Johan Cruyff, 1947-2016. Death of a genius

 cruyff

This one is from the heart. And I care not for those who don’t understand the real beautiful game as was, and how it has been ruined by Murdoch money and FIFA corruption. This post is aimed at those who have played the game at a good level and know that it represents the most entertaining and fascinating sport ever created.

Where to start with Cruyff? The man who dominated the great Dutch ‘Total Football’ team so cruelly defeated by Germany in the World Cup final of 1974. The man who made Ajax a household name around the world, and first Dutch winners of the old European Cup in 1971. Who then went on to even greater heights at Barcelona.

But this is to demote the life of this true artist to one of cups and medals; and Johan Cruyff was far bigger than that.

If you want to discern how great a footballer any given player is, you have to watch that player when he is nowhere near the ball; and then when he takes possession, you must watch the film in slow motion. There are perhaps only a dozen professionals in history who can pass both tests. Among them, the top six for me are Pele, Best, Maradonna, Puskas, Cruyff, and Messi.

What makes Cruyff unique even in that distinguished company is more than unidimensional. He had the best physique of all of them, but also a control of the ball that made one think he might be cheating by the use of glue on his boots. Until you have seen footage of this man crook the ball with his left instep while moving 180° in the opposite direction, you have not seen a defence bamboozled.

He was up there with Lionel Messi when it comes to reducing the complex to the simple….a talent that for me is at the very core of football. A craftsman who developed the one-two into one-two-three and score, Johan Cruyff would perform this prestidigitation over and over again, then calmly pick the ball out of the net and plant it back on the centre circle.

These days, we get pillocks in the commentary box drivelling on about channels, and going wide, and getting forward from the back and having patience outside the box. Cruyff was the quintessential antithesis of all that pseudo-science: his genius was in disguise, speed, perfect execution and the unexpected. He was an entertainer who knew how to maximise expectation…and then deliver the coup de grace clinically. He was unreservedly positive: the ultimate footballer’s buccaneer footballer.

And finally, he retained to the end a dignity only Pele, Puskas and Charlton could match. Capable of being rebellious about some murkier aspects of the sport, Johan Cruyff never once forgot who was really paying his wages, how to be a role model, and why it was important to pay football back by working tirelessly to develop it.

I am genuinely sad tonight: this news has ruined what had otherwise been a good day. I salute a giant human being, a bloke whose attitude to creativity first and foremost chimes with mine, and a hero who inspired me in ways far beyond football. An irreplaceable loss, and a man the memory of whom will glow eternally in the heart of every fan.

14 thoughts on “Johan Cruyff, 1947-2016. Death of a genius

  1. “These days, we get pillocks in the commentary box drivelling on about channels, and going wide, and getting forward from the back and having patience outside the box. Cruyff was the quintessential antithesis of all that pseudo-science”: Amen, we need more of his kind in all walks of life. BTW the one time I tried that drag back I ended up on my a***e

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  2. Quite a philosopher too:
    philosophers!
     “Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.”
     “Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.”
     “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
     “In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender.”
    I was once on a company trip to Amsterdam to review potential product for large project. At end of sales seminar the host said we would do a trip of Amsterdam and enquired ‘Is there anywhere you would like to visit?’ and I replied ‘ Johan Cruyffs birthplace.’
    RIP great man.

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  3. John
    I over reached myself: But I must say the modern TV is fantastic instant replay available!
    Have started watching a little of late …and consider the public are in a position to have an accurate opinion.
    I remember in the early days of outside TV, they used the local ground at Finchley, (it had line of sight of the Ali-Pali transmitter). The best you could say was, a footy game was being played

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  4. Always been an underdog fan. If I lived in Munich I’d certainly have been a München 1860 fan. Hate Bayern.

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  5. I feel you man. Reducing the complex to the simple is the mantra that is desperately underplayed. I’m a long time proponent of your work but this is the one that makes me comment. Keep buggering on old chap. Keep buggering on.

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  6. I cannot claim to have any great knowledge or understanding of the game, but I remember 1974 well enough and his extraordinary poise and talent. For a few of us then, his name replaced the other great JC, same number of syllables, as an exclamation of surprise in any situation. A well worded and heartfelt farewell, straight into the net.

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  7. Reblogged this on TheFlippinTruth and commented:
    I paid off a ship in Curacao in 1981. When I took breakfast next to the pool the next morning a large group arrived at the hotel and took up most of the tables and chairs around me. It was the Ajax youth team led by Johan Cruyff, there, I believe, for a competition of some sort. Many major stars emerged from that youth team over the next decade.

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  8. I first heard of Cruyff in the early to mid sixties my cousin had a trial with Ajax and came back ,showing us quite a few moves and raving about Rudi Krol (who’s birthday it is today) but particularly a certain Mr Cruyff, i remember well before the European cup final using there names alongside Charlton,Best,Laws,Moore and Greaves in our 30 aside games of all ages with one of those old leather balls,quite a few asked me after Ajax exploits how i knew of him!

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  9. Cruyff was a superb player for sure. I endorse a lot of what John says here, except to say that Holland were beaten by West Germany (not Germany) in 1974 World Cup.
    Cryuff is up there with Pele, Maradonna, Best, Charlton and Puskas – and I believe Messi too.

    I just hope that the doping programme at Barcelona was nothing to do with him. Professional sport is mired in doping and Barca’s role has been known for at least the 20 years or so as regards that.

    May Cruyff rest in peace.

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  10. Nitpicking I know but … Feyernoord were the first Dutch team to win the European Cup – in 1970 by beating Celtic (themselves then one of the top teams in Europe!). Before then the Dutch had made no mark on football. Before 1970, the idea that the Dutch would be credible contenders for most World Cups since would have been considered a joke. While the importance of roles played by many other Dutch footballers are underestimated, Cruyff was the figurehead that gave Dutch football faith in itself and in its principles.

    In one of Ajax’s European games, the pitch became waterlogged due to heavy rain. The Dutch players under Cruyff started chipping the balls into the puddles, because they realised that the opposition were overrunning a ball that stopped dead when it hit the water. Perhaps not the best example of football skill, but it summed up Cruyff’s ability to tear up convention and think outside the box. The convention at the time that Cruyff did his best to shred was towards boring, negative, dirty football.

    Less well appreciated is Cruyff’s influence on football well after he retired as a manager. The youth system that he established while at Barcelona produced the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. His philosophy was the inspiration behind both Barcelona’s and Spain’s success in recent years. People can argue over who was the greatest player of all time. There is no argument however over who had the greatest influence on how other people played the game years after he had retired.

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  11. Chris B that is all true Dutch football was very much rated like Dutch cricket is today! probably why my cousin got a trial in the first place!

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  12. I spent most of last night looking at old Cruyff videos.
    I never understod why he smoked so much; being superfit can only last for so long. He figured out pretty much everything else in the game, you would have thought his logic would have convinced him to stop smoking.
    I remember a pile of us stopping the car at a hotel and booked a room for 2hrs to watch the 74 World Cup Final -and we missed the first penalty.
    I still do the Cruyff turn in 5-a-sides whenever I am up against a cocky young defender.
    Unfortunately I have to pass the ball pretty quickly before I am found out for speed.
    Your top 6 are spot on, one day I hope they add Ronaldo Fenomeno from Brazil. Until they crippled him, he was a complete one-man team, at speed.

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  13. If you want to get beaten up by Feyenoord fans, write them out of European Cup history. They, not Ajax, were the first Dutch winners of the European Cup….

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