Johan Cruyff made his name at Ajax and then established himself at Barcelona, becoming one of the greatest players of his generation in the process.
He was one of the Dutch national team to play in Rinus Michel’s ‘Total Football’ team that reached the 1974 World Cup Final.
Johan Cruyff was the ‘poster boy’ of the magical Holland side of the 70’s that lost to hosts West Germany in the 1974 World Cup Final and Argentina four years later. The Dutch sides had quality players as Jonny Rep and Arie Haan, but neither were as well-remembered as Cruyff.
Making his first-team debut for Ajax at the age of 16, scoring Ajax’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat to Groningen. In the next season (his first full season in the first team), Cruyff scored 25 goals in 23 league games as Ajax romped to the title.
A few months later, Cruyff won his first of 48 international caps in a 2-2 draw against Hungary. He got on the scoresheet and this would become the first match of quite an incredible run where if Cruyff scored, Holland never lost!
The trophies kept coming for Ajax, although they lost the 1969 European Cup Final to AC Milan. Two years later and Cruyff was finally able to hold the European Cup aloft as Ajax beat Panathinaikos of Greece 2-0 at Wembley.
Cruyff’s excellent close-control, passing and ability to create space for his team-mates drew the attention of many clubs around Europe. Barcelona came in and he moved to the Nou Camp for a World-Record fee of around £1.8 million. A first La Liga title in fourteen years was won in his first season at the Catalan club. On a personal level, Cruyff won the European Footballer of the Year.
The 1974 World Cup in West Germany was the first opportunity that Cruyff had to showcase his abilities to the rest of the world. He didn’t disappoint and even created a new skill, ‘The Cruyff Turn’ in a game against Sweden.
Anyone who has a skilful move named after them must be good! His turn against the Swedes proved how skilful he was and was his way of announcing himself on the world stage. Even now, 47 years later, you will see a ‘Cruyff turn’ being executed by a footballer at one point or another during a match.
Holland used their own brand of football called ‘Total Football’, a flexible attacking game that had been devised by coach Rinus Michels. The team performed well, reaching the Final before losing 2-1 to hosts West Germany in the Final. Cruyff was named ‘Player of the Tournament’.
The Dutch team reached the World Cup again in 1978, before losing 3-1 to Argentina in the Final. They did this all without Cruyff who had retired after Holland’s World Cup qualification.
Cruyff nearly retired in 1978 at the age of 31 but instead moved to the United States and joined the Los Angeles Aztecs before later joining the Washington Diplomats.
A return to Europe came about in 1981, joining Levante of the Spanish Second Division. The opportunity came about to return to Ajax later on in the year and Cruyff jumped at the chance.
Two league titles and a Dutch Cup followed during his second spell at Ajax. Cruyff was also involved in a famous penalty when he played a one-two with Jesper Olsen before tapping the ball into an open goal. Ajax refused to give Cruyff a new contract at the end of the 1982/83 season and so in spite, he joined their arch-rivals Feyenoord. He only missed one game all season and won the Dutch Footballer of the Year for the fifth time before finally ending his playing career.
After a decorated playing career, Cruyff decided that he would try his hand at management. His first job came at Ajax and he won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1987 and two Dutch Cups before Barcelona came calling in 1988.
The Catalan side was in decline but Cruyff soon rejuvenated the club. He took Barca to four European titles between 1989 and 1994, the most notable being their first European Cup victory in 1992 when they beat Sampdoria at Wembley.
His side won four league titles in a row from 1991 to 1994 and a total of eleven trophies. He was their most successful manager until Pep Guardiola surpassed his record as he guided Barca to fifteen trophies from 2008 to 2012.
Cruyff left Barcelona in May of 1996 and remains a legend of the game. He is best known for his playing career and his fantastic skill. The turn that he did 46 years ago is still known as the ‘Cruyff Turn’ and is used to this day. Ajax renamed their stadium the ‘Johan Cruyff Arena’ in 2018 after his death.