'The General' remembered for his warmth, humor
Agencies Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Known as a disciplinarian and nicknamed "the general", it was Rinus Michels' warmth and sense of humor that friends and former players recalled after his death on Thursday.
The creator of "total football," Michels died at 77 of complications following heart surgery. He's the only coach to lead the Netherlands to a major trophy, winning the 1988 European Championship.
"He knew how to motivate a group and how to take away the stress at the right moments with his sense of humor," said Marco van Basten, a striker on the '88 team and coach of the Dutch national side.
"He could also be unusually hard in his decisions, and at other moments show his warmth. It's no coincidence that he's the only coach to have taken a big prize with Oranje."
"You wanted to give everything for him," said Ruud Gullit, captain of the '88 team and Feyenoord coach. Gullit called him a "warm and humorous man, very different than the initial image that I had of him".
Ronald Koeman, who resigned last week as Ajax coach and played fullback on the '88 team, said Michels "instilled fear and respect in the players."
"He spoke few words, but got his message across all the same. He was fantastic man to experience as a player."
Johann Cruyff said Michels' legacy would be the philosophy that the very best soccer should be exciting and beautiful to watch.
"With him, as well as with me, results may have come first, but quality of soccer was No. 1," Cruyff said from his home in Barcelona. "Just winning is not enough."
Auke Kok, who wrote a book about the Netherlands' 1974 loss to West Germany in the World Cup final, said Michels "transformed Dutch soccer from an amateur activity into a professional sport".
"Rinus Michels left his mark on both the club and international soccer," Ajax director Arie van Eijden said. "A great member of Ajax has fallen and that grieves us deeply."
Jeu Springers, head of the national soccer association, called Michels "the greatest coach the Netherlands has ever had."
"He stood for the model that made Oranje so popular in the world: attacking soccer."
"The European football family has lost a personality who devoted a large part of his life to our sport," UEFA President Lennart Johansson said. "We will always remember him for his outstanding contribution to our game."
After his years as coach, Michels worked as adviser to FIFA, UEFA and the Dutch soccer association. He had a major say in the appointment of Dick Advocaat -- known as "the Little General" - as national coach in 2001.
As a player he joined Ajax in 1941, playing for the Dutch national side five times.
He underwent an operation on Feb. 18 to correct a defective heart valve. Complications then set in and a second operation followed before his death on Thursday morning.
Despite his reputation as a man of few words, every Dutch soccer fan knows his motto: "Football is war."
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende commented: "Off the field of play Rinus Michels had the same significance for Dutch football as Johan Cruyff on it."