Still flustered by Johan’s passing. Expect more posts in the coming weeks… Also. leave questions about him or requests for topics….
“Johan Cruyff is, pound for pound, the most important man in the history of football”. In his 2011 book,Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, Hunter writes, “If the 175,000 FC Barcelona members (or socios) queued up in an orderly line, night after night,to massage his tired feet, cook his dinner and tuck him into bed; if they carried his golf clubs round Montanyá’s hilly 18 holes; if they devoted 50 per cent of their annual salary to him… it still wouldn’t be near enough to repay the debt those who love this club owe Johan Cruyff”, adding, “If he had not installed a culture, a philosophy at the Nou Camp, then Lionel Messi would have been rejected and sent home as an underdeveloped 13-year-old kid. Andrés Iniesta wouldn’t have been selected.
Cruyff doing what he does best: leading the way!
People die. We all know this. We can even prepare for it. But when people close to you pass, it always hurts. It leaves an emptiness or a feeling of “if only…”. Sometimes, icons though. People whom we might not even know on a personal level, but people who made an impact on our lives… From historical / biblical figures (Jesus) to cultural and political icons, such as Elvis, John Lennon, JFK and more recently David Bowie. These people resonated with us for their work and legacy, but also for what they stood for….
Johan Cruyff passed away a couple of days ago. For the average football fans around the world, it will have a short impact. For Oranje, Ajax and Barcelona fans, it will have a similar impact to Lennon or Elvis dying.
With the death of Cruyff, we lose a man who changed football for ever. A man who brought us a football revolution on and off the pitch. Who dazzled as a player, innovated as a coach, confused as a speaker and analyst and worked tirelessly for the sports after “retiring”, as the founding principal of the Cruyff Foundation and Cruyff University.
Football fans the world over are indebted to what he was able to bring to football in general, Ajax and Barca as clubs and Dutch football as a whole. And not to forget his contributions to language, both in Holland and in Spain….
Cruyff was controversial from the first minutes he entered the public frame, with his delicate build, his intelligent play and his influential personality.
As a 17 year old in Ajax 1, when Ajax was battling relegation….
In the 1960s, he made his debut in Ajax 1 as a 17 year old in an away game in Groningen. Ajax lost, but like man talents after him, he scored in his debut game. In a team full of strong, manly, robust players, the young gazelle like forward held his own. Sure, opponents wanted to tackle him, but he had a sixth sense knowing when the tackle game and he graciously jumped over the razorblade legs to pursue his quest for goals.
He made the #14 his own and ever since that jersey number will be linked to Cruyff, like the #10 belongs to players like Pele, Van Hanegem, Maradona and Messi and the #7 will be synominous to the likes of Best, C Ronaldo, Cantona and Beckham. Hopefully, we might add Memphis to this list in 10 years time as well.
Amongst personalities like Sjaak Swart, Piet Keizer and Velibor Vasovic, Cruyff would be leading, gesticulating and coaching as if he was a veteran and he lead Ajax to world success and Oranje and the world to Total Football.
A firebrand and trailblazer alike, he would lead football on the pitch, becoming the first false striker, using the time and space like Einstein would in physics but also off the pitch. The first to challenge the national football federations inspiring the birth of a football union for players and demanding fair pay for international games and things like insurance policies for players when playing for their country.
He established record after record as a player, and would become the most expensive player on the planet when leaving Ajax to play for Barcelona. Once in the downtrodden team of – by then – coach Rinus Michels, Johan would inspire and lead the team from a losing 4th position in La Liga to the first title in decades, topping it off with an inspired 0-5 win over rivals Real Madrid in the Bernabeu Stadium. Inviting a standing ovation from the Madridista. Only a week before that game, Cruyff reached sainthood status in Catalunya by naming his first son Jordy, after the Catalunyan saint. Cruyff became El Salvador (the saviour) in Spain and would put Barcelona on the world stage as a club.
