Ever heard the phrase “total football”? Put simply, it means all 10 outfield players in a team are comfortable in any position. So if a defender wants to go on a mazy run towards goal, a midfielder will fill in for him at the back – and stay there. It may sound crazy, but it was a style of play that made Holland the greatest side of the 1970s. The brains behind it all was the Dutch captain and Ajax star player – Johan Cruyff. With two fabulous feet and mesmeric ball skills, Cruyff was at the heart of everything Holland did – literally. All 15 of their goals in the 1974 World Cup either started or ended with the captain.
Cruyff was mainly an attacking midfielder, but he popped up all over the pitch, conducting some of the most stunning football ever seen. The Dutch passed the ball so well that opponents sometimes spent minutes without getting a touch!
Cruyff’s finest moment was in a group match against Sweden. With a defender niggling him on the touchline, Cruyff’s left foot flicked the ball back behind his own right leg. The hapless full-back tackled at thin air and ran off in the wrong direction – looking very confused! The “Cruyff turn” was born. As far as we know, he’s the only player to have a trick named after him!
Cruyff came to dominate European and World football in the 1970s and was seen by many as the natural successor to Pele. He played in three winning European Cup teams with Ajax of Amsterdan and was three times European Footballer of the Year. At their peak, the Holland side, of which he was captain, were the most exciting and talented team in international football, yet, strangely, they never won a major trophy. In 1999 Cruyff was named European Footballer of the Century ahead of Franz Beckenbauer and Alfredo di Stefano.
Cruyff was born close to the Ajax ground in Amsterdam in April 1947. His mother worked as a cleaner at the club and it was she who persuaded the coaches to admit her son to the Ajax youth scheme at the age of 12. Cruyff made his senior debut for Ajax when he was 17. Two years later he was playing for Holland. Cruyff was a powerful, long-striding runner who had wonderful balance, deadly speed and breathtaking ball control. But his greatest quality was vision. It sometimes seemed as if he was able to control a match from one end of the field to the other.
In 1973 Cruyff left Ajax to join Barcelona for a then world record transfer fee of 75 million pesetas (£922,000). When Cruyff arrived, Barcelona were struggling. The effect of his influence was extraordinary and they finished as Spanish Champions. The World Cup of 1974 in West Germany saw the Holland team, led by Cruyff, at the height of their majestic powers. They reached the World Cup Final, but lost to West Germany, only the second time the Dutch had been beaten in 24 matches. It was also the first and only time that Cruyff was to appear in the World Cup Finals. In total, Cruyff played 48 games for Holland and scored a record 33 goals.
Cruyff was the captain of Holland and received comparisons to Pele during the tournament in West Germany. His breathtaking display was there for all to see, scoring and creating goals. Cruyff gave a performance in his World Cup debut against Uruguay that the spectators could hardly forget. Accelarating and turning away from opponents, Cruyff created havoc in the South American defence. He combined with Suurbier to set up Rep and also scored a disallowed ‘goal’. Holland had a goalless draw against Sweden. But in the next game, Cruyff gave his greatest performance in the World Cup. First, he was fouled in the penalty area by a Bulgarian defender that led to Neeskens’ penalty goal. Next, his free-kick set up Rep. He completed a remarkable performance by playing a left-wing cross for De Jong to apply a beautiful diving header and complete the rout.
Cruyff continued his breath-taking form in the quarter-final against Argentina, scoring two superb goals, one of them after dancing beautifully past Argentine goalkeeper Carnevali. And just like in the previous game, he provided another deadly cross for Rep to score the final goal of the 4-0 victory. Holland beat East Germany easily and met Brazil in the match which decides who will go to the Final.
In a bad-tempered match, Cruyff’s majestic skills proved decisive. First he laid the ball back for Neeskens to finish powerfully. Next came perhaps the Dutch master’s greatest goal in the World Cup. Running like a leopard from midfield, he connected with Neeskens’ cross in front of Brazil’s goal and volleyed home a superb clinching goal that spelled an end to Brazil’s dominance of world football.
With Cruyff in such dangerous form, West Germany’s manager Helmut Schoen assigned Berti Vogts, the greatest marker of his generation, to man-mark Cruyff in the Final. But Cruyff still inspired Holland’s first goal, darting through the Dutch defence before being brought down by Hoeness. However, West Germany’s resilience brought them two goals. And with Cruyff distracted by arguments with the referee (he also received a yellow card for that), Holland failed to come back in the second half and lost the World Cup to Germany.
Still a top player 4 years later, Cruyff announced his international retirement shortly before the 1978 World Cup. Some speculated he was threatened by terrorists from Argentina.
Johann Cruyff’s decision to miss the 1978 World Cup has long been attributed to his reluctance to give a propaganda coup to the military junta that controlled Argentina at the time, but the Dutch master later revealed that there was another reason for his refusal to travel: a kidnap attempt during which he and his family were threatened with a rifle.
