Last week, Holland football legend Johan Cruyff passed away from cancer at the age of 68. The Dutch artist won plenty of titles with Ajax and Barcelona as a player and manager (13 domestic leagues, 4 European cups). He also led his country to the World Cup Final in 1974, and was voted world player of the year 3 times, decades before Messi and Ronaldo made it seem normality.
As a player, the game’s most iconic number 14 – and that’s coming from a huge Henry fan – scored 392 times in 520 games. With a single move, he single-handedly changed the way an entire generation looked at football when he performed his notorious ‘Cruyff turn’ on hopeless Swedish defender Jan Olsson, in the 23rd minute of a group match during the 1974 World Cup finals.
Cruyff’s legacy and influence went far beyond the pleasure he gave on the pitch. Although his name deserves mention among Zidane, Maradona and them all, he will be equally remembered for his intellectual and philosophical contribution. For Cruyff was a leader and a thinker.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching old football clips from the 60s and 70s, you’ll know how regimented and static teams used to be, like two armies waiting behind trenches for a few enemies to pop up only to be predictably shot down.
Cruyff helped smash this boring tactical paradigm and shape the notion of Total Football which defines the game today: attacking intent, emphasis on technique, versatile players and adventurous full backs were core to his approach. For most top teams, they still are to this day.
Through those principles, he helped Barcelona become the fine and awesomely fluid trophy-winning machine it is today. There are few people who helped shaped the game we call beautiful like Johan Cruyff has. Thanks Mister, and RIP.
Bonus feature, a few Cruyff quotes:
“If I wanted you to understand it, I would have explained it better.”
“I only decided to become a manager when I was told I couldn’t.”
“I’m not religious. In Spain all 22 players make the sign of the cross before they enter the pitch. If it works all matches must therefore end in a draw.”
“Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.”
“When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball 3 minutes on average … So, the most important thing is: what do you do during those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball. That is what determines whether you’re a good player or not.”
“Every disadvantage has its advantage.”
“Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1000 times. Anyone can do that by practicing. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your team-mate.”
“In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender.”