Johan Cruyff: The making of generations in football
The central figure of many teams, Johan Cruyff was an enigma when people talk about his presence on or off the field.”As long as you look at certain way of playing, everybody can play”, Cruyff huge success across many teams he played for and managed acted as a pedigree to a lot of youth players. Like an archaeologist, he always managed to find the hidden treasures of the beautiful game.
A star is born
An Ajax academy product, Cruyff integrated the total football at Ajax, pioneered by John Reynolds in the early part of the 20th Century. Reynolds tactics were well received by his player Rinus Michels who went on to manage Ajax and Cruyff. Michels understanding of the total football system helped Cruyff immensely as he was often deployed as the free man and performed the perfect combination of intelligence and skill. He mastered the position they now call the false 9.
An early break in the Ajax senior team at the age of 17 started his sensational career, not to forget a goal on debut. At such a tender age, Cruyff was already being credited for the vision and decision making abilities that would define him and sum up his extraordinary footballing venture.
The 1965-66 season saw Cruyff getting mature as a player and scored a total of 25 goals in all competitions. “An 18 year old saw everything on the ground which is absolutely astonishing” as stated by the late Rinus Michels. Ajax went on the win the Eredivisie 3 consecutive time during 1965–66, 1966–67,1967–68 era.
The Ajax Golden Era
In 1969–70 Michels and Cruyff were going places as they reached the finals of the European Cup with the brand of attacking and pressing football. The Cruyff led team started asking questions to some of the major teams in the world and despite their heavy loss in the finals at the hands of Milan; Michels knew that the fault didn’t lie in the football system they adopted, but the inexperience of the players playing the bigger teams.
Beginning of the Ajax golden era was no fluke. Michels faith in making Cruyff the fulcrum of the team started to pay dividends. It was a master stroke; as Ajax went on to win 3 back to back European Cups in the early 1970’s, a feat that is matched by Bayern and only bettered by Madrid.
A small club then from the east of Amsterdam, Cruyff’s brilliant understanding of the tactics which was laid down by Michels and later Kovács was crucial in producing the results that propelled this Ajax team to go down in the history as the team that outplayed most of the teams and dominated the European football.
Cruyff, the best player in the world moves to Barcelona
Problems behind the curtains and an angry Cruyff decided to move away for a new challenge and combine again with his mentor and former manager Rinus Michels at Barcelona. The two times Ballon d’Or winner then was to become the most influential man to have set foot on the Catalan lands.
Arguably the best player in the world, Cruyff helped a struggling Barca reclaim the La Liga title after 14 long years. His arrival not only changed the shape and system of the way Barca played, but also provided the missing puzzle in their long lost armour. Cruyff went on to earn iconic status with fans, scoring a well anticipated Phantom Goal against Athletico Madrid.
He was also instrumental in the mesmerizing display of total football against Barcelona’s El Clasico rivals Real Madrid. A strong Madrid team was humiliated on their home turf and thrashed 5-0. This sent a worldwide shock wave that how efficient can a tactical formation combined with pressing play can change the course of the game.