Johan Cruyff’s 75th birthday
Johan Cruyff is a legend. Hardly anyone has shaped football as much as Holland’s legendary number 14. Even today, there is still a lot of Cruyff in the appearances of many international top teams.
Pelé, Maradona, Beckenbauer – they all shaped football during their playing days and afterwards. But there was probably no one who had as much influence on the game as Johan Cruyff. “His legacy is limitless,” said star coach Pep Guardiola of the Dutch football legend, who would have been 75 years old on Monday. Cruyff was the coach of the current Manchester City coach at FC Barcelona for a number of years and made an impression on the Spaniard like no one before or after him. “I did not know anything about football,” Guardiola once said, “until I met Cruyff. It was through him that we understood football.”
Guardiola’s former Barça team-mate Hristo Stoickov, who was named European Footballer of the Year in 1994, speaks of Cruyff with similar reverence. “Johan Cruyff is without a doubt the greatest genius in football history,” the Bulgarian said in March in the t-online interview“Cruyff is one of the people who made football the most popular sport in the world in the first place.”
Cruyff’s football is still a source of inspiration today
Cruyff, who died of lung cancer six years ago, is still honored at the stations of his career today. FC Barcelona named him honorary president, in Amsterdam the arena is named after the legendary number 14. “James Dean of football”, as Arsène Wenger once called the gifted playmaker, is still idolized almost everywhere in the football world. “Cruyff was a source of inspiration to our entire generation. Also because of his charisma. His whole appearance radiated freedom,” Wenger said.
Johan Cruyff as Barcelona coach on the bench at Wembley Stadium: In 1992 he won the European Cup with Barça in London. (Source: Werek / imago images)
Freedom – that was also the core of Cruyff’s football philosophy. Cruyff’s team’s unconditional attacking football went down in history as “Voetbal total”. Despite all his ambitions, the beauty of the game was always more important to him than the outcome. The defeat in the final of the 1974 World Cup in Munich against Germany still bothered him many years later. But Cruyff was proud of the World Cup and the Orange team’s exciting game.
“Of course I would have liked to have won the final in Munich, but the fact that we are still talked about all over the world as the team that played the most beautiful football is a bigger victory for me than winning the World Cup.” Cruyff once said in retrospect of a 2-1 draw against Beckenbauer and Co. at the Munich Olympic Stadium.
Companion Stoichkov: “He knew how to get the best out of me”
So Cruyff was denied the big title win with the Orange team under his mentor Rinus Michels. At club level, on the other hand, the genius of the ball won all the important titles. Between 1971 and 1973, he led Ajax to the Europa Cup title three times in a row, and he managed the feat with FC Barcelona’s “Dream Team” in 1992 as coach. Guardiola in midfield, Ronald Koeman in defense and the eccentric Stoichkov in offensive had perfected Cruyff’s offensive magic with dizzying ball relays. “He knew how to bring out the best in me. Like all the other players he coached. Because he knew ‘Dream Team’ is not just Pep, Ronald and I, but every single player on the team.” Stoichkov remembered 30 years later.
The Catalan city became “King Johan’s” second home. His former club raved about the “Dutch magician” in his obituary in 2016. “You can not win without the ball,” was Cruyff’s philosophy. And so Barça played for years under the Dutch star coach, who repeatedly bumped off the field with his penchant for perfection, his stubbornness and his penchant for know-it-alls. “He often let his opponents on the field run into nothing and the public even when he thought it was appropriate,” writes the acclaimed Dutch author Auke Kok in his recently published book “Johan Cruyff – Total Football. The Biography”.
Cruyff said his opinion straight through his entire life. His appearances as an expert on television or as a columnist in the newspaper “De Telegraaf” were feared by coaches and players. But Cruyff’s unique skills as a professional and coach allowed him to take on the role of chief critic.
“Football’s Rembrandt”, as the trade magazine “Voetbal International” wrote these days, was honored until his death and beyond. “Der Spiegel” wrote six years ago on his day of death: “March 24, 2016 is the day football died. Just as Buddy Holly invented rock ‘n’ roll, Johan Cruyff invented football as we know it today.” Or as a moving Stoichkov put it: “I miss Johan Cruyff. So much.”