Johan Cruyff

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Johan Cruyff
Ajax-selectie presenteert zich aan de pers, nummer 15 Heinz Stuy, nummer 16 Ruud Krol, nummer 13 Johan Cruyff, nummer 14 Wim Suurbier (allen koppen).jpg
Cruyff with Ajax in 1972
Personal information
Full name Hendrik Johannes Cruijff
Date of birth (1947-04-25)25 April 1947
Place of birth Amsterdam, Netherlands
Date of death 24 March 2016(2016-03-24) (aged 68)
Place of death Barcelona, Spain
Height 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Playing position Forward
Youth career
1957–1963 Ajax
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1964–1973 Ajax 240 (190)
1973–1978 Barcelona 143 (48)
1979 Los Angeles Aztecs 23 (13)
1980–1981 Washington Diplomats 30 (12)
1981 Levante 10 (2)
1981–1983 Ajax 36 (14)
1983–1984 Feyenoord 33 (11)
Total 514 (290)
National team
1966–1977 Netherlands 48 (33)
Teams managed
1985–1988 Ajax
1988–1996 Barcelona
2009–2013 Catalonia

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

Hendrik Johannes "Johan" Cruijff OON (Dutch: [ˈjoːɦɑn ˈkrœyf], anglicised to Cruyff; 25 April 1947 – 24 March 2016) was a Dutch professional football player and coach. As a player, he won the Ballon d'Or three times, in 1971, 1973 and 1974.[1] Cruyff was the most famous exponent of the football philosophy known as Total Football explored by Rinus Michels, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in football history.[2][3][4] In the 1970s, Dutch football rose from near obscurity to become a powerhouse in the sport.[5][6] Cruyff led the Netherlands to the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup and received the Golden Ball as player of the tournament.[7] At the 1974 finals he executed a feint that subsequently was named after him, the Cruyff Turn, a move widely replicated in the modern game.[8]

At club level, Cruyff started his career at Ajax, where he won eight Eredivisie titles, three European Cups and one Intercontinental Cup.[9] In 1973, he moved to Barcelona for a world record transfer fee, winning La Liga in his first season and was named European Footballer of the Year. After retiring from playing in 1984, Cruyff became highly successful as manager of Ajax and later Barcelona; he remained an influential advisor to both clubs. His son Jordi also played football professionally.

In 1999, Cruyff was voted European Player of the Century in an election held by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics, and came second behind Pelé in their World Player of the Century poll.[10] He came third in a vote organised by the French magazine France Football consulting their former Ballon d'Or winners to elect their Football Player of the Century.[11] He was chosen on the World Team of the 20th Century in 1998, the FIFA World Cup Dream Team in 2002, and in 2004 was named in the FIFA 100 list of the world's greatest living players.[12]

Considered to be one of the most influential figures in football history,[13][14] Cruyff's style of play and his football philosophy has influenced managers and players including Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup, Arsène Wenger, Eric Cantona and Xavi.[15] Ajax and Barcelona are among the clubs that have developed youth academies based on Cruyff's coaching methods.[16] His coaching philosophy helped lay the foundations for the revival of Ajax's international successes in the 1990s.[17] Spanish football's successes at both club and international level during the years 2008 to 2012 have been cited by many as evidence of Cruyff's impact on contemporary football.[18]

Early life[edit]

"I was born shortly after the war, though, and was taught not to just accept anything."

—Cruyff said in a documentary on TV3 channel (2015).[19]

Hendrik Johannes "Johan" Cruijff was born on 25 April 1947 in Amsterdam, on a street five minutes away from Ajax's stadium, his first football club. Johan was the second son of Hermanus Cornelis Cruijff and Petronella Bernarda Draaijer, from a humble, working-class background in east Amsterdam. Cruyff, encouraged by his influential football-loving father and his close proximity in Akkerstraat to the De Meer Stadium, played football with his schoolmates and older brother, Henny, whenever he could, and idolised the prolific Dutch dribbler, Faas Wilkes.

In 1959, Cruyff's father died from a heart attack. Viewing a potential football career as a way of paying tribute to his father, the death inspired the strong-willed Cruyff, who also frequently visited the burial site at Oosterbegraafplaats.[20] His mother began working at Ajax as a cleaner, deciding that she could no longer carry on at the grocer without her husband, and in the future, this made Cruyff near-obsessed with financial security but also gave him an appreciation for player aids. His mother soon met her second husband, Henk Angel, a field hand at Ajax who proved a key influence in Cruyff's life.[21]

Club career[edit]


Cruyff played for Ajax from 1957 to 1973 and 1981 to 1983 (seen here in 1967 against Feyenoord)

Cruyff joined the Ajax youth system on his tenth birthday. Cruyff and his friends would frequent a "playground" in their neighbourhood and Ajax youth coach Jany van der Veen, who lived close by, noticed Cruyff's talent and decided to offer him a place at Ajax without a formal trial.[20] He played football and baseball, showing talent both on the mound pitching and behind the plate as a catcher, before having to leave the club's baseball section at age 15 to focus on football.[22][23] He made his first team debut on 15 November 1964 in the Eredivisie, against GVAV, scoring the only goal for Ajax in a 3–1 defeat. That year, Ajax finished in their lowest position since the establishment of professional football, in 13th.[24] Cruyff really started to make an impression in the 1965–66 season and established himself as a regular first team player after scoring two goals against Door Wilskracht Sterk in the Olympic stadium on 24 October 1965 in a 2–0 victory. In the seven games that winter, he scored eight times and in March 1966 scored the first three goals in a league game against Telstar in a 6–2 win. Four days later, in a cup game against Veendam in a 7–0 win, he scored four goals. In total that season, Cruyff scored 25 goals in 23 games, and Ajax won the league championship.[7]

In the 1966–67 season, Ajax again won the league championship, and also won the KNVB Cup, for Cruyff's first "double".[7] Cruyff ended the season as the leading goalscorer in the Eredivisie with 33. Cruyff won the league for the third successive year in the 1967–68 season. He was also named Dutch footballer of the year for the second successive time, a feat he repeated in 1969.[7] On 28 May 1969, Cruyff played in his first European Cup final against Milan, but the Italians won 4–1.

