Viktor Maslov: Soviet Pioneer of the 4-4-2 Formation & the Inventor of Pressing

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 and 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 play-thing of 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 days weren’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. During his first two years at the club there were no league games due to the war, and 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 the world was 4-2-4 with two wide wingers, following 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. ​

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