Johan Cruyff

FC Barcelona Player, Coach and Legend

Johan Cruyff, born Hendrik Johannes Cruijff on April 25th 1947 in Amsterdam, is one of the living legends of modern football and his influence on the phiosophy and style of play of FC Barcelona still exerts a powerful influence.

After playing ten seasons with Ajax Amsterdam, he signed for Barcelona in 1973, where he stayed until 1978, when he signed for the Los Angeles Aztecs and later the Washington Diplomats in the North American Soccer League.

He played a season back in Spain with Second Division club UD Levante before returning to Ajax in 1981 and retiring after a last season with Feyenoord three years later.

Nicknamed The Flying Dutchman, Cruyff was part of the Clockwork Orange Holland team that lost the 1974 World Cup Final to West Germany.

As a player he was three times Ballon d'Or winner in 1971, 1973 and 1974 and along with Pelé, Maradona and Di Stéfano is considered one of the four best players of the 20th century.

On his retirement as a player, Cruyff became manager of Ajax Amsterdam in 1985 before taking the helm at FC Barcelona and creating the legendary Dream Team between 1988 and 1995.

He coached the Catalonia National Team between 2009 and 2013.


Cruyff as a Player

In 1973, Johan Cruyff was at the peak of his career and when the Spanish football federation finally opened its doors to foreign players, his club, Ajax, began transfer negotiations with Real Madrid.

On discovering this, Cruyff, who had already been in contact with Barcelona, declared that he would never sign for a fascist club.

He threatened to retire from football or at least boycott the Dutch team in the forthcoming 1974 World Cup in West Germany unless the Dutch Federation allowed the transfer.

Finally, the transfer of Johan Cruyff to Barcelona was completed for the record sum of 60 million pesetas and the Flying Dutchman arrived in the Catalan capital on August 23rd 1973, signing his contract with club president Agustí Montal on the same day.

Cruyff was received in Barcelona as the great white hope for a club that hadn't won La Liga for fourteen years.

Ajax and the Dutch Federation continued to cause problems and when Cruyff was finally able to make his debut on October 28th against Granada, Barça were lying second to bottom in La Liga.

Johan didn't disappoint scoring 2 goals in Barça's 4-0 victory and from then on, the side didn't lose a game, finishing the season as Liga champions for the first time since 1960.

Cruyff led a team that included, Hugo Sotil, Carles Rexach and Asensi and the high point of the season was a 0-5 victory over Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabéu on February 17th 1974.

Cruyff finished that first 1973-74 with a tally of 24 goals, the most famous of which was one he scored with his heel against Atlético de Madrid in Camp Nou.

FC Barcelona didn't win any trophies over the next two seasons, although Cruyff was the undisputed leader and star of the team and his distinct style of Total Football, which he perfected together with coach Rinus Michaels, has left a lasting impression.

His game had many idiosyncrancies but most would emphasise his positional mastery shown when, while playing theoretically as a centre-forward, he would veer over to either wing thereby confusing the defenders of his day.

This and has innate tactical ability would later be seen in his coaching style as would the precision and difficulty of his passes, which earned him the nickname Pythagoras with Boots.

Speaking personally, I will always remember the Cruyff swerve, when it would look as if he was about to pass but would then drag the ball with his foot, make an 180º turn and then accelerate away from the defender or the way he would look in one direction, say to his left, as if he was about to make a pass and then without turning his head would make a pinpoint pass to a player on his right.

Following the triumphal start, despite Cruyff's obvious class, the team's success didn't really continue.

In the 1975-76 season, he played 29 Liga games scoring 6 goals, 10 Copa del Rey games with 3 goals and 6 European Cup games, in which he scored 3 more goals.

It was during this season that Cruyff's problems with coach Hennes Weisweiler began as a result of his being taken off during a Liga game against Sevilla FC, which Barça lost 2-0.

Cruyff left the ground in a temper and threatened to leave the club on June 30th but overwhelming support from the fans forced the resignation of Hennes Weisweiler, who was replaced by Laureano Ruiz for the 1976-77 season.

Barça won the Copa de Rey in 1977-78 in what would be Cruyff's last season at the club due to continual arguments with management.

Despite the relative lack of success over the whole of the five year period, one of the keys to Cruyff's legendary status as an FC Barcelona player wasn't only that he was obviously a footballing genius and a much needed leader but he also identified with the Catalan cause.