Cruyff playing with Ajax in 1971

In the 1969–70 season, Cruyff won his second league and cup "double"; at the beginning of the 1970–71 season, he suffered a long-term groin injury. He made his comeback on 30 October 1970 against PSV. In this game, he did not wear his usual number 9, which was in use by Gerrie Mühren, but instead used number 14.[7] Ajax won 1–0. Although it was very uncommon in those days for the starters of a game not to play with numbers 1 to 11, from that moment onwards, Cruyff wore number 14, even with the Dutch national team. There was a documentary on Cruyff, Nummer 14 Johan Cruyff[25] and in the Netherlands there is a magazine by Voetbal International, Nummer 14.[26]

"Johan Cruyff's miracles in Amsterdam were many. He and his coach Rinus Michels (a sort of John the Baptist figure) raised Ajax from obscurity. More important, they invented a new way of playing. Cruyff became the greatest exponent and teacher of 'totaalvoetbal' [Total Football]. His vision of perfect movement and harmony on the field was rooted in the same sublime ordering of space that one sees in the pictures of Vermeer or church painter Pieter Jansz Saenredam. It was the music of the spheres on grass."

David Winner, the author of Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football[27]

In a league game against AZ '67 on 29 November 1970, Cruyff scored six goals in an 8–1 victory. After winning a replayed KNVB Cup final against Sparta Rotterdam by a score of 2–1, Ajax won in Europe for the first time. On 2 June 1971, in London, Ajax won the European Cup by defeating Panathinaikos 2–0.[7] He signed a seven-year contract at Ajax. At the end of the season, he was named the Dutch and European Footballer of the Year for 1971.[7]

In 1972, Ajax won a second European Cup, beating Inter Milan 2–0 in the final, with Cruyff scoring both goals.[7] This victory prompted Dutch newspapers to announce the demise of the Italian style of defensive football in the face of Total Football. Soccer: The Ultimate Encyclopaedia says, "Single-handed, Cruyff not only pulled Internazionale of Italy apart in the 1972 European Cup Final, but scored both goals in Ajax's 2–0 win."[28] Cruyff also scored in the 3–2 victory over ADO Den Haag in the KNVB Cup final. In the league, Cruyff was the top scorer with 25 goals as Ajax became champions. Ajax won the Intercontinental Cup, beating Argentina's Independiente 1–1 in the first game followed by 3–0, and then in January 1973, they won the European Super Cup by beating Rangers 3–1 away and 3–2 in Amsterdam. Cruyff's only own goal came on 20 August 1972 against FC Amsterdam. A week later, against Go Ahead Eagles in a 6–0 win, Cruyff scored four times for Ajax. The 1972–73 season was concluded with another league championship victory and a third successive European Cup with a 1–0 win over Juventus in the final, with the Encyclopedia stating Cruyff "inspired one of the greatest 20-minute spells of football ever seen".[28]


Cruyff played for Barcelona from 1973–1978

In mid-1973, Cruyff was sold to Barcelona for 6 million guilders (approx. US$2 million, c. 1973) in a world record transfer fee.[29] On 19 August 1973, he played his last match for Ajax where they defeated FC Amsterdam 6–1, the second match of the 1973–74 season.

Cruyff endeared himself to the Barcelona fans when he chose a Catalan name, Jordi, for his son. He helped the club win La Liga for the first time since 1960, defeating their deadliest rivals Real Madrid 5–0 at their home of the Santiago Bernabéu. Thousands of Barcelona fans who watched the match on television poured out of their homes to join in street celebrations.[30] A New York Times journalist wrote that Cruyff had done more for the spirit of the Catalan people in 90 minutes than many politicians in years of struggle.[30] Football historian Jimmy Burns stated, "with Cruyff, the team felt they couldn’t lose".[30] He gave them speed, flexibility and a sense of themselves.[30] In 1974 Cruyff was crowned European Footballer of the Year.[7]

"There have been four kings of football—Di Stéfano, Pelé, Cruyff, and Maradona."

—Former Barcelona coach César Luis Menotti, 2011[31]

During his time at Barcelona, Cruyff scored one of his most famous goals, The 'Phantom' Goal.[32] In a game against Atlético Madrid, Cruyff leapt into the air, twisted his body so he was facing away from the goal, and kicked the ball past Miguel Reina in the Atlético goal with his right heel (the ball was at about neck height and had already travelled wide of the far post). The goal was featured in the documentary En un momento dado, in which fans of Cruyff attempted to recreate that moment. The goal has been dubbed Le but impossible de Cruyff (Cruyff's impossible goal).[33] In 1978, Barcelona defeated Las Palmas 3–1, to win the Copa del Rey.[7] Cruyff played two games with Paris Saint-Germain in 1975 during the Paris tournament. He had only agreed because he was a fan of designer Daniel Hechter, who was then president of PSG.[34][35]

United States[edit]

At the age of 32, Cruyff signed a lucrative deal with the Los Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League (NASL).[7] He had previously been rumoured to be joining the New York Cosmos but the deal did not materialize; he played a few exhibition games for the Cosmos. He stayed at the Aztecs for only one season, and was voted NASL Player of the Year. The following season, he moved to play for the Washington Diplomats. He played the whole 1980 campaign for the Diplomats, even as the team was facing dire financial trouble. In May 1981, Cruyff played as a guest player for Milan in a tournament, but was injured. As a result, he missed the beginning of the 1981 NASL soccer season, which ultimately led to Cruyff choosing to leave the team. Cruyff also loathed playing on artificial surfaces, which were common in the NASL at the time.