Cruyff told Radio Cataluyna that the attempt occurred in Barcelona in 1977. “I had a rifle at my head, I was tied up, my wife tied up, the children were in the apartment in Barcelona,” he said. The former player did not explain how the ordeal ended, but said his house was placed under police protection for the next four months and that guards thereafter accompanied his children to and from school. He said concern for his family meant he did not feel able to help Holland at the World Cup. “To play a World Cup you have to be 200%,” said Cruyff. “There are moments when there are other values in life.”
Cruyff, widely acclaimed as the finest player of his generation, retired from international football in 1977 after helping the country qualify for the 1978 torunament where, without him, Holland again reached the final – and again lost to the hosts.
(Paul Doyle guardian.co.uk)
Cruyff also played for New York Cosmos, Los Angeles Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, Levante, a minor Spanish club, Ajax again and Feyenoord of Rotterdam, before he was hired as coach of Ajax. He won the 1987 European Cup Winners’ Cup, before moving back to Barcelona where in 1992 he brought to Spain the greatest prize, the European Cup. By 1994 Barcelona had won four successive Spanish Championships, but the strain was beginning to tell. Cruyff had undergone surgery after suffering a heart attack and in 1996 he left Barcelona.
Johan Cruyff has revealed the strategy that saw him lay down the foundations for the system that has brought Barcelona so much success over the past two decades. The Dutch legend created the Blaugrana Dream Team of the early 1990’s that won four consecutive league titles and the European Cup by employing the familiar 4-3-3 system.
That formation has continued under proceeding coaches, including Louis van Gaal, before Pep Guardiola took it on and adapted it further and now Cruyff has explained how he came up with the idea.
“I come from a mentality where good football predominates, beyond the result,” he told Barca TV. “The result is not everything, only a part and playing good football is the key.
“For me the basis of football is technique and possession. I always want to have the ball, dominate and do what I want on the pitch. I never adapt to others. This is the most difficult football to play.
“There are no stars that shine more than the others. They’re all stars and everyone has to carry out their obligations. Somebody will be better on one day and somebody else the next, but it all has to come together in a single team, never in a team of individuals. I’ve always put the team above the individual. If the team works, the star is on top of all.
“It’s true that football also has strategy. If I see that a team has a full-back with certain characteristics, I’ll play a winger who can beat him. But all the decisions you can take before a match stay up in the air because you never know how the other team will play.
“You can apply the strategy as you go, after seeing how the match is going after five minutes and you make the changes you believe are appropriate,” he concluded.
(Lucas Brown, Goal.com)
Cruyff had grown into a powerful, long- striding athlete. He had wonderful balance, deadly speed and breathtaking ball control. But his greatest quality was vision, based on an acute sense of his team-mates’ positions as an attack unfolded.
The sports writer David Miller believed Cruyff superior to any previous player in his ability to extract the most from others. He dubbed him “Pythagorus in boots” for the complexity and precision of his angled passes and wrote : ” Few have been able to exact, both physically and mentally, such mesmeric control on a match from one penalty area to another. ”
His one fault was a questionable temperament which, at times, threatened to undermine his ability. His outspoken nature often led him into trouble, such as when he was sent off against Czechoslovakia in only his second international match and suspended from the Dutch team for a year. Cruyff’s team-mates at Ajax included Piet Keizer, Wim Suurbier and Barry Hulshoff – all of whom were to play in four European Cup Finals. But there was no doubting who was the star among stars.
(Barrie Spirit Soccer)
Achievements as player:
Eredivisie: 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1982, 1983
KNVB Cup: 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1983
European Cup: 1971, 1972, 1973
Intercontinental Cup: 1972
UEFA Super Cup: 1972, 1973
Intertoto Cup: 1968
La Liga: 1974
Copa del Rey: 1978
KNVB Cup: 1984
European Player of the Century XX IFFHS
Golden Player of the Netherlands
Achievements as manager
KNVB Cup: 1986, 1987
UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup: 1987
Copa del Rey: 1990
La Liga: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994
UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup: 1989
European Cup: 1992
UEFA Super Cup: 1992
Achievements as individual:
European Footballer of the Year (3): 1971, 1973, 1974
FIFA World Cup Golden Ball: 1974
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team: 1974
Don Balón Award for Foreign Player of the Year in La Liga (2): 1977, 1978
Dutch Golden Shoe: 1984
World Soccer Awards Manager of the Year: 1987
Don Balón Award for Coach of the Year in La Liga (2): 1991, 1992
Onze d’Or for Coach of the Year (2): 1992, 1994
Knight in the Order of Oranje Nassau
Since 8 juli 1974
Silver medal of the City of Amsterdam
Honorary member of the KNVB
28 oktober 1978; presented at Cruijff’s retirement November 7th 1978
Mark of honour of the city of Los Angeles
Sport and Trade Award Ministerie van WVC
Honorary member Ajax
7 April 1999
(From Barrie Spirit Soccer)