Icon Of The Year Jo­han Cruyff - a real leg­end. RIP.

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS -

Few peo­ple knew the great Jo­han Cruyff as well as Jaap de Groot, the man who not only ghost­wrote the Dutch leg­end’s weekly col­umn for news­pa­per De Tele­graaf and his 2016 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, My Turn, but was his close friend for 30 years. He re­veals Cruyff’s fi­nal months to FFT

“When help­ing Jo­han Cruyff write his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, My

Turn, I quickly re­alised that it could eas­ily have filled more than dou­ble its 300 pages. This, as ev­ery­one knows, was a man who had plenty to say.

This is some­thing that I was able to ben­e­fit from dur­ing the many years I col­lab­o­rated with him for his weekly col­umn in Te­le­sport, the sport sec­tion of Dutch daily De Tele­graaf. He en­joyed trig­ger­ing a re­ac­tion with his analy­ses, and he pro­vided the odd wake-up call not only for Dutch foot­ball but also the gov­ern­ment. Cruyff once crit­i­cised the Min­istry of Fi­nance in re­la­tion to a tax law. Such was Cruyff’s stand­ing, it changed within a month. Ev­ery­one knows that Jo­han was a phe­nom­e­nal foot­ball player and man­ager. Most peo­ple also know he was an idealist; a pi­o­neer; a rebel. But what most won’t have had the chance to see is that he was a won­der­ful per­son. Dur­ing this post-Barcelona pe­riod, Jo­han started his foun­da­tion and the Cruyff In­sti­tute for Sport Stud­ies. Both of these en­abled him to con­tinue be­ing an in­spi­ra­tion to many other peo­ple, and these ini­tia­tives helped to change the per­cep­tion of the stereo­typ­i­cal ‘dumb foot­baller’ as well as giv­ing ath­letes more op­por­tu­ni­ties away from their cho­sen sport. Dis­cussing new chal­lenges and get­ting in­spired to re­alise them be­came a great el­e­ment of our friend­ship. One of those was writ­ing My Turn. The con­tracts with Pan Macmil­lan were signed on Oc­to­ber 15, 2015, but seven days later, he was di­ag­nosed with lung cancer. Our plans soon had to be changed. We had in­tended to start our in­ter­views in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, then write the rough text in Jan­uary, work on the fin­ish­ing touches in Fe­bru­ary and de­liver the manuscript in March. In­stead, the first in­ter­view wasn’t un­til De­cem­ber 27, af­ter his third ses­sion of chemo­ther­apy. Be­cause of his rel­a­tively frail phys­i­cal state, we used the fol­low­ing sched­ule, at his home in Barcelona: two hours of in­ter­view in the morn­ing; lunch; a two-hour siesta; two more hours of in­ter­view time in the evening; and then fin­ish the day with a glass of red wine or cava. Ever the pro­fes­sional, Jo­han im­me­di­ately made it clear in that first ses­sion ex­actly what the over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage of his book should be. Within 15 min­utes he had ex­plained the essence of his life. ‘I am not a per­son with col­lege de­grees,’ he said. ‘Ev­ery­thing I have learned, I’ve learned through ex­pe­ri­ence. ‘I’m not ca­pa­ble of do­ing some­thing at a low level. I can only think in one di­rec­tion: up­wards, to be the best.’ That night I put it on pa­per and it be­came the foreword of My Turn. It’s the only text of the book that Jo­han would read. His re­ac­tion the next day: ‘Per­fect. Keep it like that.’ Be­cause of the lack of time, we needed to work very ef­fi­ciently, and soon I had 12 hours of in­ter­view on tape. The chal­lenge was to give the reader the feel­ing that Cruyff him­self was talk­ing to them, so it was cru­cial to trans­late his pre­cise way of talk­ing into the book. Dur­ing all of our ses­sions be­tween De­cem­ber 27 and March 2, Jo­han was ex­tremely pos­i­tive. As al­ways, he showed he was a man for­ever look­ing to the fu­ture. That ac­tu­ally made in­ter­view­ing him for the book a lit­tle dif­fi­cult at times, as he wasn’t in­ter­ested in talk­ing about goals and games of the past. He wanted to de­liver to a new gen­er­a­tion all the lessons he’d learned from great ex­pe­ri­ences. This pos­i­tive at­ti­tude was typ­i­cal Cruyff, and it was a part of his char­ac­ter that be­came par­tic­u­larly preva­lent dur­ing the darker chapters of his life. He ex­pressed this to me in typ­i­cal fash­ion on his 65th birth­day [in 2012]. About 20 years ear­lier, he’d suf­fered se­ri­ous heart prob­lems and was forced to face the prospect that he wouldn’t live to a par­tic­u­larly old age. When I asked on his birth­day what was