In January 1981, Cruyff played three friendly matches for FC Dordrecht. Also in January 1981, manager Jock Wallace of English club Leicester City made an attempt to sign Cruyff. Despite negotiations lasting three weeks, in which Cruyff expressed his desire to play for the club, a deal could not be reached as he instead chose to sign with Spanish Segunda División side Levante.[36]

In March 1981, Cruyff took the field for the first time for Levante. Injuries and disagreements with the administration of the club blighted his spell in the Segunda División, and he only made ten appearances, scoring two goals. Having failed to secure promotion to the first division, a contract with Levante fell through.[37]

Back at Ajax[edit]

Johan Cruyff with Japanese fans in 1982

After his spell in the U.S. and a short-lived stay at Levante in Spain, Cruyff returned to play in his homeland, rejoining Ajax on 30 November 1980 as "technical advisor" to trainer Leo Beenhakker, Ajax being eighth in the league table at the time after 13 games played. After 34 games, however, Ajax finished the 1980–81 season in second after 34 games. In December 1981, Cruyff signed a contract extension with Ajax.[37]

In the 1981–82 and 1982–83 seasons, Ajax, along with Cruyff, became league champions. In the 1982–83 season, Ajax won the Dutch Cup (KNVB-Beker). In 1982, he scored a famous goal against Helmond Sport. While playing for Ajax Cruyff scored a penalty the same way Rik Coppens had done it 25 years earlier.[38][39] He put the ball down as for a routine penalty kick, but instead of shooting at goal, Cruyff nudged the ball sideways to his Ajax teammate Jesper Olsen who in return passed it back to Cruyff who tapped the ball into the empty net, as Otto Versfeld, the Helmond goalkeeper, looked on.[7]

Cruyff's farewell at Feyenoord


At the end of the 1982–83 season, Ajax decided not to offer Cruyff a new contract. This angered Cruyff, who responded by signing for Ajax's archrivals Feyenoord.[40] Cruyff's season at Feyenoord was a successful one in which the club won the Eredivisie for the first time in a decade, part of a league and KNVB Cup double. The team's success was due to the performances of Cruyff along with Ruud Gullit and Peter Houtman.[41]

Despite his relatively advanced age, Cruyff played all league matches that season except for one. Because of his performance on the field, he was voted as Dutch footballer of the year for the fifth time. At the end of the season, the veteran announced his final retirement. He ended his Eredivisie playing career on 13 May 1984 with a goal against PEC Zwolle. Cruyff played his last game in Saudi Arabia against Al-Ahli SC (Jeddah), bringing Feyenoord back into the game with a goal and an assist.[42]

International career[edit]

Johan Cruyff in 1974, the year the Netherlands lost the World Cup final to West Germany

As a Dutch international, Cruyff played 48 matches, scoring 33 goals.[7][43] The national team never lost a match in which Cruyff scored. On 7 September 1966 Cruyff made his official debut for the Netherlands in the Euro 1968 qualifier against Hungary and scored in a 2–2 draw. In his second match, a friendly against Czechoslovakia, Cruyff was the first Dutch international to receive a red card. The Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) banned him from Ajax games but not internationals.[44]

Accusations of Cruyff's "aloofness" were not rebuffed by his habit of wearing a shirt with only two black stripes along the sleeves, as opposed to Adidas' usual design feature of three, worn by all the other Dutch players. Cruyff had a separate sponsorship deal with Puma.[45] From 1970 onwards, he wore the number 14 jersey for the Netherlands, setting a trend for wearing shirt numbers outside the usual starting line-up numbers of 1 to 11.[7]

1974 FIFA World Cup[edit]

Cruyff led the Netherlands to a runners-up medal in the 1974 World Cup and was named player of the tournament.[7] Thanks to his team's mastery of Total Football, they coasted all the way to the final, knocking out Argentina (4–0), East Germany (2–0) and Brazil (2–0) along the way.[7] Cruyff scored twice against Argentina in one of his team's most dominating performances, then he scored the second goal against Brazil to knock out the defending champions.[7]

The Netherlands faced hosts West Germany in the final. Cruyff kicked off and the ball was passed around the Oranje team 13 times before returning to Cruyff, who then went on a run past Berti Vogts and ended when he was fouled by Uli Hoeneß inside the box. Teammate Johan Neeskens scored from the spot kick to give the Netherlands a 1–0 lead and the Germans had not yet touched the ball.[7] During the latter half of the final, his influence was stifled by the effective marking of Vogts, while Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeneß and Wolfgang Overath dominated the midfield as West Germany came back to win 2–1.[46]

Cruyff in the box during the 1974 World Cup Final, just before he was fouled for a penalty

In an interview published in the 50th anniversary issue of World Soccer magazine, the captain of the Brazilian team that won the 1970 World Cup, Carlos Alberto, went on to say, "The only team I've seen that did things differently was Holland at the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Since then everything looks more or less the same to me…. Their 'carousel' style of play was amazing to watch and marvellous for the game."[47]

With regards to role models, Brazilian football manager and former player Telê Santana has mentioned in one interview that he had no idols, though, "My greatest satisfaction would be to manage a team such as 1974 Holland. It was a team where you could pick [Johan] Cruyff and place him on the right wing. If I had to put him in the left-wing, he would still play [the same]. I could choose Neeskens, who played both to the right and to the left of the midfield. Thus, everyone played in any position."[48]

After 1974[edit]

Cruyff retired from international football in October 1977, having helped the national team qualify for the upcoming World Cup.[7] Without him, the Netherlands finished runners-up in the World Cup again. Initially, the reason given for missing the 1978 World Cup were political reasons given a military dictatorship was in power in Argentina at that time. In 2008, Cruyff stated to the journalist Antoni Bassas in Catalunya Ràdio that he and his family were subject to a kidnap attempt in Barcelona a year before the tournament, and that this had caused his retirement. "To play a World Cup you have to be 200% okay, there are moments when there are other values in life."[49]

