Footballer of the 20th century
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.”