Hendrik Johannes “Johan” Cruyff was a legendary Dutch professional footballer and coach. He was born on 25 April 1947 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He played as an attacking midfielder or a forward, but that was mostly discretionary because of the “Total Football” strategy. He was a right footed player.
Considered to be the greatest footballer coming out of Europe, many fans even regard him as the greatest footballer ever. A very talented footballer, he was good at every aspect of offensive football vision, shooting, passing and most importantly, dribbling.
Possessing immense agility and technique, it was a sight to watch him run past the greatest of defenders with great ease. A revolutionary footballer, he was one of the biggest reasons behind the success of Rinus Michel’s Total Football strategy in which player positions were interchangeable. Cruyff acted as the on-field conductor, of a team that maintained a very significant structure with rotating positions.
He won the Ballon d’Or three times between 1971 to 1974, missing out the coveted award only in 1972 to Franz Beckenbauer. He was voted as the European Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics, while he was voted second best in the World behind Pele, in 1999.
Cruyff was always in close proximity to football, having been born five minutes away from the Ajax’s home ground, the De Meer Stadium. He had humble beginnings, as his family belonged to the working class. He joined the Ajax academy at the age of ten, but was more interested in playing baseball. He only became serious about football five years later, upon the insistence of his coaches.
He made scoring debuts for both club and country. He made his club debut on November 1964 in 3-1 defeat against GVAV, as he scored Ajax’s solitary goal. He made his international debut on 7th September 1966 against Hungary in an European qualifier match. He scored the second goal in the 2:2 stalemate.
Rise to Glory
Cruyff rose to glory in the 1965-66 season, leading Ajax to a league championship as he scored 25 goals in 23 matches. The following season, he went on to lead Ajax to a double, winning both the Eredivisie and the KNVB Cup, as he finished as the league’s top scorer with 33 goals. That period marked the beginning of the golden era of Total Football. The Cruyff-inspired Ajax went on to win three successive European Cups from 1971 to 1973.
He again generated the interest of the masses when he moved to Barcelona from Ajax in a world record transfer fee of 6 million euros. He was endeared by the Catalan fans for his support of the Catalan spirit, as he even named his son “Jordi”.
Cruyff played for clubs like Los Angeles Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, Levante, Feyenoord alongside Ajax and Barcelona.
Cruyff won the Eredivisie an astounding nine times, the KNVB Cup six times and the European Cup thrice. He also won the La Liga with Barcelona. The only thing that Cruyff couldn’t achieve was silverware with the national team as they were beaten in 1974 World Cup final by Germany.
Cruyff almost retired in 1978, but decided to play again after he had lost millions in a series of ill-advised investments. Cruyff finally retired in 1984, playing one last season for Ajax’s arch rivals Feyenoord.
After retirement, he became a coach/manager, and was almost just as successful as he was a player. It was due to his coaching that the tiki-taka style of football is played by Barcelona. He is responsible for the hugely successful and famed Ajax and La Masia academy, which have produced some of the greatest players of modern football.