Style of play[edit]

Throughout his career, Cruyff became synonymous with the playing style of "Total Football".[50][51][52] It is a system where a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus allowing the team to retain their intended organizational structure. In this fluid system, no footballer is fixed in their intended outfield role. The style was honed by Ajax coach Rinus Michels, with Cruyff serving as the on-field "conductor".[53][54] Space and the creation of it were central to the concept of Total Football. Ajax defender Barry Hulshoff, who played with Cruyff, explained how the team that won the European Cup in 1971, 1972 and 1973 worked it to their advantage: "We discussed space the whole time. Cruyff always talked about where people should run, where they should stand, where they should not be moving. It was all about making space and coming into space. It is a kind of architecture on the field. We always talked about speed of ball, space and time. Where is the most space? Where is the player who has the most time? That is where we have to play the ball. Every player had to understand the whole geometry of the whole pitch and the system as a whole."[55] As Cruyff put it, "Every trainer talks about movement, about running a lot. I say don't run so much. Football is a game you play with your brain. You have to be in the right place at the right moment, not too early, not too late."[55]

"I played 18 years in top football and seventeen times for Sweden but that moment against Cruyff was the proudest moment of my career. I thought I'd win the ball for sure, but he tricked me. I was not humiliated. I had no chance. Cruyff was a genius."

—Sweden defender Jan Olsson, victim of the Cruyff Turn at the 1974 World Cup[56]

The team orchestrator, Cruyff was a creative playmaker with a gift for timing passes.[57] Nominally, he played centre forward in this system and was a prolific goalscorer, but dropped deep to confuse his markers or moved to the wing to great effect.[58] Due to the way Cruyff played the game, he is still referred to as "the total footballer."[59] Former French player Eric Cantona states, "I loved the Dutch in the '70s, they excited me and Cruyff was the best. He was at the heart of a revolution with his football. Ajax changed football and he was the leader of it all. If he wanted he could be the best player in any position on the pitch."[60]

Cruyff was known for his technical ability, speed, acceleration, dribbling and vision, possessing an awareness of his team-mates' positions as an attack unfolded. In 1997, Dutch journalist Hubert Smeets wrote: "Cruyff was the first player who understood that he was an artist, and the first who was able and willing to collectivise the art of sports".[52][61] Sports writer David Miller believed Cruyff superior to any previous player in his ability to extract the most from others. He dubbed him "Pythagoras in boots" for the complexity and precision of his passes and wrote: "Few have been able to exact, both physically and mentally, such mesmeric control on a match from one penalty area to another."[62]

According to England's 1966 World Cup winning striker Bobby Charlton, "He [Cruyff] was pretty intelligent, too! A real football brain. He had superb control, he was inventive and he could perform magic with a ball to get himself out of trouble instinctively. He got a lot of goals, and although he was so skilful, he didn't show off – he played to the strengths of the players around him. This side would really keep hold of the ball."[63]

Cruyff also perfected a feint now known as the "Cruyff Turn".[58] Cruyff looked to pass or cross the ball, then, instead of kicking it, he dragged the ball behind his planted foot with the inside of his other foot, turned through 180 degrees, and accelerated away.[64]

Managerial career[edit]


Cruyff as manager of Ajax in 1987

After retiring from playing, Cruyff followed in the footsteps of his mentor Rinus Michels, coaching a young Ajax side to victory in the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1987 (final: Ajax 1, Lokomotiv Leipzig 0; goal by Marco van Basten). In May and June 1985, Cruyff returned to Ajax again. In the 1985–86 season, the league title was lost to Jan Reker's PSV, despite Ajax having a goal difference of +85 (120 goals for, 35 goals against). In the 1985–86 and 1986–87 seasons, Ajax won the Dutch Cup (KNVB-Beker).

It was during this period as manager that Cruyff was able to implement his favoured team formation—three mobile defenders; plus one more covering space – becoming, in effect, a defensive midfielder (from Rijkaard, Blind, Silooy, Verlaat, Larsson, Spelbos), two 'controlling' midfielders (from Rijkaard, Scholten, Winter, Wouters, Mühren, Witschge) with responsibilities to feed the attack-minded players, one second striker (Bosman, Scholten), two touchline-hugging wingers (from Bergkamp, van't Schip, De Wit, Witschge) and one versatile centre forward (from Van Basten, Meijer, Bosman). So successful was this system that Ajax won the Champions League in 1995 playing Cruyff's system – a tribute to Cruyff's legacy as Ajax coach.[17]


In 1988, Cruyff returned to Barcelona as manager. At Barça, Cruyff brought in players such as Pep Guardiola, José Mari Bakero, Txiki Begiristain, Andoni Goikoetxea, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Romário, Gheorghe Hagi and Hristo Stoichkov. Cruyff's "Dream Team" won La Liga four times between 1991 and 1994, and beat Sampdoria in both the 1989 European Cup Winners' Cup Final and the 1992 European Cup Final at Wembley.[65] Victories under Cruyff include a 5–0 La Liga win over Real Madrid in El Clásico at the Camp Nou, and a 4–0 win against Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League.[66][67] Barcelona won a Copa del Rey in 1990, the European Super Cup in 1992 and three Supercopa de España, as well as finishing runner-up to Manchester United and Milan in two European finals.[65]

La Masia, Barcelona's youth academy, was the brainchild of Cruyff. In 1979 Cruyff wanted to establish a copy of the Ajax Academy in Barcelona. His proposal was accepted by president Josep Núñez.

