Throughout the many years football has been around, only a select number of players have been immortalized. While Diego Maradona and Pele are widely considered the greatest ever to play the game, Johan Cruyff stands on his very own podium in the footballing pantheon.
The Dutchman isn’t only known for his dominant on-field performances for Ajax and the Netherlands. He laid the foundation for the outstanding form FC Barcelona enjoyed during the turn of the century.
Since today is the legendary Dutchman’s death anniversary, this OKBET piece will commemorate his contributions to the Beautiful Game as a player and a tactician. We’ll discuss his playing achievements.
A Stellar Career Started at Home
Johan Cruyff was never far from the game. He was born on April 25, 1947, and his home was only a couple of blocks away from Ajax’s home. His football-loving father interested him in the sport, and the young Cruyff played it with his brother and friends whenever he could.
Even when he was younger, he immediately showed signs of brilliance with the ball. It didn’t take long for Ajax to notice him. He was eventually added to the team’s academy when he was ten.
His father’s untimely death was the first life-changing event in the future footballing star’s life. He admitted in 1997 that he thought he would also die at the same age as his father, which explains his incredible drive when playing matches.
This attitude eventually saw him debut for his boyhood club at 17. The young attacker started making his mark at the club and became a favorite player for Lucky Ajax and its Total Football era. By the time he left the Netherlands in 1973, he had 193 club goals in 245 appearances.
Spain, the United States, and Back to the Netherlands
He joined Barcelona for what was then a world-record transfer fee and immediately made his impact felt. He was vital in helping the club win its first league title in more than a decade. He made 143 club appearances with the Blaugrana, netting 49 goals.
He retired from the game in 1978 but eventually returned after losing most of his money to terrible investments. He played in the United States, suiting up for the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Washington Diplomats.
He returned to Spain to play for Levante for a season before returning to the Diplomats again. He spent the final years of his playing career back in the Netherlands.
He played two more seasons for Ajax. He then spent his final professional year with the club’s rivals, Feyenoord, where he won the league title again.
He won nine Eredivisie titles, one La Liga triumph, and three European Cups. He also thrice won the Ballon d’Or, one of the greatest individual footballing awards a footballer could get.
Johan Cruyff, the Dutch Talisman
Aside from his stellar club career, Johan Cruyff is also known by football purists for his incredible performances for the Dutch national team.
Cruyff was a vital figure for the Oranje, scoring 33 goals in 48 matches. One of the most impressive tidbits about his international career is how the team never lost a game where Cruyff scored.
His most defining performance for the Netherlands shirt came during the 1974 World Cup. He was nothing short of talismanic as he led the team to a finals appearance against West Germany.
While they didn’t win the biggest prize, even the opponents knew Cruyff was the best man on the pitch.
Many fans expected Cruyff to return for the 1978 World Cup. However, a kidnapping attempt in Barcelona convinced the man to call it quits on his international career.
Johan Cruyff, the Innovative Coach
The man didn’t veer away from the game when he decided to retire as a player. He immediately got into management, with his first job as Ajax’s head coach. He didn’t relent from the total football his mentor Rinus Michels introduced.
Ajax was competitive during Cruyff’s run with the team as its head coach, notching the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1987 and the KNVB Cup. It was with Ajax that he first established the Cruyffian system.
It’s a system that featured three mobile defenders, a holding midfielder sweeping the lines, two controlling midfielders setting the pace, a shadow striker, two explosive wingers, and a central forward. It’s a system so effective that Ajax won the 1995 Champions League using this coaching philosophy.
The latest stop in Cruyff’s managerial career was another familiar club. Barcelona got him to coach for the side in 1988. He then tweaked his system in Ajax to better suit the players he had at Barca, which resulted in a 3-4-3.
Cruyff was the mastermind behind Barcelona’s Dream Team and the dawn of tiki-taka football. His possession-centric system was so effective that Pep Guardiola, one of his former players, used his tactics as a base for his approach to the game.
What Johan Cruyff Means to Football
Johan Cruyff may not have the most incredible trophy cabinet out of all the players and managers the sport has seen. However, he’s undoubtedly one of its most influential.
He was the talismanic player that teams were built around. He’s the mind whose possession-focused passing helped transform the game. He became the face of a footballing movement that dramatically changed the game.
This is who Johan Cruyff is. Football fans who aren’t aware of his impact on the game should look him up.