Holland’s greatest ever football player, Johan Cruyff, sadly passed away on Thursday, March 24th, leaving a significant legacy on the sport, the national side and, most importantly, the Barcelona team that continues to play the game in his image.
Growing up a short walk away from AFC Ajax’s stadium, football was in Cruyff’s blood, at the age of 12 Cruyff’s football loving father passed away, this loss inspired Johan Cruyff to make a life out of the game his father loved.
Cruyff made his debut for the Amsterdam side in 1964, at the age of just 17, before establishing himself in the team during the 1965-66 season.
Success quickly followed Ajax after Cruyff’s arrival into the first team, with league and cup doubles coming in the 1966-67 and 1969-70 seasons, before adding a trio of successive European Cups to their trophy cabinet between 1971 and 1973.
Following those triumphs, Cruyff left his home of Amsterdam for the beautiful city of Barcelona, who had not won the league title in 14 years before the arrival of Dutch football’s favourite son.
Where Johan Cruyff went, success followed, in his first season in Catalonia he helped Barcelona claim their first title in over a decade, beating great rivals Real Madrid by 5 goals to nil on their way to the league triumph.
Cruyff not only revolutionised Barcelona as a football club, but he inspired the city and endeared himself to the Catalans after naming his son Jordi, a traditional and popular name in Barcelona.
Johan Cruyff was well known for his skill and technique, highlights include ‘the phantom goal’ against Atletico Madrid, where in mid-air he back-heeled the ball to score a terrific goal, and of course there is the infamous move they named after him, the Cruyff turn.
His ability to ghost past players and combine style with winning results created a culture within Barcelona that is visible in the current playing team.
He truly left his mark on Barcelona when he returned in 1988 as the manager, after a spell back at home in charge of Ajax, coaching the likes of Marco Van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp for the Dutch team.
Bringing in players like Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman and Romario, Cruyff created ‘El Dream Team’ that won the league in four successive years between 1991 and 1994, with one of his greatest achievements coming in 1992 as his Barcelona side beat Sampdoria to claim the European Cup.
Most of that side that Cruyff managed at Barcelona have gone on to become successful managers in their own rights, most notably, Pep Guardiola, who has succeeded Cruyff as Barcelona’s most successful manager, winning 15 trophies to Cruyff’s 11.
Cruyff is possibly a more important part of Barcelona’s history than Guardiola. As a player and a manager he created an identity for not just the club but the whole city to get behind, and his influence is visible today with the likes of Lionel Messi and under Luis Enrique Barcelona’s Total Football style.
One of Cruyff’s most important achievements is the success of Barcelona’s academy, La Masia, replicating the style of Ajax’s famous academy system, and has given a chance for the likes of Messi to develop and Andres Iniesta to be selected.
His style goes even further with the ‘tiki-taka’ vision Cruyff implemented that was so successfully copied by the Spanish team that won a World Cup and two European Championships between 2008 and 2012, with Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning side also containing influences of Cruyff, notably the sweeper keeper style of Manuel Neuer.
Football has lost one of it’s greatest players, but there is no doubt that in both Barcelona and throughout the sport, Johan Cruyff truly left a Dutch legacy on the beautiful game.
Images from www.youtube.com & www.telegraph.com