Cruyff used to smoke 20 cigarettes a day prior to undergoing double heart bypass surgery in 1991 while he was the coach of Barcelona, after which he gave up smoking. He also led the anti-smoking campaign developed by the Health Department of the Catalan autonomous government. Cruyff juggled a cigarette pack 16 times in an anti-tobacco video sponsored by the Catalan Department of Health.[68]

With 11 trophies, Cruyff was Barcelona's most successful manager, but has since been surpassed by his former player Pep Guardiola, who achieved 15. He was the club's longest-serving manager. In his final two seasons, he failed to win any trophies, and fell out with chairman Josep Lluís Núñez; therefore, Cruyff was unceremoniously sacked as Barcelona coach by Núñez.[69]

While at Barcelona, he was in negotiations with the KNVB to manage the national team for the 1994 World Cup finals, but talks broke off at the last minute.[70]

His open support helped candidate Joan Laporta to victory in Barcelona's presidential elections. He continued to be an adviser for him, although he held no official post at Barcelona. On 26 March 2010, Cruyff was named honorary president of Barcelona in recognition of his contributions to the club as both a player and manager.[71] He was stripped of this title by new president Sandro Rosell in July 2010.[72][73]

Proposed return to Ajax[edit]

On 20 February 2008, in the wake of a major research on the ten-year-mismanagement, it was announced that Cruyff would be the new technical director at his boyhood club Ajax, his fourth stint with the Amsterdam club.[74] Cruyff announced in March that he was pulling out of his planned return to Ajax because of "professional difference of opinion" between him and Ajax's new manager, Marco van Basten. Van Basten said that Cruyff's plans were "going too fast", because he was "not so dissatisfied with how things are going now".[75]


Cruyff with the Catalonia national team in January 2013

On 2 November 2009, Cruyff was named as manager of the Catalonia national team in place of Pere Gratacós. It was his first managing job for 13 years.[76]

Return to Ajax[edit]

On 11 February 2011, Cruyff returned to Ajax on an advisory basis after agreeing to become a member of one of three "sounding board groups".[77] After presenting his plans to reform the club, in particular to rejuvenate the youth academy, the Ajax board of advisors and the CEO resigned on 30 March 2011.[78] On 6 June 2011, he was appointed to the new Ajax board of advisors to implent his reform plans.[79][80]

The Ajax advisory board made a verbal agreement with Louis van Gaal to appoint him as the new CEO, without consulting Cruyff.[81][82] Cruyff, a fellow board member, took Ajax to court in an attempt to block the appointment.[83] The court overturned the appointment on the grounds that Cruyff had been "deliberately not consulted."[84] Cruyff was supported by many Ajax supporters and ex-Ajax players and current staff members, including Dennis Bergkamp, Wim Jonk, Marc Overmars, Frank de Boer and Edwin van der Sar.[84] Due to the ongoing quarrel within the advisory board, Cruyff resigned on 10 April 2012, with Ajax stating that Cruyff will "remain involved with the implementation of his football vision within the club".[85]

Chivas de Guadalajara[edit]

Cruyff became an advisor for Mexican club Guadalajara in February 2012. Jorge Vergara, the owner of the club, made him the team's sport consultant in response to the losing record Guadalajara sustained in the last few months of 2011.[86] Although signed to a three-year contract, Cruyff's contract was terminated December 2012 after just nine months with the club. Guadalajara said that other members of the team's coaching staff would likely not be terminated.[87]

Influence and legacy[edit]

"As a player he turned football into an art form. Johan came along and revolutionised everything. The modern-day Barça started with him, he is the expression of our identity, he brought us a style of football we love."

—Barcelona's ex-president Joan Laporta[88]

"Barcelona was not born in the last couple of years. It was born, the style of play now, in the early 90s through Johan Cruyff. It took 20 years for that moment today that we see and all admire."

—U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann in 2011.[89]

Ajax and Barcelona, where Cruyff spent the majority of his career, maintain his football philosophy.[17] La Masia, Barça's youth academy, was the brainchild of Cruyff. In 1979 he wanted to establish a copy of the Ajax Academy in Barcelona. His proposal was accepted by president Josep Núñez. He established a unique model at La Masia where the youth players could grow up and have a better chance to be part of the senior team, as they would already be accustomed to the style of play. The style of play Cruyff introduced at Barcelona came to be known as tiki-taka—characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession—which was adopted by UEFA Euro 2008-, 2010 FIFA World Cup- and Euro 2012-winning Spain.[90]

Cruyff's style of play and his coaching philosophy have significantly influenced the football career of many players and managers,[91][92] including Pep Guardiola.[93] Guardiola, the manager of Barcelona between 2008 to 2012, stated: "Throughout my career I've simply tried to instil what I learned from Johan Cruyff. He has had the biggest influence on football out of anyone in the world, first as a player and then as a coach. He taught me a lot and you can see that in the fact that so many of his former players are now coaches".[94] Guardiola added, "Johan Cruyff built the cathedral, our job is to maintain and renovate it."[95] According to Xavi, the Barcelona and Spain midfielder at the heart of tiki-taka style of play, "Our model was imposed by [Johan] Cruyff; it's an Ajax model. It's all about rondos [piggy in the middle]. Rondo, rondo, rondo."[96]

The German team that won the 2014 World Cup had deep Cruyffian (and Guardiola) influences. After leaving Barcelona, Guardiola implanted the Cruyffian vision at Bayern Munich. Germany and Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who completed more passes at the 2014 World Cup than Argentina's Lionel Messi did, incarnates the goalkeeper whom Cruyff dreamt up in the 1960s and 1970s: a footballer in gloves.[97] It had always bothered Cruyff that goalkeepers just stopped shots. It was a waste of a player, Cruyff thought. He wanted a goalkeeper who could also get involved in the passing. Thus, the goalkeeper effectively becomes the eleventh player, like Edwin van der Sar at Ajax or Víctor Valdés at Barcelona.[98]