Even before signing for Barça, he had accused Real Madrid of being a fascist club and in 1974, he had another run in with the authorities when he decided to call his son Jordi.

At the time, Catalan names were illegal in Spain and the registrar insisted Jordi Cruyff be registered as Jorge, the Spanish version of the name, but Cruyff's argument was that he was Dutch so he could call his son any name he liked.

This was a particularly sensitive time in Spanish politics as the dictatorship was coming to an end and Franco was to die in November 1975.

1974 was also the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the club and with fascism on the wane, president Agustí Montal was able to reaffirm Barça's Catalan identity.

Just like Catalan Christian names, foreign club names were illegal so under the dicatorship Barça were Club de Fútbol or CF Barcelona and as part of the celebration President Montal restored the name and the FCB on the club crest as well as commissioning the club anthem El Cant del Barça, which would have been unheard of only a few years before.

Obviously, as Cruyff's time as Barça idol coincided with the club's vindication of its Catalanism means that he occupies a special place in supporters' hearts.

Cruyff left Barcelona in 1978 and after a brief period of inactivity, Cruyff joined the Los Angeles Aztecs of the NASL in 1979 and then the Washington Diplomats in 1980.

In 1981, he was back in Spain with Second Division with Levante UD before finishing his career in the Eredivisie with two seasons at Ajax before retiring at Feyenoord in 1984 at the age of 37.

Cruyff as a Coach

In 1984, Cruyff was back at Ajax as technical director with Leo Beenhakker as coach and a year later Johan took the reins as manager of the first team.

Always innovative, Cruyff introduced the attacking 3-4-3 system, which was full of risks at the back but offered an extremely exciting spectacle so much so that Cruyff was voted World's Best Coach by World Soccer Magazine.

After two and a half seasons managing Ajax, Johan Cruyff returned to Futbol Club Barcelona, his second home.

He was taken on as FC Barcelona coach by club president Josep Lluís Nuñez with the club in midst of a crisis known as the Hesperia Mutiny.

This gave Cruyff the chance to sack most of the squad and make crucial signings, such as Txiki Begiristain or José Mari Bakero, with a long-term plan in mind.

However, although Barça won the European Cup Winners' Cup, Cruyff's first two seasons at the club were far from easy as he tried to explain his footballing philosophy to players and fans alike.

His difficulties were aggravated by the fact that Real Madrid was going through a particularly strong period with a side led by Emilio Butragueño, which was known as La Quinta del Buitre and won five consective Ligas from 1986 to 1990.

For 1989-90, his second season at the club, he decided to sign Michael Laudrup, who hadn't had much success in Italy and, speaking personally, the arrival of Laudrup was when I, as a recent arrival in Barcelona, really started to take notice and watch FC Barcelona's football closely.

Unfortunately, though, success was slow in coming and Cruyff was very nearly dismissed at the end of the season.

With the signing of Hristo Stoichkov for the 1990-91 season,the side that would become known as the Dream Team began to click and Cruyff's Barcelona took its first Liga at the end of season.

In 1991, Cruyff had a heart attack due to smoking and after his operation, went on to star in an anti-smoking campaign sponsored by the Generalitat of Catalonia and later became famous for eating the sugary sweet Chupa Chups lollipops.

Back on the bench, Barça just pipped Real Madrid for the title again in 1991-92, thanks to the merengues being beaten against all odds by Tenerife in the last game of the season.

However, the season is remembered for the European Cup Final at Wembley in which Barça won the title against Sampdoria thanks to 111th minute fee kick taken by Ronald Koeman.

The Dream Team had been born and both Cruyff and this fantastic group of players went down in the history of FC Barcelona for bringing the long-awaited first European title to Camp Nou.

Cruyff and the Dream Team would win two more Ligas in succession, making four in total.

The 1992-93 season came to an end in exactly the same way as the previous one with Real Madrid being beaten in the last game of the season once again by Tenerife and the 1993-94 season was also a last minute nailbiter.

Cruyff had signed Romario at the start of the season and beaten Real Madrid 5-0 again along the way but everything came down to the last game.

Deportivo de la Coruña started the last game as leaders and just needed to beat Valencia but Djukic missed a last minute penalty and Barça, who had beaten Sevilla 5-2, took La Liga.

The important moment of the season, though, was the 4-0 drubbing the team took from AC Milan in the European Cup final because it brought the Dream Team to an end and Cruyff decided to completely renew the squad.

