To choose ten memorable moments and accomplishments from the soccer career of a legend such as Johan Cruyff was incredibly tough. I could easily do ten on his playing career and 10 on his managerial career. Anyway, we came up with ten moments and accomplishments that presented a well-rounded glimpse at Johan Cruyff’s life and career. Some of these are well known and some are not as such, but each and every moment and accomplishment here showed the kind of soccer person Johan Cruyff was both as a player and as a manager.
Winning three consecutive European Cups at Ajax
Johan Cruyff was a huge part of Ajax winning three consecutive European Cups from 1971-73. Along with Real Madrid (1956-60) and Bayern Munich (1974-76), Ajax is one of only three teams to have ever won at least three consecutive European Cups/Champions League titles. Cruyff’s skill during his time at Ajax is something to behold and was a sign of what was to come in the future.
Winning three Ballon d’Or titles
As a result of his incredible playing ability, Cruyff won three Ballon d’Or titles in 1971, ’73 and ’74. At that time, the Ballon d’Or was only voted for European players but was still regarded as an award to recognize one of the best players in the world that year. Only Lionel Messi has won more Ballon d’Or titles. One move that personified Cruyff and helped earn him these three Ballon d’Or’s was the move named after him, the “Cruyff Turn.”
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1974 World Cup
Cruyff stepped onto the world stage at the 1974 FIFA World Cup. In West Germany, Cruyff scored three goals and was awarded the “Golden Ball” after leading the Netherlands to a runner-up finish. It was one of the first instances of Total Football utilized on the international level and almost got them the World Cup.
Not appearing in the 1978 World Cup
The Netherlands once again utilized Total Football at the 1978 World Cup and once again finished runner-up to the host. This time it was Argentina. The only difference was that Johan Cruyff wasn’t there. That was because he retired from international play in 1977 and didn’t participate. What was originally thought to be because of a military coup in Argentina, Cruyff revealed eight years ago that he and his family were victims of a kidnapping attempt in Barcelona and didn’t feel he would be able to help Holland compete. Talking about it in 2008, Cruyff said, “To play a World Cup you have to be 200%. There are moments when there are other values in life.”
Cruyff’s NASL career
After leaving Barcelona in 1978, Cruyff moved to the United States right in the middle of the NASL’s heyday in the 1970’s. While many know about the New York Cosmos during that time, Cruyff played for two other teams in NASL, the Los Angeles Aztecs and Washington Diplomats. While the league would inevitably fold, Cruyff scored 25 goals in four seasons and helped put the United States on track to become a soccer nation.
Utilizing Total Football
Johan Cruyff went back to Europe and after playing at Levante, Ajax and Feyenoord, Cruyff retired as a player in 1984. While this was a concept utilized when Cruyff was a player at Ajax and the Netherlands, Cruyff took this to heart when he became a manager and became one of the most successful managers ever.
In addition to Total Football, Johan Cruyff had a coaching philosophy that was much different than many of his contemporaries as well as many to this day. This was evident in some of his most famous quotes about soccer, describing how he sees the game and how he interpreted the game differently than anyone else.
“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
“Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1,000 times. Anyone can do that by practicing. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your team mate.”
“If I wanted you to understand it, I would have explained it better.”
“Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.”
“If my forward arrives in a one vs one situation, I always say: ‘let him work it out.’ Then my players say: But we can help him!’. My reply is: First, there’s a good chance you’ll only run in his way, and as a second attacker you’re drawing a second defender with you, and two vs two is harder than one vs one.”
“Players that aren’t true leaders but try to be, are always bashing other players after a mistake. True leaders on the pitch assume others will make mistakes.”
“In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender.”
“Choose the best player for every position, and you’ll end up not with a strong XI, but with 11 strong 1’s”
“What is speed? The sports press often confuses speed with insight. See, if I start running slightly earlier than someone else, I seem faster.”
“When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball 3 minutes on average … So, the most important thing is: what do you do during those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball. That is what determines wether you’re a good player or not.
“We must make sure their worst players get the ball the most. You’ll get it back in no time.”
“If you have the ball you must make the field as big as possible, and if you don’t have the ball you must make it as small as possible.”
Forming the Dream Team
No doubt, Cruyff’s most crowning achievement as manager was when he ran Barcelona in the early 1990’s. Cruyff brought in some of the best players of that time and formed what was known as the “Dream Team.” Guys like Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman and Pep Guardiola were part of this incredibly stacked team. With Cruyff’s leadership and dedication to structure the team, Barcelona is who they are today because of Johan Cruyff. Before Cruyff became manager, Barcelona won 42 trophies in the 71 years before Cruyff became manager and won 42 trophies in the 27 years since.
Winning four consecutive La Liga titles
One of the Dream Team’s accomplishments was winning four consecutive La Liga titles from 1991-94. This is a feat that has never happened before or since in Barcelona’s history. They also won four straight to answer Real Madrid winning the previous five La Liga titles in the five years prior.
Winning the 1992 European Cup
Amazingly, Barcelona had never won the European Cup/Champions League title before Johan Cruyff took over the team. Barcelona fans are a bit spoiled right now, competing for the Champions League title every year but it took 37 years before Barcelona got the title. Cruyff’s Dream Team sealed that in a 1-0 win against Sampdoria and the rest is history.
The life of Johan Cruyff is a life that was incredibly memorable and one that will not be forgotten. He has influenced soccer in such a way that the modern game is forever thankful for his contributions. Soccer would be an incredibly different looking game if Johan Cruyff had not become a soccer player and manager. Surely, one of the most beautiful things about the beautiful game is gone but not forgotten.