2016 will go down in history as one of the most tragic years for celebrity deaths. But I want to single out one passing which influenced my life more than any other, Johan Cruyff.
Proud owner, of the symbolic number 14 shirt for the Netherlands. Cruyff influenced football more than any other player in the game’s history. After an astonishing career spanning 20 years, the Dutchman won 3 Balon d’Or in the space of 4 years and World cup player of the tournament once (after all he did only attend the one!) At times in his career his passion and loyalty was questioned but his true raw ability always shone through. So much so Barcelona’s Nou camp is set to be named after the ‘trequartista’.
Johan Cruyff was born in 1947 in central Amsterdam. In his autobiography, he mentions joining the Ajax youth team at the age of 10 and making his first team debut aged just 17, despite earning his first appearance for the club Ajax were defeated by GVAV 3-1. Just to note; of cause, he scored the goal. 2 years later at 19, Cruyff made his international debut, something that he quotes as being “One of his proudest moments”. It is believed that around this time Cruyff firmly placed his stamp on Dutch football and perhaps, more importantly, world football, at such a young age Ajax placed their belief in the young footballer who instantly had a connection with the Ajax fan base because he was one of their own. Players who have come before his era had never heard of big money moves to England or China, but he was the first to experience it around the time, and come out loyal and respected. In 7 years Cruyff won 15 trophies with Ajax and is recognised as the pivotal figure in a sensational team.
In 1973, a dispute with the board members leads to Cruyff joining the relegation-bound Barcelona. A record-breaking fee, which made him the most expensive footballer in the world at the time lured him away from Ajax but Cruyff remains adamant that it was purely for footballing reasons, and after all Ajax had won everything they could as a club, he seen it as a new adventure for him and his family and the transfer didn’t benefit the player at all. It was time for him to move on.
By the 17th February Barcelona had won the La Liga for the first time since 1960 after being on the tip of relegation at the start of the season, the signing of Cruyff, rescued them for assured demotion from Spain’s first division. They beat rivals Real Madrid 5-0; this was to be known as the turning point in Cruyff’s career, he had proved it at an elite club and then at a poor team and with his addition made them a title-winning side. His lifelong friend and teammate, Neeskens followed him on his journey, but no one could influence the Netherlands World Cup campaign in the summer of 1974 more than Johan Cruyff.
It was the perfect mixture of what came to be known as ‘Total Football’ which basically involved keeping the ball on the floor, free-flowing movement and plenty of what now Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp would call ‘gegenpressing’. Nothing demonstrated Netherlands style of play more when a cross field pass in a group game against Sweden landed at the number 14’s feet. He ran at the defender and with a quick swivel and drag, the defender was on the floor, Cruyff had rounded his man and was into a crossing position. The stadium was stunned into silence. The Cruyff turn was born, and the world has not stopped using it since. This piece of magic perfectly sums up the player Cruyff was when asked after the game in an interview about the turn, he simply answered “What piece of skill?” In his autobiography he notes that every obstruction in a game was an advantage for him, he says that in Amsterdam as a kid playing street football, a curb was a good thing he could rebound the ball of it and back into his path, a kind of one-two. This was what he was like an inventor, a creator.
In 1979, Cruyff still an influential figure at Barcelona, the club president under his advice, the world famous La Masia youth academy was formed. Little did he know the club captain of the club today Andres Iniesta came from his youth academy. This shows that his fundamental ideas and legacy still lives on today.
In a TV interview in his time at Barcelona as manager Cruyff tries to explain to a crowd of Football fans what his new diamond formation looked like, he explained that what a diamond looks like to you is not what a diamond looks like to me. The pundits tried to be sneaky but his tactics won them the Super Cup and La Liga numerous times as coach of the team.
His diamond tactic still used today at Barcelona and the link that the pundits had not made? The diamond in midfield was only applicable when you had world class players up front, fortunately at his time as Barcelona manager he did and they were very successful and portrayed what Cruyff called Total football throughout his time as manager.
In conclusion, Cruyff was a starting point for where football should begin, and how it should be played. He won European player of the century and came second to Pele in World player of the century. Cruyff’s career was full of people who disagreed with his ideas, and unfortunately, people who stabbed him in the back. (Barcelona’s club president, Ajax club president) However I believe that his footballing career came to an end earlier than it should have done, people in more powerful positions pushed him out of the game. In my opinion Cruyff’s first appearance as a professional player in that 3-1 defeat summarizes his career, he was doubted hence the 3 goal deficit but it takes a real player to be the best player on the pitch in a defeat and score the only goal, his life was celebrated when he passed away in 2016 but we don’t need to continue to read his biography or even YouTube his goals to remember him, because every time we watch a game of football, live or on the television you can now think, Cruyff influenced that game, if he was on the pitch things could change for the better. That’s what a proper footballing icon should do.
Trequartista – A pivotal role in a football team plays just behind the striker
Gegenpressing – Counter-attacking the opponent and harassing them when they have the ball.