To­tal foot­baller

Jo­han Cruyff, the Dutch su­per­star who was a bal­letic, daz­zlingly el­e­gant player.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PEOPLE - By tom wil­liams

IT was dur­ing a group- stage match against Swe­den at the 1974 World Cup in Ger­many that Jo­han Cruyff un­veiled the move that would come to bear his name.

Find­ing his route blocked by Swedish right- back Jan Ols­son on Holland’s left flank, Cruyff made as if to play the ball in­field, only to drag the ball be­hind his stand­ing leg with his right foot and race off to­wards the touch­line, leav­ing his be­wil­dered op­po­nent floun­der­ing in his wake.

“I played 18 years in top football and 17 times for Swe­den, but that mo­ment against Cruyff was the proud­est mo­ment of my ca­reer,” Ols­son told Bri­tish writer David Win­ner in the 2000 book Bril­liant Or­ange.

“I thought I’d win the ball for sure, but he tricked me. I was not hu­mil­i­ated. I had no chance. Cruyff was a ge­nius.”

An idea that had sprung from Cruyff ’ s imag­i­na­tion left ob­servers open- mouthed and like so many of the things that he in­tro­duced to the game, the ’ Cruyff turn’ be­came a football sta­ple.

Cruyff, who died from lung cancer aged 68 on Thurs­day, was a bal­letic, daz­zlingly el­e­gant player who came to em­body the bril­liant Ajax and Holland teams of the mid- 1970s.

To­gether with vi­sion­ary coach Ri­nus Michels, he pop­u­larised the con­cept of “To­tal Football” – a fluid play­ing sys­tem based on ag­gres­sive press­ing, swarm­ing at­tacks and po­si­tional in­ter­chang­ing that seemed to de­pend on an al­most tele­pathic un­der­stand­ing be­tween play­ers.

Cruyff, given li­cence to roam from his nom­i­nal po­si­tion as cen­tre- for­ward, was the on- pitch con­duc­tor, cal­cu­lat­ing an­gles, ca­jol­ing his team- mates into po­si­tion and launch­ing ver­tig­i­nous drib­bles into op­po­si­tion ter­ri­tory with the ball at his feet.

The for­mer Times sports­writer David Miller dubbed him “Pythago­ras in Boots”.

The 1974 World Cup was Cruyff ’ s finest hour and al­though Holland fell short in pur­suit of glory, los­ing 2- 1 to West Ger­many in the fi­nal, he took im­mense so­lace from the plau­dits they had earned.

“I don’t go through life curs­ing the fact that I didn’t win a World Cup,“he once said.

“I played in a fan­tas­tic team that gave millions of peo­ple watch­ing a great time. That’s what football is all about.

“There is no bet­ter medal than be­ing ac­claimed for your style.”

A child of the 1960s, Cruyff also boasted a per­sonal style that tran­scended football, with his long brown hair and ir­rev­er­ent pro­nounce­ments turn­ing him into the game’s first counter- cul­tural icon.

He in­sisted on wear­ing the num­ber 14 shirt, de­spite start­ing play­ers usu­ally wear­ing 1- 11, and wore a shirt with two stripes, rather than the three stripes of kit man­u­fac­tur­ers Adi­das, at the 1974 World Cup so as not to anger his spon­sors, Puma.

He was no less dis­tinc­tive as a coach, firstly with Ajax and then Barcelona – a beige trench­coat cloak­ing his slen­der frame, a ciga- rette dan­gling from his lips ( to be re­placed by a lol­lipop af­ter he un­der­went open- heart surgery in 1991).

He met with only mod­er­ate suc­cess as a player at Barcelona, but as coach he sparked a rev­o­lu­tion, creat­ing the club’s feted La Ma­sia youth academy and lay­ing the foun­da­tions for the mod­ern su­per­club we know today.

“Jo­han Cruyff painted the chapel and Barcelona coaches since have merely re­stored or im­proved it,” said Pep Guardi­ola, the mid­field ful­crum of Cruyff ’ s Barcelona “Dream Team” and later the coach of the club’s finest ever side.

Ar­rigo Sac­chi, Arsene Wenger and Frank Ri­jkaard were other no­table dis­ci­ples of Cruyff, who con­tin­ued to bang the drum for stylish football in later life, stag­ing a dra­matic in­ter­ven­tion at Ajax in 2011 in a bid to re­store the club to for­mer glo­ries.

Ever the provo­ca­teur, he risked the wrath of his home­land by declar­ing his sup­port for even­tual cham­pi­ons Spain ahead of their meet­ing with Holland in the 2010 World Cup fi­nal.

“Spain, a replica of Barcelona, is the best pub­lic­ity for football,” Cruyff said.

“Who am I sup­port­ing? I am Dutch, but I sup­port the football that Spain is play­ing.” – AFP

Light­ning strike: Jo­han Cruyff jumps to hit the ball into the net for the Dutch side’s sec­ond goal against Brazil in their World Cup 1974 football match played at Dort­mund in West Ger­many on July 4, 1974.

1 Cruyff ( right) hold­ing the Euro­pean Cup out­side the mu­nic­i­pal theatre in Am­s­ter­dam in June, 1972 af­ter Ajax Am­s­ter­dam beat In­ter Mi­lan in the fi­nal in rot­ter­dam. — AFP

2 Cruyff made his de­but for Ajax as a 17- year- old spend­ing nine years with the club, win­ning six Ere­di­visie ti­tles and three suc­ces­sive Euro­pean Cups be­fore join­ing Barcelona in 1973. — EPA

3 Cruyff’s ( or ‘ Crui­jff ‘ in Dutch) no. 14 shirt on dis­play at the fan shop of Ajax at the Am­s­ter­dam Arena. Ajax re­tired the no. 14 shirt from ser­vice in 2007. — EPA

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