Referring to the influence of his style of play at Ajax, Barcelona ("dream team"), and with the Netherlands ("total football"), in addition to the 200 Cruyff courts he set up around the world for kids to hone their skills, football journalist Graham Hunter states, "Johan Cruyff is, pound for pound, the most important man in the history of football."[99] In his 2011 book, Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, Hunter writes, "If the 175,000 FC Barcelona members (or socios) queued up in an orderly line, night after night, to massage his tired feet, cook his dinner and tuck him into bed; if they carried his golf clubs round Montanyá's hilly 18 holes; if they devoted 50 per cent of their annual salary to him… it still wouldn’t be near enough to repay the debt those who love this club owe Johan Cruyff," adding, "If he had not installed a culture, a philosophy at the Nou Camp, then Lionel Messi would have been rejected and sent home as an underdeveloped 13-year-old kid. Andrés Iniesta wouldn't have been selected."[99] Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling, the author of the first full-length biography of Cruyff in German (Der König und sein Spiel: Johan Cruyff und der Weltfußball), concluded that the Dutchman was the single most influential figure in football history, as no one made a bigger overall impact as a player and manager.[100]

Outspoken views[edit]

Cruyff was renowned for his strong personality. He joined Barcelona in the summer of 1973, two years before the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died, maintaining to the European press corps en route that he chose Barcelona over Real Madrid because he could never join a club "associated with Franco".[101] As he recalled in a documentary on TV3 channel, "I remember my move to Spain was quite controversial. (...) The president of Ajax wanted to sell me to Real Madrid, (...) Barcelona weren't at the same level as Madrid football wise, but it was a challenge to play for a Catalan club. Barcelona was more than a club."[102] At the end of the 1982–83 season, Ajax decided not to offer Cruyff a new contract. This angered Cruyff and he responded by signing for Ajax's archrivals Feyenoord. Cruyff's season at Feyenoord was a successful one in which the club won the Eredivisie for the first time in a decade, part of a league and KNVB Cup double.[41]

Cruyff was also well known for his vocal criticism. As an outspoken and critical visionary, he strongly criticized the Netherlands' style of play at the 2010 World Cup. "Who am I supporting? I am Dutch but I support the football that Spain is playing. Spain's style is the style of Barcelona... Spain, a replica of Barça, is the best publicity for football," Cruyff wrote in his weekly column for the Barcelona-based newspaper El Periodico, prior to the final match.[103]

Named after Cruyff[edit]

  • Cruyff Turn, a dribbling trick perfected by Cruyff. The trick was famously employed by Cruyff in the 1974 World Cup, first seen in the Dutch match against Sweden and soon widely emulated.[56]
  • Johan Cruijff Schaal (Johan Cruijff Shield), a football trophy in the Netherlands, also referred to as the Dutch Super Cup.
  • Johan Cruijff Award (Dutch Footballer of the Year), awarded in the Netherlands since 1984. The award is determined by a poll of Dutch professional footballers playing in the First (Eredivisie) and Second (Eerste Divisie) leagues.
  • 14282 Cruijff (2097 P-L), the asteroid (minor planet) was named after Cruyff. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially ratified the naming of Cruijff on 23 September 2010.
  • Johan Cruyff Institute, a private academic center that provides education in sports management, sports marketing, football business, sponsorship and coaching through a network that currently has five Cruyff Institutes (Postgraduates and Masters) around the world.
  • Johan Cruyff Foundation, founded in 1997 from the wish of Cruyff to give children the opportunity to play and be active.
  • Cruyff Courts, smaller sized football fields suitable for seven-a-side game. A Cruyff Court is a modern alternative to the ancient green public playground, which one could find in a lot of neighborhoods and districts, but that over the years has been sacrificed due to urbanization and expansion.[99]
  • Johan Cruyff University offers elite athletes an opportunity to balance sports with a four-year Bachelor of Business Administration program in Sports Marketing, a learning track of Commercial Economics. There are Cruyff Universities in Amsterdam, Groningen and Tilburg. These Cruyff Universities are part of Dutch universities of applied science.
  • Johan Cruyff College offers elite athletes from all kinds of sports an opportunity to balance sport with vocational education. The programs of the Cruyff College are designed for students who practice sports at the highest levels in the Netherlands, and are delivered in Dutch. There are five Cruyff Colleges in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, Enschede, Groningen, Nijmegen and Roosendaal. Each Cruyff College is part of a Regional Education Centre or ROC, academic centers that are administered by the Dutch government.

After retirement and outside football[edit]

"People remember very well that not only were you an outstanding football player but that you gave football a social content, you made it an educational process. You are a role model. Football is one of the great ways to make peace among people. When a player like you arrives in our country the eyes of the children light up—Jewish, Arab or Muslim."

—President of Israel, Shimon Peres, greets Cruyff in Jerusalem in February 2014, praising his foundation's dedication to peace.[104]

The Johan Cruyff Foundation[105] has provided over 200 Cruyff courts in 22 countries, including Israel, Malaysia, Japan, United States and Mexico, for children of all backgrounds to play street football together.[104] UEFA praised the foundation for its positive effect on young people, and Cruyff received the UEFA Grassroots Award on the opening of the 100th court in late 2009.[106] In 1999, he founded the Johan Cruyff Institute with a program for 35 athletes as part of the Johan Cruyff University of Amsterdam and has since become a global network.[107]

In the Netherlands, and to some extent Spain, Cruyff is famous for his one-liners that usually hover between brilliant insight and the blatantly obvious. They are famous for their Amsterdam dialect and incorrect grammar, and often feature tautologies and paradoxes.[108] In Spain, his most famous statement is "En un momento dado" ("In any given moment"). The quote has been used for the title of a 2004 documentary about Cruyff's life: Johan Cruijff – En un momento dado. In the Netherlands, his most famous one-liner is "Ieder nadeel heb z'n voordeel" ("Every disadvantage has its advantage") and his way of expressing himself has been dubbed "Cruijffiaans". Cruyff rarely limited himself to a single line though, and in a comparison with the equally oracular but reserved football manager Rinus Michels, Kees Fens equated Cruyff's monologues to experimental prose, "without a subject, only an attempt to drop words in a sea of uncertainty (…) there is no full stop".[108]

