In awe from a dis­tance: Stra­chan hails Cruyff

Scot­land man­ager pays trib­ute to ‘the first real su­per­hero of football who you could see reg­u­larly on TV’


He was an in­cred­i­ble coach. It’s very hard to be one of these top, top play­ers and then go on and be­come a top, top coach. Not many have done that

AN away win, achieved with an un­der-strength side, over op­po­nents pre­par­ing to play in the Euro 2016 fi­nals af­ter top­ping their qual­i­fy­ing sec­tion was about as sat­is­fy­ing an out­ing as Gor­don Stra­chan could have hoped for.

Yet, the 1-0 vic­tory Scot­land recorded over the Czech Re­pub­lic in a friendly in­ter­na­tional in the Sta­dion Letna in Prague on Thurs­day evening, while wel­comed, was not cel­e­brated joy­ously by the man­ager.

The news that Jo­han Cruyff, the peer­less Dutch football mas­ter, had passed away af­ter los­ing his fight against lung cancer ear­lier in the day was met with gen­uine sad­ness by Stra­chan.

While he never faced Cruyff on the field of play, he had mar­velled at the Ajax, Barcelona and Nether­lands player’s abil­ity, grace and vision dur­ing his hey­day and en­coun­tered him per­son­ally over the years. His death over­shad­owed the vic­tory over the Czechs.

“It wasn’t a great day,” said Stra­chan. “He was only 68. It’s noth­ing. I met him a few times. He was just a smash­ing fel­low. He was the first real su­per­hero of football who you saw reg­u­larly.

“We never saw Pele too much or Euse­bio be­cause it was just the start of tele­vi­sion com­ing through and show­ing football more reg­u­larly. His move­ment was like a bal­le­rina, he had the grace and the strength. And his abil­ity was phe­nom­e­nal.

“The way he played against Ar­gentina in the 1974 World Cup was in­cred­i­ble. You’ve got to re­mem­ber he played in the days when you got the first kick free. And usu­ally the sec­ond and third. You could go through the whole team hav­ing kicks at you but he never seemed to com­plain. He just got on with it.

“He might have looked slen­der, but he had real core strength. That’s what we miss in Scot­tish football – play­ers with core strength. I never played against him, thank good­ness, but I en­joyed watch­ing him from afar.”

Cruyff, a three-time win­ner of both the Euro­pean Cup and the Euro­pean Foot­baller of the Year award, is one of a se­lect group of truly great foot­ballers who went on to en­joy suc­cess­ful ca­reers in man­age­ment af­ter re­tir­ing from play­ing.

He took over at Ajax, where he had spent two spells as a player, in 1985 and set about in­sti­gat­ing a sys­tem of play which was later cred­ited with en­abling the Am­s­ter­dam club to win the Cham­pi­ons League in 1995.

He re­turned to Barcelona as coach in 1988 and pro­ceeded to win the La Liga ti­tle four sea­sons run­ning as well as the Euro­pean Cup Win­ners’ Cup in 1989 and the Euro­pean Cup in 1992 dur­ing his time in the dugout at the Nou Camp.

Fa­mously, he was also re­spon­si­ble for set­ting up the fa­bled La Ma­sia youth academy which has since spawned tal­ents such as An­dres Ini­esta, Lionel Messi and Xavi Her­nan­dez. In 2010 all three play­ers were fi­nal­ists in the Bal­lon d’Or

“He was an in­cred­i­ble coach,” said Stra­chan. “It’s very hard to be one of these top, top play­ers and then go on and be­come a top, top coach. There’s not many who have done that – you can count them on the fin­gers of one hand.

“It’s hard to keep that drive go­ing when you’ve been a star from the age of 15 and 16 and then gone all the way up un­til he re­tired. It’s very hard to keep go­ing. He added his own touch to the to­tal football the Dutch played.

“I saw him play a cou­ple of times for Ajax, more so the sec­ond time when he went back. I met him on the golf course a cou­ple of times. I met with him Bobby Charl­ton – spot the odd man out there! He was al­right at golf as well.”

Scot­land’s dis­play against the Czech Re­pub­lic was, while good enough to se­cure an away vic­tory over de­cent op­po­nents, hardly rem­i­nis­cent of any­thing which the teams Cruyff played for would have pro­duced. The na­tional team scored a break­away goal through Ikechi Anya early on in the match and then de­fended fran­ti­cally for ex­tended pe­ri­ods. Al­lan McGre­gor in goals en­joyed an out­stand­ing evening to ul­ti­mately en­sure the nar­row­est of vic­to­ries.

How­ever, Stra­chan, who is al­ready look­ing to­wards the open­ing World Cup qual­i­fier against Malta in Val­letta in Septem­ber, be­lieves the ex­er­cise was a suc­cess­ful one.

He se­lected two squads of 18 play­ers for the dou­ble-header against the Czechs and Den­mark at Ham­p­den on Tues­day evening. Go­ing into the games with­out a full com­ple­ment of his best play­ers could eas­ily have back­fired dis­as­trously. In­stead, it has in­creased the op­tions avail­able to him. Paul Cad­dis of Birm­ing­ham City, Kenny McLean of Aberdeen and Tony Watt of Black­burn Rovers all made their Scot­land de­buts. Else­where, Ross Mc­Cor­mack of Ful­ham shone and Barry Ban­nan of Sh­effield Wed­nes­day and Matt Phillips of Queens Park Rangers per­formed well af­ter com­ing on in the sec­ond half.

“If we can come out of these two games with a lot more choices than we had go­ing into the games then it’s been a suc­cess,” said Stra­chan. “As far as Thurs­day night went, you could say that’s hap­pened al­ready. That’s the gam­ble we took.

“It could have been a case that they could have trained too hard. So it was four days max. It was a gam­ble, like I say, but it was a way to look at more play­ers. It’s on to the next game now.”

Cad­dis, who was called up as a re­place­ment for Steven Whit­taker on Sun­day evening, will re­main with the na­tional squad for the Den­mark game along with Anya, Gor­don Greer and Char­lie Mul­grew.

SOLEMN MO­MENT: Scot­land line up for a minute’s si­lence be­fore Thurs­day’s game to pay re­spect to Jo­han Cruyff, above

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