Foot­baller of the 20th cen­tury

Sunday World - - World Of Sport - Reuters

JO­HAN Cruyff, one of soc­cer s great­est play­ers and most in­flu­en­tial and vi­sion­ary coaches, has died aged 68 af­ter a five­month bat­tle with lung cancer.

His death on Thurs­day was an­nounced on his web­site and by De Tele­graaf news­pa­per, for whom he wrote a weekly col­umn that was of­ten con­tro­ver­sial but al­ways ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated.

Cruyff joined Ajax Am­s­ter­dam as a long­haired teenager be­fore emerg­ing as one of the world s greats in the early 1970s. He helped Ajax Am­s­ter­dam win three Euro­pean Cups in a row from 1971-73 and was also named Euro­pean Foot­baller of the Year in 1971, 1973 and 1974.

Born Hen­drik Jo­hannes Cruyff, he joined Barcelona for a then world record trans­fer fee of $2-mil­lion (R31-mil­lion), and it was Barcelona that would later de­fine his coach­ing ca­reer, help­ing the Cata­lan club to win their first La Liga ti­tle in nearly 15 years in 1974.

He was also a key player in the great Nether­lands team that reached the 1974 World Cup fi­nal when, for the first time, a global au­di­ence saw him per­form the now-fa­mous Cruyff turn in which the player with the ball plays it be­hind their own leg be­fore swerv­ing away in the di­rec­tion of the ball.

The Dutch also got to the World Cup fi­nal but lost again in 1978, this time with­out Cruyff who had quit the side, say­ing years later he walked away af­ter an armed kid­nap at­tempt. He ended his play­ing ca­reer in 1984.

In 1999, he was voted Euro­pean Player of the Cen­tury while he is of­ten brack­eted along­side Brazil s Pele and Ar­gentina s Diego Maradona as the three best play­ers ever to grace the sport.

The Barca Dream Team Cruyff coached won four straight La Liga ti­tles be­tween 1991 and 1994 and won the club s maiden Euro­pean Cup tri­umph in 1992.

The pos­ses­sion-based play­ing style Cruyff promoted, with an em­pha­sis on re­lent­less at­tack, has been widely copied and is cred­ited with un­der­pin­ning Barca s sub­se­quent suc­cesses, as well as those of the Span­ish na­tional team.

For­mer Eng­land cap­tain Gary Lineker, who played un­der Cruyff at Barcelona, summed up the Dutch­man s con­tri­bu­tion by say­ing on Twit­ter: Football has lost a man who did more to make the beau­ti­ful game beau­ti­ful than any­one in his­tory.”

Cruyff ear­lier this month trav­elled to Is­rael to visit his son Jordi, who is tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at Mac­cabi Tel Aviv.

Only last month he said he was 2-0 up in the first half of his bat­tle against lung cancer. Poignantly that turned out to be one of the last pub­lic state­ments made by the man whose foot­balling pro­nounce­ments were ea­gerly sought af­ter by soc­cer fans around the globe.

He died sur­rounded by friends and fam­ily at home in Barcelona.

Dutch ra­dio and TV sta­tions sus­pended reg­u­lar pro­gram­ming, with Ron­ald de Boer, a Dutch in­ter­na­tional, say­ing: He was the best foot­baller we ever had.” For­mer Barcelona coach Pep Guardi­ola said: RIP @Jo­hanCruyff, a ge­nius, a leg­end and the man who changed the men­tal­ity of @FCBarcelona.”

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