El Salvador, El Flaco
By then, Cruyff is European football royalty. His successes at Ajax (two European cups – Ajax would win the third on the trot without him) and the success year at Barca made sure of that. But the World Cup 1974 in West Germany would make him a global star. Total Football rocked the planet. Left full backs playing left winger. Right wingers becoming strikers, box to box midfielders and a midfielder playing like a midfielder as sweeper while the goalie would act as sweeper when the actual sweeper was pushing up in midfield. The world saw football history being made in front of them – in full colour – with Johan Cruyff as the leader.
The most famous WC1974 dribble ending in a spot kick
He would win the Ballon D’Or three times (1971, ’73 and ’74)
In the 1960s, the Beatles grew their hair and revolutionised a generation, in the 1970s, the long haired Oranje players did it for football and sports in general.
Life in Spain became harder for Cruyff as he became a real super star and his life became more and more public. He lost a fortune in some hairbrain investment scheme and he and wife Danny were held up at gun point in their own home at some stage, by a burglar. As if dribbling past 4 defenders, Cruyff knew to escape and alerted the neighbours who called the police. This incident was the cause for Cruyff not traveling to the WC 1978 in Argentina and for his departure from the crazy football world in Spain to the anonymity of American soccer. Coach Michels left to coach the LA Aztecs and Cruyff decided to join him, to invigorate American soccer and pick up a nice paycheck in the autumn of his career. He’d play for the Washington Diplomats as well, but outspoken Cruyff would never feel like a true diplomat…
JC’s LA Story
He was quite clear when he returned to Europe, that he’d wanted to play some extra seasons to make up financially for the money he lost in investments. Spanish club Llevante announced his signing to shock from the world, but injuries kept Cruyff sidelined a lot. AC Milan made a move for JC but the battleworn striker couldn’t pass the medical so all that was left from that adventure is a rare pic of Cruyff wearing a Milan jersey in a test game.
He decided to move back to Amsterdam and join Ajax as an advisor. When his body was on the mend, he decided to train with the first team. Not much later in November 1981, Johan accepted a “performance contract” to finish the season as a player. His second debut against Haarlem is famous. After a nervy start and a full house loaded with expectant fans, the #14 accelerated past a Haarlem player and on the edge of the box lobbed goalie Edward Metgod. The stadium erupted and since that game, Ajax couldn’t lose anymore. With young talents like Kieft, Olsen and Vanenburg and hard nosed midfielders like Lerby and Schoenaker, Cruyff did it again for Ajax.
JC pushing Leo out of the coaching role
In 1982, Ajax would in the title and in 1983, Ajax won the double.
When the Ajax board publicly questioned JC’s ability to add a third season the most famous son of the club decided to take matters in his own hands. His Oranje colleague Van Hanegem invited Cruyff to his farewell game in Rotterdam. In a Feyenoord jersey, Cruyff played with #10 and scored a goal in a full De Kuip stadium. That day, Cruyff signed for Feyenoord. Despite losing 2-8 early in the season against his Ajax, Cruyff would steer Feyenoord to a massive title win, and winning the national cup. His revenge was complete.
He always said he’d take up coaching after his active playing career and the only two clubs he’d want to coach were Ajax and Barcelona. He also had ambitions to coach Oranje to their first World Cup, but the Dutch federation, with which he had a love-hate relationship blocked his appointment on three occasions. In 1990, the players voted for Cruyff, but Michels ignored their plea and signed Leo Beenhakker. The 1990 World Cup in Italy would become one of Oranje’s biggest disasters. In 1994, the KNVB felt Cruyff was to dominant with his conditions (Cruyff wanted to appoint his own coaching staff) and went with Dick Advocaat. Every big tournament since, Cruyff was the popular candidate to take on the national team but the federation always knew better. In 2002, another debacle ensued when JC’s rival Louis van Gaal failed to qualify for the World Cup in Japan/South Korea.