In November 2003, Cruyff invoked legal proceedings against the publisher Tirion Uitgevers, over its photo book Johan Cruyff de Ajacied (Johan Cruijff the Ajax player), which used photographs by Guus de Jong. Cruyff was working on another book, also using De Jong's photographs, and claimed unsuccessfully that Tirion's book violated his trademark and portrait rights. In a 2004 poll held in the Netherlands, Cruyff ranked sixth in the list of the 100 greatest Dutch people.[109]

In 2010, the asteroid (minor planet) 14282 Cruijff (2097 P-L) was named after him. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially ratified the naming of Cruijff on 23 September 2010. After Josef Bican and Ferenc Puskás, Cruyff is the third football player to have an asteroid named after him.[110][111] Cruyff had a small hit (number 21 in the charts) in the Netherlands with "Oei Oei Oei (Dat Was Me Weer Een Loei)". Upon arriving in Barcelona, the Spanish branch of Polydor decided to release the single in Spain as well, where it was rather popular.[112]

Personal life[edit]

Cruyff and Coster getting married on 2 December 1968

On 2 December 1968, Cruyff married Danny Coster. The marriage is said to have been happy for almost fifty years.[113] It is also said that Danny always had a big influence over Cruyff's football career, both as a player and as a manager.[114][115] He and Danny had three children together: Chantal (16 November 1970), Susila (27 January 1972), and Jordi (9 February 1974). The family has lived in Barcelona since 1973, with a six-year interruption from December 1981 to January 1988 when they lived in Vinkeveen, Netherlands.[116]

Cruyff named his third child after the patron saint of Catalonia, St Jordi, commonly known in English as Saint George of Lydda. This was seen as a provocative gesture towards the then Spanish dictator General Franco, who had made all symbols of Catalan nationalism illegal. Cruyff had to fly his son back to the Netherlands to register his birth as the name "Jordi" had been banned by the Spanish authorities. Cruyff's decision to go to such great lengths to support Catalan nationalism is part of the reason he is a hero to Barcelona supporters and Catalan nationalists.[117]

Jordi Cruyff has played for teams such as Barcelona (while father Johan was manager), Manchester United, Alavés and Espanyol. His grandson, Jesjua Angoy, plays at Dayton Dutch Lions. The younger Cruyff wears "Jordi" on his shirt to distinguish himself from his famous father, which also reflects the common Spanish practice of referring to players by given names alone or by nicknames. It is also related to the commercial claim of "name and fame" of his father to the name Cruyff/Cruijff.

Cruyff was non-religious, having quipped, "In Spain all 22 players make the sign of the cross before a game; if it worked, every game would be a tie."[118]

Illness, death and tributes[edit]

"He has enriched and personified our football. He was an icon of the Netherlands. Johan Cruijff belonged to all of us."

—King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands pays tribute following Cruyff's death.[119]

In October 2015, Cruyff, a heavy smoker until he underwent open heart surgery in 1991, was diagnosed with lung cancer.[120] After giving up smoking in 1991 following surgery, he had taken to sucking lollipops when watching games.[121] He featured in a Catalan health department advert, saying: "Football has given me everything in life, tobacco almost took it all away."[121][122] In February 2016, he stated that he had been responding well to chemotherapy and was winning the battle against his cancer.[123]

On the morning of 24 March 2016, in a clinic in Barcelona, Cruyff succumbed to his cancer at the age of 68, surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren. His lung cancer had metastasized to his brain and about one week before his death he had begun to lose movement on his left side and his ability to speak. He was cremated in Barcelona the day after his death at a private ceremony that was attended only by his wife, children and grandchildren.[124][125][126]

The friendly football match between the Netherlands and France held on the day after Cruyff's death at the Amsterdam Arena was stopped in the 14th minute as players, staff and supporters gave a minute’s applause for Cruyff, who wore the number 14 shirt for his country. Mascots from both teams took to the pitch wearing Netherlands national team shirts adorned with Cruyff’s number 14 on the front, while there were numerous banners in the spectators' stands bearing the simple message, "Johan Bedankt" ("Thank you Johan").[127]

Career statistics[edit]




League Cup Continental Total
Club Season Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Netherlands Ajax 1964–65 9 4 0 0 0 0 9 4
Netherlands Ajax 1965–66 19 16 4 9 0 0 23 25
Netherlands Ajax 1966–67 30 33 5 5 6 3 41 41
Netherlands Ajax 1967–68 33 25 5 6 3 2 41 33
Netherlands Ajax 1968–69 29 24 3 3 10 6 42 33
Netherlands Ajax 1969–70 33 22 5 6 8 4 46 32
Netherlands Ajax 1970–71 25 21 6 5 6 1 37 27
Netherlands Ajax 1971–72 32 25 4 3 9 5 45 33
Netherlands Ajax 1972–73 26 16 - - 6 3 32 19
Netherlands Ajax 1973–74 2 3 - - - - 2 3
Spain Barcelona 1973–74 26 16 - - - - 26 16
Spain Barcelona 1974–75 30 7 - - 8 0 38 7
Spain Barcelona 1975–76 29 6 - - 9 2 38 8
Spain Barcelona 1976–77 30 14 - - 7 5 37 19
Spain Barcelona 1977–78 28 5 7 1 10 5 45 11
United States Los Angeles Aztecs 1979 27 14 - - - - 27 14
United States Washington Diplomats 1980 27 10 - - - - 27 10
United States Washington Diplomats 1981 5 2 - - - - 5 2
Spain Levante 1980–81 10 2 - - - - 10 2
Netherlands Ajax 1981–82 15 7 1 0 6 3 23 10
Netherlands Ajax 1982–83 21 7 7 3 2 0 30 10
Netherlands Feyenoord 1983–84 33 11 7 1 4 1 44 13
Career total 1964–1984 519 290 54 42 88 37 661 369


