In an era when genuine legends of the game are few and far between, the death of one of its best is a hard pill to swallow. Johan Cruyff was more than just a player, he was an iconic figure in the game whose influenced stretched further than most can imagine. His exploits on the pitch put him firmly into a unique club alongside Pele, Maradona and Beckenbauer as one of the greatest ever players to have ever laced up. His death at age 68 following a long fight with cancer has plunged the football world into mourning two days before his beloved Holland take on Euro 2016 hosts France in a friendly in Amsterdam.
Throughout his career, Cruyff became the synonymous of the playing style known as “Total Football’. It was a system created by former Ajax boss Jack Reynolds but redefined by Rinus Michels and demonstrated brilliantly by Cruyff during the 1970’s. Although employed technically a centre forward for both Ajax and Holland, Cruyff would wander all over the pitch exposing the space, which could ultimately hurt the opposition. This resulted in the need for his teammates to adapt themselves around his movements, which in turn created Total Football. Out went static positions and in its place became a more fluent system where players would look for space, following Cruyff’s lead. For coaches looking for a demonstration of this system its best, they simply need to watch the 1972 European Cup final between Ajax and Inter Milan. The Italian’s were the ambassadors at that time of a defensive tactic known as “The Chain” or “the Catenaccio” which focused on operating a rigid backline with the intention of nullifying opponents attacks and preventing goal scoring opportunities. It had proven successful in their run to the final as they dispatched Standard Liege and Celtic on route. But against a Cruyff inspired Ajax operating the Total Football system, the Italians looked lost at sea unable to stop wave after wave of free flowing football. Cruyff was quite simply unplayable, scoring twice to help Ajax lift the trophy.
Two years later at the 1974 World Cup, Cruyff would demonstrate how the same system could be applied to international football. With Michels also now installed as the head coach, Holland found progression to the final a breeze as they dispatched Argentina, East Germany and Brazil to set up a final against West Germany. Cruyff as always was at the heart of everything that Holland did, even showcasing to the world a new move against Sweden in the group stage that became known as the Cruyff turn. But in the final, Cruyff found it difficult to find the space he needed as West Germany had deployed Berti Vogts to man mark him whilst Beckenbauer marshaled the midfield. Despite taking an early lead (Holland scored a penalty after Cruyff was fouled in the box by Hoeness), West Germany would surge back into the game and eventually win by 2-1 dashing Cruyff’s dreams in the process.
After retiring from the game, Cruyff took to management and quickly followed in Michels footsteps by employing Total football wherever he went. Stints at Ajax and Barcelona proved successful picking up 14 trophies in ten years including the European Cup with Barcelona in 1992. It was during those years in Spain that Cruyff first developed health issues (mostly caused by his obsessive chain smoking 20 cigarettes a day) which lead to the Dutchman undergoing open-heart surgery in 1991. After recovering from the surgery, Cruyff returned to the bench at the Nou Camp but this time instead of cigarettes, Cruyff took up sucking on lollipops when watching the game, which has now become an iconic image around the world. Sadly in 2015, Cruyff was diagnosed with lung cancer shocking the world in the process. Cruyff vowed then to fight the disease with the same commitment as he had shown on the pitch. In early February of this year, the Dutch legend spoke of how he felt that he was winning his battle, joking that he was 2-0 up on the cancer. Sadly this was a game that he would not win and the Dutch master passed away surrounded by family at his home in Barcelona. Those who played with him or for him but also by the fans who watched in amazement as he turned opponents inside out will remember Cruyff fondly. He will forever be a legend in the game, one of the greatest to have ever stepped foot on a football pitch, the father of the Cruyff turn and the guardian of Total Football.
Share your thoughts below or on Facebook:www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or Twitter:https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. You can now follow us on Tumblr and Instagram as well!