Cruyff made an impression as Ajax coach. Going against the grain of football, he fielded a team of youngsters and forced them to play 3-4-3 in every game. The young team played attractive and scored a lot of goals, but also conceded many as a result of Cruyff’s risky playing style. The headstrong coach decided that this was part of the process and that losing and playing under pressure would teach the young talents what was really needed in the top. This revolutionary approach won Ajax the European Cup II but PSV was the dominant team in the league. Still, he laid the foundation with a playing style that would lead to Van Gaal’s Ajax dominating Europe later on. Two fast full backs, a good build up player as the libero and a sweeper who’d push on to become a fourth midfielder. Cruyff would use two all-round midfielders who’d tackle, run, pass and penetrate and an offensive midfielder who’d join the striker in attack. Obviously, Cruyff used two winger who were instructed to “hug the line”. In that period, icons like Ronald Koeman, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Gerald Vanenburg, John van ‘t Schip and Jan Wouters would make their way to the top.
But it didn’t go without casualties. Famously, young talents like Van Basten, Vanenburg and Rijkaard would feel the wrath of their coach when they were too complacent, leading to Rijkaard’s departure from the club, who walked out of practice, never to return. Via Real Zaragoza, Rijkaard would find his way to AC Milan where he conquered the world alongside Gullit and Van Basten.
Another conflict with Ajax’ board resulted in Cruyff’s demise at Ajax. Next stop: Barcelona.
Coaching Barca, with son Jordy and Ronald Koeman
With the work he’d done in revolutionising the Ajax academy, Cruyff went to Catalunya to give Barca a make-over. With Carlos Rexach and Tonny Bruins Slot as his assistants, Cruyff moulded his dream team together. He won four league titles in a row and brought the first European title to Barcelona, beating Sampdoria at Wembley (with the Koeman winning goal). A young Pep Guardiola was brought from the junior Barca team to the first team, after Cruyff went to scout a different player. The lanky and physically wanting Guardiola caught Cruyff’s eye and the shy youngster would not only become the “dreh-und-angel punkt” in the Dream Team but would evolve into Barca’s most successful coach ever, in the image of his mentor. Another Cruyff protege, Frank Rijkaard, would lay the groundwork for Pep’s work with the Blaugranas. Guardiola: “Johan painted the Sistine Chapel, and Frank Rijkaard restored it…”
In his last two seasons, under chair Nunez, Cruyff failed to win trophies and was unceremoniously sacked.
Despite not having formal relations with both Ajax and Barca (and Oranje), Cruyff would remain incredibly influential for all these teams. His advice, his public columns, his mentoring would have lasting impact on the culture and playing style of these teams, while indirectly influencing clubs like Feynoord, Arsenal and Liverpool via their coaches or the work done in the youth academies.
Who would have guessed: JC winning over The Legion of Feyenoord and winning trophies
Feyenoord’s youth academy was revamped under the management of Wim Jansen and Stanley Brard. The former knows as Mr Feyenoord. Playing in Oranje’s 1974 midfield and a close friend of JC. The latter made sure Jansen would play for Ajax in the autumn of his career alongside a young Frank Rijkaard. Stanley Brard is not only Jansen’s son in law but also the much criticized left winger for Feyenoord when JC lead them to success in 1984. The former full back was used as winger to cover for Cruyff and made sure the team was balanced. Brard and Jansen were architects of the Feyenoord academy developing players like Cabral, Wijnaldum, Fer, De Vrij, Martins Indi and Clasie.
Two greats of the game, Pele and Cruyffie
The last big project Cruyff took on, apart from his Foundation and University, which helped athletes study in an modified format for their career after sports, was the Velvet Ajax revolution. A project that sadly failed.
The Ajax culture was diminishing in Jopie’s eyes and he wanted to bring a new structure, new governance and new operational management under ex-Ajax players. The plans were solid, the personnel looked the real deal, but the egos and the lack of leadership – Cruyff was not operationally involved – allowed this project to fail miserably.
