Ted stands on the team bus, with all the Richmond players in their seats.

Why Ted Lasso’s Total Football Vision Is Such a Curveball (or Your Soccer Metaphor of Choice)

While in Amsterdam for an exhibition match, Ted goes on a mushroom trip—which turns out not to be a trip at all, since Beard’s supply is a dud. Still, Ted does have a profound, life-changing vision while he thinks he’s high.

Recommended Videos

In the vision, a disembodied voice called the True Spirit of Adventure tells Ted about a strategy invented by Tex Winter, assistant coach for the Chicago Bulls. In that strategy, called the Triangle Offense, a player always has two other players available to take the ball. An animated sequence shows the moving, shifting triangles formed by the strategy, giving Ted a revelation. He spends the rest of the evening moving ketchup and mustard bottles around in various formations.

The next day, Ted shows his notes to Beard, who has spent the night cosplaying as Piggy Stardust. Ted describes the strategy as “constant, nonstop motion,” with positions so fluid that they cease to exist as formal positions at all. Beard, who has studied soccer much more than Ted, immediately recognizes Ted’s idea as a Dutch strategy called Total Football.

So what’s the deal with Total Football? And why is Ted’s revelation such a massive plot twist?

What is Total Football? The strategy, explained

When Ted describes his strategy as giving players freedom while making sure that every open position gets filled, he gets at the crux of Total Football. It’s a strategy often credited to English coach Jimmy Hogan in the 1930s, although it was used extensively by the Dutch football club Ajax in the 1970s.

In a normal game of soccer, each player plays in a clearly-defined position, like a midfielder or a defender. In Total Football, though, players aren’t restricted to their own positions. Instead, they can move out of their position into another position during play (i.e., a midfielder becoming a forward), with another player moving into their position in turn. Sort of like a little triangle!

As you can imagine, this strategy requires every team member to be highly adaptable, responsive, and capable of taking on multiple roles. Nick Hornby, in his memoir Fever Pitch, calls the strategy “football’s version of post-modernism.”

Huh. Moving fluidly from one role into another? That reminds me an awful lot of Ted himself, seeing as he started off in football, ended up in soccer, and used a basketball strategy to take his coaching to the next level. (Whoa, those three sports form another triangle! I’m going to be seeing triangles all day.)

But that fluidity isn’t the only reason Ted’s Total Football insight is so massive. It completely changes things for Ted’s career.

Why is Ted’s vision so significant?

Throughout the whole series, Ted has shown, over and over again, that he doesn’t understand how soccer is played. What started out as a wacky premise eventually became AFC Richmond’s reality: their head coach gives inspiring speeches, while the assistant coaches do all the actual strategizing. Even now, three years in, Ted is still remarking on how wild it is that he’s in this position, since the game is still a giant mystery to him.

And other characters have noticed. Last week, Higgins gingerly brought up the possibility of firing Ted, although Rebecca promptly shut him down. There have been countless clues that Ted will go home to Kansas at the end of this season. I can’t really see Rebecca firing him, but my guess has been that he’ll decide to go home to his son.

Now, though, Ted has abruptly recreated a famously innovative strategy—and he didn’t even need a hefty dose of psilocybin to do it. The strategy may not be original to him, but it shows that he’s finally developing a true understanding of the game. So what does this mean for his future at Richmond?

It seems to mean that he’s about to become a much more competent manager. Notice the word I used, though: competent. Not great. Not visionary. Just able to do a good job. I wouldn’t put my money on Ted suddenly becoming a strategic genius like Nate. Ted’s talents lie in understanding how to bring out the best in his players, including giving them more freedom on the pitch.

It’s possible that Ted will still head home to Henry in the season finale. For now, though, a victory for Richmond is looking much more likely—and if it happens, it’ll be thanks to Ted.

(featured image: Apple TV+)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>