Cruyff, a vision in Oranje
Irascible Uruguayan poet and football writer Eduardo Galeano claims that Johan Cruyff, upon making his debut for Holland at age 19, scored one sumptuous goal before knocking out the referee with one punch. True or not, it surely speaks to the perplexing duality, and oft-times contradictory nature of this flying Dutchman and footballing ballet master.
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Though he played in only one FIFA World Cup, the number 14's performances, technical ability and bull-headed determination at Germany 1974 - one year after signing for Spanish giants Barcelona - immediately brought comparisons to Pele , Garrincha and even the lofty greats of a bygone era. As the late great Rinus Muchels' lieutenant on the pitch, Cruyff led by example running tirelessly and acting as the spark plug in a daring free-form new system called total football.'
Read more about, watch video clips of Johan Cruyff
Michels was also Cruyff's taskmaster at club side Ajax, where he became a legend and total football' - with its whirl of positional change - first took root. Growing up the in the shadow of the old Ajax stadium, young Johan dreamt only of becoming a professional footballer. After dropping out of school at 13 and bending to the will of Michels, he made his Ajax debut in 1966 at the age of 19 en route to nine Dutch league titles and three European Cups. He also made his Oranje debut in '66.
With an unparalleled passing touch, blazing speed and the bravado and courage to take on any opponent, the combative, head-strong Cruyff led the lowly lowlanders all the way to the final in '74 no mean feat considering they struggled to even qualify. Even though they lost out to Beckenbauer's Germans 2-1 and Cruyff was largely neutralised by the manhandling of Berti Vogts, the memory of their football in those finals will forever linger. And despite the loss, Cruyff was the obvious choice for player of the tournament.
Watch the Germany 1974 semi-final between Holland and Brazil where Cruyff scores a classic
It is said he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, but the player was a vision of fitness and finesse on the pitch. Always his own man, the opinionated Cruyff decided not to play at Argentina 1978 , preferring to stay home with his family. Still the Dutch managed to reach the final again losing out to the hosts.
Watch the Argentina 1978 final between Holland and Argentina
Cruyff retired' from the game in '78 after winning the Spanish League with Barca, but he turned up in the North American Soccer league in the United States first for the LA Aztecs, then the Washington Diplomats. In his mid-thirties, he returned for a brief jaunt in Spain with Levante and one last taste of glory and controversy with Ajax's archrivals Feyenoord.
After retiring once again in 1984, and with all of the bluster and mayhem he exhibited as a player, he returned to Barcelona as a coach in the early 90's. He won the European Cup Winners' Cup, Champions League, the Spanish Cup and four domestic championships in a row between 1991 and 1994 with a side still known simply in Spain as the "Dream Team."
As in Amsterdam, the tough-talking and enigmatic Cruyff has become a beloved icon and immortal legend in the Catalan capital. After health problems began to take a toll, Cruyff vowed never to coach again. But he remains an important cog in the machinery of the Camp Nou.
In a moment of trademark arrogance, Cruyff once told a reporter, "I don't think there will come a day when you can say the name Cruyff' and people won't know what you're talking about."
The smug, brash bravado of such a statement can only be rivalled by its echoing, undeniable veracity.
Stay tuned for next week's look back at some of football's classic moments, matches, faces and places