Cruyff’s big­gest re­gret

> How the Dutch­man fell in love with Liver­pool, An­field and English foot­ball

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - BY JACK PITT-BROOKE

JOHAN CRUYFF had two re­grets at the end of his ca­reer, ac­cord­ing to his son Jordi. One is that he did not coach the Dutch na­tional team at Italia ’90, the other is that he never got the chance to play or coach in Eng­land.

Cruyff made his name in Hol­land, Spain and the United States, but he al­ways loved English foot­ball, ever since he faced Liver­pool with Ajax as a 19-year-old in De­cem­ber 1966.

It was the sec­ond round of the 1966-67 Euro­pean Cup, as Ri­nus Michels’ Ajax faced Bill Shankly’s Liver­pool. The English side had just won their sec­ond First Di­vi­sion ti­tle in three years, win­ning the 1965 FA Cup in the year in be­tween.

They were at the peak of their pow­ers un­der Shankly, who joked before the match that he had never even heard of his Dutch op­po­nents.

Cruyff had only bro­ken into the Ajax first team the year before and was thrilled at the chance to face these il­lus­tri­ous op­po­nents. “At that time, Liver­pool were not just the best club in Eng­land, but one of the strong­est teams in the world,” he wrote in his posthu­mously-re­leased au­to­bi­og­ra­phy My Turn.

“The Liver­pool team in­cluded play­ers like Ron Yeats, Ian St John, Tommy Lawrence and Peter Thomp­son, good foot­ballers that we had all heard about.”

But the first leg, at the Olympic Sta­dium in Am­s­ter­dam, went down in his­tory, as the mis­t­wed­strijd, ‘the fog game’.

In an al­most un­playable thick mist, Ajax raced into a 4-0 lead and ended up win­ning the game 5-1. It was clear vin­di­ca­tion that Michels’ orig­i­nal work at Ajax was bear­ing fruit, and rais­ing his play­ers to a level where they could em­bar­rass the very best in Eu­rope.

“In a tech­ni­cal sense,” Cruyff wrote, “the English cham­pi­ons were blown away.”

When the teams went back to An­field for the sec­ond leg, Shankly bravely pre­dicted that Liver­pool would over­turn the “freak re­sult”, win 7-0 and march through into the next round.

But Cruyff scored twice in a com­fort­able 2-2 draw, send­ing Ajax through. What made the big­gest im­pres­sion on the teenage Cruyff, though, was the An­field at­mos­phere.

“I stood on the pitch at An­field with goose­bumps, be­cause of the at­mos­phere,” Cruyff re­mem­bered.

“My hap­pi­ness at our progress was matched only be the im­pres­sion An­field had left on me; from that evening English foot­ball had cap­tured my heart.

“I had never seen any­thing like this – the pas­sion for the game, and how much the fans wanted their team to win, and it made me think that one day I would like to play in Eng­land.

“Un­for­tu­nately that dream didn’t come to pass, be­cause in those days bor­ders were still closed to for­eign play­ers. Even to­day I still think that was a ter­ri­ble shame.” – The In­de­pen­dent

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