Working as an analyst with his golf buddy Hiddink
Sure, Frank de Boer won 4 titles on the trot and may well win another one this season, but internationally Ajax failed. The development of youth players at Ajax is not a success either, with current players like Milik, Sinkgraven, Younes, Gudelj, Viergever, Bazoer and Van der Hoorn all signed from other clubs.
In 2011, the Ajax’ board tried to break Cruyff’s influence by appointing Louis van Gaal as CEO behind his back. Cruyff, supported by proteges Jonk, Bergkamp, Winter, Overmars, sued the club for obstruction and asked the court to overturn the decision to sign Van Gaal. Cruyff won the case.
From Wikipedia too good to try and improve on it, so here’s a copy
Ajax, Feyenoord and FC Barcelona, where Cruyff spent the majority of his career, maintain his football philosophy. La Masia, Barça’s youth academy, was the brainchild of Cruyff. In 1979 he wanted to establish a copy of the Ajax Academy in Barcelona. His proposal was accepted by president Josep Núñez. He established a unique model at La Masia where the youth players could grow up and have a better chance to be part of the senior team, as they would already be accustomed to the style of play. The style of play Cruyff introduced at Barcelona came to be known as tiki taka – characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession—which was adopted by the Euro 2008, 2010 FIFA World Cup and Euro 2012 winning Spain national football team.
El Salvador giving Catalunya pride after Franco’s tyrannic reign
Cruyff’s style of play and his coaching philosophy have significantly influenced the football career of many players and managers, notably Pep Guardiola. Guardiola, the manager of Barcelona between 2008 to 2012, stated: “Throughout my career I’ve simply tried to instil what I learned from Johan Cruyff. He has had the biggest influence on football out of anyone in the world, first as a player and then as a coach. He taught me a lot and you can see that in the fact that so many of his former players are now coaches”. Guardiola added, “Johan Cruyff built the cathedral, our job is to maintain and renovate it.” According to Xavi, the Barcelona and Spain midfielder at the heart of tiki-taka style of play: “Our model was imposed by [Johan] Cruyff; it’s an Ajax model. It’s all about rondos [piggy in the middle]. Rondo, rondo, rondo.”
The Germany national football team that won the 2014 World Cup had deep Cruyffian (and Guardiola) influences. After leaving Barcelona, Guardiola implanted the Cruyffian vision at Bayern Munich. Germany and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who completed more passes at the 2014 World Cup than Messi did, incarnates the goalkeeper whom Cruyff dreamt up in the 1960s and 1970s: a footballer in gloves. It had always bothered Cruyff that goalkeepers just stopped shots. It was a waste of a player, Cruyff thought. He wanted a goalkeeper who could also get involved in the passing. Thus the goalkeeper effectively becomes the eleventh player, like Edwin van der Sar (at Ajax) or Victor Valdes (at Barcelona).
Diego called JC “El Flaco”, the thin one…
Referring to the influence of his style of play at Ajax, Barcelona (“dream team“), and with the Netherlands (“total football“), in addition to the 200 Cruyff courts he set up around the world for kids to hone their skills, football journalist Graham Hunter states, “Johan Cruyff is, pound for pound, the most important man in the history of football”. In his 2011 book,Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, Hunter writes, “If the 175,000 FC Barcelona members (or socios) queued up in an orderly line, night after night, to massage his tired feet, cook his dinner and tuck him into bed; if they carried his golf clubs round Montanyá’s hilly 18 holes; if they devoted 50 per cent of their annual salary to him… it still wouldn’t be near enough to repay the debt those who love this club owe Johan Cruyff”, adding, “If he had not installed a culture, a philosophy at the Nou Camp, then Lionel Messi would have been rejected and sent home as an underdeveloped 13-year-old kid. Andrés Iniesta wouldn’t have been selected.” Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling, the author of the first full-length biography of Cruyff in German (Der König und sein Spiel: Johan Cruyff und der Weltfußball), concluded that the Dutchman was the single most influential figure in football history, as no one made a bigger overall impact as a player and manager.
Johan Cruyff, Rest in Peace. He will be missed but his legend lives on…..