Born: April 25, 1947, Amsterdam, Netherlands
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Full Name: Hendrik Johannes Cruijff
Main Clubs: (Player)
1964-73 Ajax (Netherlands)
1973-78 Barcelona (Spain)
1979-80 LA Aztecs
1980-81 Washington Diplomats
Main Clubs: (Manager)
1985-88 Ajax (Netherlands)
1988-96 Barcelona (Spain)
Internationals: 1966-77 Netherlands 48 caps / 33 goals
Honors (select): Ballon d’Or 1971, 1973, 1974
IFFHS* European Player of the Century
*International Federation of Football History and Statistics
By Niles Pender: There has never been a single player with as much influence over the course of European soccer development as Johan Cruyff. A bold statement, perhaps, but one that’s surely borne out by his accomplishments as both player and manager, and as a footballing philosopher.
It was almost preordained that Cruyff would play for Ajax, from the very beginning. He was born only 500 meters from the team’s ground in eastern Amsterdam. As a child, he’d spend as much of his free time as possible hanging around the stadium. He was adopted by the Ajax first-team players as something of a mascot, and was allowed to train with them from a very early age.
It became obvious very early on that Cruyff was no ordinary kid wannabe. His talents with the ball earned him a place in the Ajax youth setup, which he joined on his tenth birthday. He graduated from it at age 15 to make his first appearance for the senior team. He scored on his debut, and went on to net 251 in 319 total appearances for the Dutch side.
That Ajax side of the late ’60’s and early ‘70’s was known worldwide for developing a style of soccer known as “Total Football”. Under visionary coach Rinus Michels, each squad member was encouraged to become as complete a soccer player as possible. Teams would have a basic tactical shape, but within that overall structure, fluidity was the watchword. A player could move from defense to midfield or attack, and a teammate would automatically drop back to cover for him.
This innovative approach was as successful as it was pleasing on the eye (as long as you weren’t the opposing team, at least!). Ajax was a small club, with an almost amateurish mentality. There were no directors, for example. By the late ‘60’s, though, they were the dominant force in the Eredivisie (Dutch First Division). In his first period with the club, Ajax won six league titles and five domestic cups. Cruyff’s brilliance was underlined by the fact that he once scored six goals in a match!
It was the team’s – and Cruyff’s in particular – exploits in the European Cup that first brought him to the attentions of the wider soccer world, though. Ajax reached the final in 1969, only to lose to AC Milan, 4-1. That final, though, gave the Dutchman a taste of what was needed to win. He, along with his teammates took the lesson to heart.
Ajax beat Panathinaikos to win the European Cup in 1971, 2-0. The following year saw them win again, defeating Inter Milan by the same score, with Cruyff getting both goals. Not only did he score the goals, but he almost single-handedly destroyed the reputation of the Italian giants for tight, uncompromising defensive ability.
Ajax sealed their place in history with a third successive European Cup win in 1973 with a 1-0 win against more Italian opponents, Juventus.
In summer 1973, Ctuyff was skid to Spanish side Barcelona. Barca hadn’t won a league title in 14 years, and, although they were playing good soccer, the Catalans were in dire need of inspiration.
Cruyff provided just that. They won La Liga in his second season, defeating arch rivals Real Madrid 5-0 in the Spanish capital along the way. Cruyff also scored one of the most memorable goals of all time during his spell at Barcelona.
In a game against Atletico Madrid, he ghosted in from the left to score a screaming volley from short range, which has become known as “the Phantom Goal”.
What made Cruyff the greatest European player of his, or any, generation? Firstly it was his phenomenal ball skills. The close control, the balance, the pace were all unparalleled. Above all it was his vision that made him stand head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Teammates and opponents alike were in awe of the space he could make for himself and for those around him. He not only scored a ton of goals in his career, he made as many for his teammates.
The one knock against his career was his time with the Netherlands international team. Not that they were bad, as they reached two World Cup finals in a row, 1974 and 1978, but that they failed to win either game. However, Cruyff did score 33 times in his 48 appearances.
After his Halcion days, Cruyff spent time in the NASL in the USA and back in Holland to end his career.
Few players have made the conversion to top flight player to top flight manager like Johan Cruyff. First with Ajax, then with the glorious Barcelona team of the early – mid ‘90’s. They won 11 trophies under him, and his legacy has been cemented with the exploits of the current team, which was coached until this season by Cruyff’s protégé, Pep Guardiola. Cruyff is one of only a couple of players – Guardiola is another – to have won the European Cup as both player and manager.
Truly, few players in soccer history has offered, and continues to offer, such joy and wonder as has Johan Cruyff.
Football’s Greatest (series): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtzBx6lnvMU&feature=related
Dribbling Skill at Ajax: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19kISjvZ4Io