March 24th, 2016 saw the loss of a major footballing legend – Johan Cruyff, who unfortunately lost his life due to cancer.
Johan Cruyff was a retired Dutch professional footballer and coach who had quite an illustrious career. He spearheaded the birth of the footballing philosophy known as “Total Football,” and is widely regarded as part of the select few greatest footballers to have ever graced the game.
Johan made his name when he began his career at Ajax, a club he was well familiar with during his youth, as his mother used to work at AFC Ajax as a cleaner; just after his father passed away from a heart attack. It was his mother’s second husband, a field hand at Ajax, who pushed the club to sign the then 10-year-old Johan Cruyff.
Shortly after joining the youth setup at Ajax, Johan pushed up the ranks and went on to become one of the finest players in the club’s history. Johan Cruyff loved to play as a forward and was occasionally deployed on the flanks. He had what was described as an “explosive” speed, as he would leave defenders outwitted with no clue of where he had gone.
Cruyff led Ajax to a total of eight Eredivisie titles, three European cups as well as one intercontinental cup. During his time at Ajax, his talents were recognized, as he won a total of three FIFA Ballon d’ors. Playing under the radical Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff became an exponent of the Total Football philosophy.
Total football is the influential tactical theory used in football in which any outfield footballer can take over the role of any other player in a team. It revolutionized the Dutch football game and changed it for the better.
In 1974, Cruyff joined forces with his former club manager Rinus, who was coach of the Dutch national football team in the World Cup, where they showcased the Total Football tactical theory. It managed to get them to the final – where they unfortunately lost to West Germany in Munich.
Putting aside the fact that they lost the final, Cruyff and his Dutch teammates had managed to catch the eyes of the footballing world with their new philosophy of playing. Cruyff discussed the tremendous loss stating:
“We lost one of the most important games of our lives, but I think that brought us more fame than we could ever have had by winning,” he later said.
“Because everybody wanted us to win, that brought even more attention, sympathy and affection. For four weeks in that tournament no one was talking about winning or losing – the world audience just wanted to see the nice football we played. So, it is not an excuse, it is true – the result of the final doesn’t even bother me.”
During the 1973 season, Cruyff was eventually sold to FC Barcelona for approximately $2 million (a world record transfer fee at the time). Cruyff’s move to Barcelona came after heavy speculation that Ajax would sell him to Real Madrid, but Cruyff continued to show us his unique way of reasoning, which he described later in an interview:
“I remember my move to Spain was quite controversial,” he said.
“People said I was going to a fascist country. The president of Ajax wanted to sell me to Real Madrid. But I was born shortly after the war, though, and was taught not to just accept anything. Barcelona weren’t at the same level as Madrid football-wise, but it was a challenge to play for a Catalan club. Barcelona was more than a club.”
During his time at Barcelona, Cruyff exceeded all expectations and only climbed higher up the ranks. He influenced the Catalans to win a La Liga title, their first in more than ten years. Johan Cruyff also scored one of the most famous goals in his career in a match against Atletico Madrid, when he scored what was dubbed the “Phantom Goal”; he jumped to about neck height, twisted his body, hit the ball with his right heel and scored.
Cruyff went on to join Los Angeles Aztecs in America and came back to Europe to play for Levante in Spain, and soon after joined his first club Ajax, before finally ending his career in Feyenoord, after Ajax refused to offer him a contract extension – eventually wining the League title with Feyenoord.
After retiring in 1984, Cruyff returned a year later to Ajax football club, but this time as a manager, following the footsteps of his mentor Rinus Michels, who also took a similar path. Johan managed to coach the side to a European Cup Winner’s Cup.
In 1988, Cruyff’s career went full swing after he took over Barcelona as manager. During his managerial spell at Barcelona, Cruyff brought up his own “Dream Team,” consisting of players brought up from their youth squad including the likes of Pep Guardiola, José Mari Bakero, Txiki Begiristain, Ion Andoni Goikoetxea, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Romário, Gheorghe Hagi and Hristo Stoichkov. The Dream team took Barcelona to fame, winning the La Liga title four times and winning the European Cup Winners Cup and the European Cup as well.
Deep into Johan Cruyff’s managerial reign, he had suffered a heart attack and soon quit coaching for good, in an attempt to lessen his stress and workload.
But the legacy of Johan Cruyff still lived on. He became an advisor to Joan Laporta (President of Barcelona at the time), during which he recommended two of Barcelona’s biggest improvements in the modern era. He influenced the appointments of Frank Rijkaard; the man who called Lionel Messi to the senior team from their youth setup; and Pep Guardiola – a very influential figure during his time at Barcelona whose style of football conquered Europe.
Johan Cruyff was never one to keep his opinions to himself. He always voiced out when he needed to. Check out some of his most famous quotes:
- “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
- “Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.”
- “In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker and the striker the first defender.”
The story of Johan Cruyff’s career is sure to inspire and motivate future footballing talents. Cruyff was a simple man who enjoyed playing football, and with his hard work and motivation from the game, he became the greatest ever.
“Cruyff died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard-fought battle with cancer,” said a statement on his official website.
Johan (Hendrik Johannes) Cruyff, footballer, born 25 April 1947; died 24 March 2016.