring the opposition while closing gaps at the same time. It has inspired countless managers to try and implement methods of pressing, including Rinus Michels and Ernst Happels, all the way to Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp, whose Gegenpressing tactic - pressing to get the ball back immediately after losing it rather than falling back - can be considered an evolution of Maslov's concept.
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.
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.
He was known for involving his players and the rest of the staff in the decision making process, consulting the players before games as he would talk through his game plan and asking for their opinion. The bond he formed with those who worked under him, who often referred to him as Grandpa (Dedushka), enabled him to implement his ideas and take his side to the next level.
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)
In 1970 his golden spell at Kiev came to an end when he was unduly dismissed following a seventh-place finish. He returned to Torpedo Moscow but failed to achieve the success that made him a legend, and after two years at the club he became manager of Ararat Yerevan, with whom he won the Soviet Cup in 1975.
After his final season he retired from the game, and he passed away in 1977, just two years later. He had laid the groundwork for several key aspects of the modern game, and his legacy was continued by those that followed, such as Valeriy Lobanovskyi who went on to surpass his success at Kiev (who was ironically rejected as a player from the club by Maslov), tragically pushing him out of the limelight.
Viktor Maslov's name has become one of the lesser known footnotes of football history, however his brilliance can still be seen to this day. The 4-4-2 formation that he pioneered is still in wide use, and his pressing tactics continue to shine in the best teams around the world. Maslov was one of the fathers of modern tactical thinking, and his influence should be celebrated and known by every football fan who loves the game.