24th of March, 2016 will forever be etched in history as the saddest day for football. Johan Cruyff is no more among us. He passed away peacefully at the age of just 68 after suffering from cancer since a few months. Fans all over the world mourn the death of the man who revolutionised modern football.
The man who made Ajax and FC Barcelona play the way we see now. He revolutionized Rinus Michels’ “Total Football” philosophy and took it to a whole new level. And he is none other than Hendrik Johannes Cruijff or popularly known as Johan Cruyff.
Dutch football rose from near obscurity and went on to produce some of the greatest players to grace the game during Cruyff’s time as a player and subsequently a manager. AFC Ajax Youth Academy and La Masia have based their coaching methods on Cruyff’s approach and have been fairly succesful in the long run.
He led the Oranje to the 1974 Fifa World Cup finals where they lost to West Germany but was declared the player of the tournament for his heroics.
A 3 time Ballon d’Or winner, he was voted European Player of the Century and came second only to Pele in the World player of the Century poll in 1999. He is considered to be among the most influential figures in football history and has had profound influence on greats like Guardiola, Rijkaard and Xavi.
He joined the Ajax youth system on his 10th birthday and sooner than enough made a name for himself there. In just 240 matches he amassed 190 goals winning 8 Eridivisie and 3 European Cups. He would later return for a short stint before retiring.
He once said ” Soccer is simple but it is difficult to play simple”. And this was his fundamental approach to the game.
After his retirement he coached a young Ajax side to a European Cup victory in 1987. A generation of talented Dutch footballers played under him at this point and this philosophy would later help them win the Champions league in 1995. Players like Van Basten (who would also go on to win 3 Ballon d’Or like his mentor), Frank Rijkaard, Danny Blind and Dennis Bergkamp formed his core group of players which Cruyff utilised for his Total Football.
And then came the “Dream Team”.
Zubizarreta, Guardiola, Koeman, Stoichkov, Laudrup, Nadal, Hagi and Romario were some of the world class stars to have played under Cruyff and were able to win 11 titles in all including 4 La Liga titles in a row during his reign. Koeman’s freekick in 1992 final against Sampdoria brought the club its first European Cup. And Cruyff’s dream of winning a European Cup with Barça was thus completed as a manager.
Guardiola, who served as the captain of Cruyff’s Barça was so inspired by his mentor, he went one step further to teach Barça “tiki taka” brand of football winning 16 titles all in 4 years. He was quoted as saying “Cruyff built the cathedral, our job is to maintain and renovate it”.
The people of Catalonia consider Cruyff as one of their own. Cruyff brought in a new ray of hope at the end of Franco’s reign. He made Barça a super power in football. He taught them a new way to play– simple beautiful and exquisite.
Perhaps nobody contributed as much to football as Cruyff has. Barcelona, Netherlands, Ajax all owe a lot to the legendary figure whose contribution to football will remain unparalleled. he proposed to set up La Masia when he was just 32 and that academy has gone on to produce some of the greatest players in history.
History will forever remember you for all that you did for the beautiful game. It will never be forgotten. The legend will go on forever.