From a tactical point of view, what I remember from this golden period was Cruyff's sheer audacity that very much mirrored his style as a player and was obviously influenced by his coach and mentor Rinus Michels.

Often a 4-3-3, at its most risky, it became a 3-4-3 with only three defenders and often no identifiable centre forward.

With Hristo Stoichkov on the right and Txiki Beguiristain on the left, the forwards always took advantage of the wings but the real powerhouse was the midfield populated by the genius ability of players such as Josep Guardiola, José Mari Bakero, Guillermo Amor and the sublime Michael Laudrup.

The two basic tenets were inherited directly from Total Football, where continual possession meant the other team never had a chance to get the ball and so tired itself out and one-touch football, practised in the famous Rondos, always wrong-footed defenders.

Cruyff's long-lasting influence on FC Barcelona was seen when his pupil, Josep Guardiola, took over as first team coach and replicated many of the concepts that dated back to those that the Dream Team had inherited from Rinus Michels in the distant 1970s.

For the 1994-95 season, Cruyff began to work with a new group of young homegrown players, who he hoped would emulate Josep Guardiola, Albert Ferrer, Sergi Barjuan or Guillermo Amor.

The group, which had come up through the Barcelona youth system at La Masia, was known as La Quinta del Mini and was led by the very talented Ivan de la Peña, and included Albert Celades, the brothers Roger and Oscar García and Cruyff's own son, Jordi.

However, impatient for success, the fans were unwilling to give the new side time to gel and the situation wasn't helped when Real Madrid returned the previous season's defeat with a 5-0 victory over Barça in the Bernabéu or Cruyff's increasingly tense relationship with Nuñez.

In 1995-96, Cruyff signed Luis Figo to stengthen the young team but the side still couldn't string the results together.

Barça had been knocked out of the UEFA Cup semi-finals by Bayern, were beaten in the final of the Copa del Rey by Atletico de Madrid and with two games to go the title was mathematically impossible.

At half-time of that Liga game, FC Barcelona vice-president Joan Gaspart went down to dressing rooms and after a heated argument over suspicions that Bobby Robson would substitute him the following season, Cruyff was sacked.

Assistant coach Charly Rexach took over for the last two games of the season and in the last game of the season at Camp Nou, the stadium was full of banners thanking Cruyff for everything he'd done for the club.

Bobby Robson did become manager and President Nuñez purged the Quinta del Mini from the team, including Jordi Cruyff, Johan's son.

Cruyff's sacking led to a rift between the Dutchman and his long-standing friend Carles Rexach but more importantly he came to lead the anti-Nuñez opposition creating a rift in the fan base.

To this day, we culers tend to think of ourselves as Nuñistas or Cruyfistas and I've always erred towards the latter myself.

Later Years

Since retiring as FC Barcelona coach, Johan Cruyff has continued to exert a powerful influence on the club and is considered a reference in European football.

He and his family have continued to have a residence in Barcelona and along with Amsterdam the city is the centre for a number of projects.

Cruyff heads a variety of academic projects, under Cruyff Academics International, Johan Cruyff Institute, Johan Cruyff University and Johan Cruyff College, which offer courses in sports administration in a number of countries and he also runs the Johan Cruyff Foundation, which helps physcally and mentally handicapped children through sport.

In 1997, he gave his support to the Elefant Blau group led by future president Joan Laporta when it brought a motion of no confidence against Josep Lluís Nuñez.

He later opposed Joan Gaspart's candidacy in the FC Barcelona presidential elections of 2000 and openly support Joan Laporta, who incidentally is his personal lawyer, in his successful election bid in 2003.

The Laporta presidency was a definite Cruyffista period and Johan was made lifetime Honorary President of FC Barcelona in early 2010, an honour which was taken away from him by the Nuñista Sandro Rosell, when became FC Barcelona president later that year.

This led to another break with Cruyff returning the insignia but fortunately, under new president Josep Maria Bartomeu, FC Barcelona will be working hand in hand with the Johan Cruyff Foundation on sports projects for handicapped children so relations appear to be improving.

In 2008, Cruyff joined the technical staff of Ajax and in 2009, he became head coach of the Catalonia National Team, directing four matches before being replaced by Gerard López in 2013.

A number of interesting Johan Cruyff videos have been made, including En Un Momento Dado (2004) andL'últim partit, 40 anys de Cruyff a Catalunya (2013).

The great Johan Cruyff, FC Barcelona player, coach and above all legend died on March 24th 2016.

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