Former Ajax and Barcelona star Johan Cruyff has died of lung cancer aged 68. Cruyff was the first player to win the Ballon d’Or three times, and the first manager to lead Barcelona to European glory in 1992.
Tonight, when I take charge of my son’s U16 football training, I will sit them down and talk about Johan Cruyff. Fortunately, thanks to the role the FIFA franchise plays in our children’s lives they will know who he is. What they won’t know is how great he was, the foundation he laid to allow the likes of Lionel Messi to flourish at Barcelona, or the role that cigarettes had in his life. Today, Johan Cruyff died of lung cancer. He was only 68-years of age.
The words will go in one ear and out of the other. The impact I hope to make in their young lives will vanish. Then I will stand on the touchline and watch as they perform Cruyff turns like they are turning on a tap, and I will understand the real legacy of an impact from one of the true legends of the game.
Cruyff was one of the greatest footballers ever to lace up a pair of boots. He played for seven clubs throughout a career spanning two decades. The first two were his home. He played for Ajax 240 times scoring 190 goals. He won three consecutive European Cups with the Dutch side from 1971.
In 1973, he moved to Barcelona where he played 143 times scoring 48 goals. It was while playing for Barcelona that he won the Ballon d’Or for the third time making him the first player ever to do so. It was in Barcelona that Cruyff passed away.
Cruyff also managed both sides and will be remembered as the man who created the foundation for the mesmerising football that graces the Nou Camp today. He was in charge when Barcelona won their first European Cup in 1992.
The one title that eluded Cruyff was the World Cup. He came close in 1974 when he captained the Dutch side that lost to West Germany in the final by two goals to one. He scored 33 goals in 48 caps for his country. Nobody has scored more while captaining the Dutch side (23).
Cruyff’s problems stemmed from his addiction to cigarettes. In 1991, he underwent heart bypass surgery. In Oct 2015, he was diagnosed with cancer, but earlier this year said he felt he was “2-0 up in a match” against his cancer and was ‘sure he would win.”
Before Cruyff’s passing, there was one thing that I wanted to talk to the lads about tonight. They don’t play as a team. There are too many individuals keeping hold of the ball for too long. I want them to play simple football, and I don’t understand why it’s so hard?
Johann Cruyff used to think the same thing.
“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
What a beautiful metaphor for life.
The Dutch national side faces England at Wembley on Tuesday in what promises to be an emotional evening.