This one is from the heart. And I care not for those who don’t understand the real beautiful game as was, and how it has been ruined by Murdoch money and FIFA corruption. This post is aimed at those who have played the game at a good level and know that it represents the most entertaining and fascinating sport ever created.
Where to start with Cruyff? The man who dominated the great Dutch ‘Total Football’ team so cruelly defeated by Germany in the World Cup final of 1974. The man who made Ajax a household name around the world, and first Dutch winners of the old European Cup in 1971. Who then went on to even greater heights at Barcelona.
But this is to demote the life of this true artist to one of cups and medals; and Johan Cruyff was far bigger than that.
If you want to discern how great a footballer any given player is, you have to watch that player when he is nowhere near the ball; and then when he takes possession, you must watch the film in slow motion. There are perhaps only a dozen professionals in history who can pass both tests. Among them, the top six for me are Pele, Best, Maradonna, Puskas, Cruyff, and Messi.
What makes Cruyff unique even in that distinguished company is more than unidimensional. He had the best physique of all of them, but also a control of the ball that made one think he might be cheating by the use of glue on his boots. Until you have seen footage of this man crook the ball with his left instep while moving 180° in the opposite direction, you have not seen a defence bamboozled.
He was up there with Lionel Messi when it comes to reducing the complex to the simple….a talent that for me is at the very core of football. A craftsman who developed the one-two into one-two-three and score, Johan Cruyff would perform this prestidigitation over and over again, then calmly pick the ball out of the net and plant it back on the centre circle.
These days, we get pillocks in the commentary box drivelling on about channels, and going wide, and getting forward from the back and having patience outside the box. Cruyff was the quintessential antithesis of all that pseudo-science: his genius was in disguise, speed, perfect execution and the unexpected. He was an entertainer who knew how to maximise expectation…and then deliver the coup de grace clinically. He was unreservedly positive: the ultimate footballer’s buccaneer footballer.
And finally, he retained to the end a dignity only Pele, Puskas and Charlton could match. Capable of being rebellious about some murkier aspects of the sport, Johan Cruyff never once forgot who was really paying his wages, how to be a role model, and why it was important to pay football back by working tirelessly to develop it.
I am genuinely sad tonight: this news has ruined what had otherwise been a good day. I salute a giant human being, a bloke whose attitude to creativity first and foremost chimes with mine, and a hero who inspired me in ways far beyond football. An irreplaceable loss, and a man the memory of whom will glow eternally in the heart of every fan.