Recently, a debate has started as to whether or not Messi is the best player ever, better than Pele or Maradona, the traditional choices of most people for that accolade. It’s probably too early to answer yes or no, but one thing is certain, he is a kindred spirit of Johan Cruyff (common spelling), perhaps the best proponent of attacking football, and close ball control, ever (watch a compilation of his dribbling skills here). he gives a name to a famous football move, ‘The Cruyff Turn‘, and is forever linked with the term, ‘Total Football’.
Cruyff’s career can be divided into three broad periods: playing for Ajax, for Barcelona, and then his time as a coach.
First at Ajax. Cruyff joined the Amsterdam team as a youth player of ten-years old. The Ajax team of the late sixties and early seventies introduced the style of play known as Total Football, where players positions were fluid and interchangeable, and the focus was on quick passing, movement and attack. Cruyff was perfect for this style of football, as he could turn on a sixpence, read the game beautifully and seemed to have the ball glued to his feet. With Ajax Cruyff, wearing the number 14 – it was rare at the time for any first team player to not wear a number from 1~11 at that time – won just about everything there was to win – but the three European Cups in succession in 71,72, and 73 stand out, as well as the treble of 72 (League, domestic cup, and European Cup).
Such a player inevitably drew the interest of other big clubs around Europe and at the end of 1973, he moved to Barcelona where he spent five seasons. In his first year at the Spanish giants he was also part of the Dutch team which dazzled the World in the World Cup of 1974, losing to Germany in the final, but winning over most neutrals with their flair and invention, typified by their star player, Cruyff and his famous turn. At Barca, the Dutch maestro, helped the Catalan side win their first championship since 1960, won footballer of the year twice, adding to the title he won at Ajax in 1971, and was part of the side that destroyed Real Madrid 5-0 at the Bernabeu. The Barcelona fans loved him and he returned the compliment by giving his son a Catalan name, Jordi.
After hanging up his boots in 1985, after stints in the US, Levante in Spain and back in Holland with Ajax and their rivals Feyenoord, Cruyff turned to coaching and became manager of his boyhood club, Ajax in 1985. As a manager, Cruyff continued where he’d left of as a player – winning. He won UEFA Cup with Ajax, and then, as manager of Barcelona, he went on to win it again in 1989, and then the European Cup in 1992 as well as dominating La Liga with four titles in a row from 1991 until 1994.
He rose to prominence in the era of Total Football at Ajax and with the Dutch national team, and was perhaps the most complete attacking player of his day. His intelligence on the field was successfully transferred to the dugout – perhaps the one word that best sums him up is mesmerising.
accolade: honour, prize
kindred spirit: similar person, someone who thinks the same way
read the game: be aware of when to pass, know where your team-mates are, understand what will happen next
have the ball glued to (his) feet: be in complete control of the ball, be able to dribble with the ball
dazzle: amaze, entertain, surprise
flair: skill, ability, panache
hang up (his) boots: retire, quite, stop playing football