the first thing that popped into his mind when think­ing back over all the years, he said, with a smile: ‘That I made it.’ That’s prob­a­bly why My Turn reads like Jo­han is still here – dur­ing our ses­sions he never had the feel­ing that he would lose his fight against cancer. He was con­fi­dent that he would make it. That is why, un­til his very last days, he al­ways looked for­ward. He was still think­ing about new op­por­tu­ni­ties for the fu­ture. Our last day to­gether was March 2. In the af­ter­noon we vis­ited the young Dutch For­mula 1 driver Max Ver­stap­pen, who was test­ing on the Cir­cuit de Catalunya. It was a won­der­ful ren­dezvous be­tween two tal­ented sportsmen, and de­spite Jo­han be­ing old enough to have been Max’s grand­fa­ther, the pair clicked im­me­di­ately. Af­ter lunch in the hos­pi­tal­ity of Red Bull Rac­ing and then his daily siesta, we sat down to dis­cuss the last chapters of the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. When we had fin­ished, his wife, Danny, came in with some Span­ish cava served with toast, caviar and salmon. What fol­lowed then were prob­a­bly the most pre­cious hours of our friend­ship. The three of us talked un­til mid­night. Danny and Jo­han sat next to one an­other. It was a fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful sight; the woman and the man who needed her more than ever. We dis­cussed all facets of our lives and the peo­ple who had a role in them. Par­tic­u­larly be­cause of what would hap­pen just a few weeks later, these are the mo­ments I’ll cher­ish for the rest of my life – spend­ing this qual­ity time with the vul­ner­a­ble and ap­peal­ing Jo­han and the strong and sen­si­tive Danny. It was Danny who would in­form me 11 days later that some­thing was wrong. It was 11am, when Jo­han would usu­ally send his col­umn. Af­ter a won­der­ful week in Is­rael, he’d wo­ken up notic­ing that the left side of his body wasn’t func­tion­ing cor­rectly. He also had prob­lems talk­ing, so we made a col­umn from a topic we’d dis­cussed pre­vi­ously – the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of agents to­wards young play­ers. On be­half of Jo­han, Danny asked me to keep this set­back to my­self. From that Sun­day morn­ing, we had con­tact ev­ery day. An­other tu­mour had ap­peared in his head and doc­tors were in the process of work­ing out what could be done. His health was up and down: one day he would feel OK, then the next there’d be a set­back. By March 23 it was clear things were go­ing ter­ri­bly wrong, and the next day Jo­han Cruyff closed his eyes for the last time. That farewell came with only his wife, chil­dren and grand­chil­dren present. His bed was sur­rounded by the seren­ity he had wished for. He may have been a hero to many, but most of all he was the warm ‘cap­tain’ of a fam­ily that he al­ways guarded from the out­side world. He was cre­mated within 24 hours, in the pres­ence of only his loved ones. This was all done be­fore the world would em­brace the fam­ily with a mil­lion pairs of open arms. Un­til the end, he was in con­trol. His 18 months of strug­gle were now over – a pe­riod dur­ing which he had opted to keep his health prob­lems hid­den from the pub­lic. It wasn’t the first time that he had done this, how­ever. In De­cem­ber 2014, he was in­vited to speak at a sym­po­sium held by the Dutch FA. He started mag­nif­i­cently, but as the dis­cus­sion wore on, the level of his words dropped. He was crit­i­cised at the time, but few knew that he’d suf­fered a light heart at­tack. Af­ter the con­fer­ence, he even vis­ited a char­ity event ar­ranged by his foun­da­tion, and the next day he watched Ajax’s train­ing ses­sion. It was like noth­ing had hap­pened. It was only when he got home that Danny in­sisted he go to hospi­tal. The three days he spent in in­ten­sive care were kept un­der the radar, but it was a sign his health was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. Thou­sands of the hours we spent to­gether were spent talk­ing about foot­ball, but we also raced two taxis through New Delhi and took the Lon­don Un­der­ground. The lat­ter may seem mun­dane, but we did it be­cause he had never rid­den the Tube. The other pas­sen­gers may have stared at him, but he en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence like a small child would. This was a man who for 23 hours and 59 min­utes of the day didn’t re­alise he was Jo­han Cruyff; a man who did so much to in­spire the younger gen­er­a­tion. Some­one who once told me: ‘I don’t care about money, I don’t even know how much I have.’ As he said at the end of My Turn: ‘How do I want to be remembered? As a re­spon­si­ble sportsman. If I was only judged as a player that would be about 15 to 20 years of my life. To be hon­est, that’s too lim­ited.’”

My Turn: The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy by Jo­han Cruyff is avail­able now, pub­lished by Pan Macmil­lan in hard­back, priced £20

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.