Year Apps Goals
1967 9 2
1968 4 1
1969 1 1
1970 3 0
1971 2 4
1972 5 6
1973 4 4
1974 14 8
1975 3 5
1976 3 2
1977 2 0

International goals[edit]

Scores and results table. Netherlands's goal tally first:[129]

Summary statistics[edit]

Apps Goals Average
League 519 290 0.56
Domestic cups 54 39 0.72
International cups 89 38 0.43
Netherlands national team 48 33 0.69
TOTAL 711 405 0.56


Club Season Games managed Games won Games drawn Games lost
Netherlands Ajax 1985–86 34 25 2 7
Netherlands Ajax 1986–87 34 25 3 6
Netherlands Ajax 1987–88 18 12 2 4
Spain Barcelona 1988–89 38 23 11 4
Spain Barcelona 1989–90 38 23 5 10
Spain Barcelona 1990–91 33 22 6 5
Spain Barcelona 1991–92 38 23 9 6
Spain Barcelona 1992–93 38 25 8 5
Spain Barcelona 1993–94 38 23 5 10
Spain Barcelona 1994–95 38 18 10 10
Spain Barcelona 1995–96 40 21 13 6







Cruyff receiving the 1971 Ballon d'Or

Further honours[edit]

  • In 1999, he was voted European Player of the Century in an election held by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS).[10]
  • In November 2003, to celebrate UEFA's Jubilee, he was selected as the Golden Player of the Netherlands by the KNVB as their most outstanding player of the past 50 years.[139]
  • On 22 May 2006, Cruyff was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to football by Laureus in their annual World Sports Awards.[140]
  • Cruyff received a lifetime achievement award from the KNVB in August 2006.[141][142]
  • In 2006, Cruyff played in Dennis Bergkamp's Testimonial as a second-half substitute with Ajax.[143]
  • On 18 April 2007, Ajax decided to retire the number 14 shirt in honour of Cruyff and in celebration of his birthday.[144]
  • In 2010, Cruyff was presented the FIFA Order of Merit (highest honour awarded by FIFA) for his significant contribution to football.[7]


  • Barend, Frits; Van Dorp, Henk: Ajax, Barcelona, Cruyff: The ABC of an Obstinate Maestro. Translated from the Dutch by David Winner and Lex Van Dam. (Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 1999)
  • Burns, Jimmy: Barça: A People's Passion. (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011)
  • Burns, Jimmy: La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World. (Nation Books, 2012)
  • Casanovas, Josep María: Cruyff, una vida por el Barça. (Ediciones B, 1973, ISCOND-400-6710-0)
  • Conde Esteve, Justo: La cruyffcifixión del «mini-dios» Núñez. (Edimestre Serveis Editorials, 1996, ISBN 84-87888-20-8)
  • Cruijff, Johan; de Boer, Sytze: Johan Cruijff uitspraken. Een biografie in citaten. (Uitgeverij Schuyt Nederland, 2013, ISBN 9789081797412)
  • Cruyff, Johan: Mis futbolistas y yo. (Ediciones B, 1993, ISBN 84-406-3999-6)
  • Cruyff, Johan: Me gusta el fútbol. (RBA Libros, 2002)
  • Cruyff, Johan: Fútbol. Mi filosofía. (Ediciones B, 2012)
  • Ghemmour, Chérif: Johan Cruyff, génie pop et despote. Préface par Michel Platini. (Editions Hugo Sport, 2015)
  • Hiddema, Bert: El Cruijff. (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Pandora Pockets, 2002)
  • Hiddema, Bert: Cruijff! Van Jopie tot Johan. (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij L.J. Veen, 2006)
  • Hilvoorde, I. van; Stokvis, R. (2013) ‘Pythagoras in boots’: Johan Cruijff and the Construction of Dutch National Identity, Sport in History, 33(4), 427-444
  • Hunter, Graham: Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World. (BackPage Press, 2012)
  • Jensen, Ric (2014). Looking at the Extraordinary Success of the ‘Clockwork Orange’: Examining the Brilliance of Total Football Played by the Netherlands. [Special Issue: Heroes, Icons, Legends: Legacies of Great Men in World Soccer] (Soccer & Society, Volume 15, Issue 5, 2014)
  • Kuper, Simon: Football Against the Enemy. (Orion Publishing Group, 1994)
  • Kuper, Simon: Ajax, the Dutch, the War: Football in Europe during the Second World War. (Orion Publishing Group, 2003)
  • Richards, Ted: Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game (Popular Culture and Philosophy). (Open Court Publishing, 2010)
  • Riera, Josep; Roca, Miquel: Van Barça: el Futbol Club Barcelona i Holanda, més que una relació. (Cossetània Edicions, 2007)
  • Schots, Mik; Luitzen, Jan: Wie is Johan Cruijff. Insiders duiden het Orakel. Maar Cruijff heeft zelf het laatste Woord. (Uitgeverij Arbeiderspers, 2007, ISBN 9789029564755)
  • Schulze-Marmeling, Dietrich: Der König und sein Spiel: Johan Cruyff und der Weltfußball. (Verlag Die Werkstatt GmbH, Göttingen, 2012)
  • Wilson, Jonathan: Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics. (Orion Books Limited, 2010)
  • Winner, David: Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football. (Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2000)
  • Winsemius, Pieter: Je gaat het pas zien als je het doorhebt. Over Cruijff en leiderschap. (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Balans, 2004)


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External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Ljupko Petrović
European Cup Winning Coach
Succeeded by
Raymond Goethals