Making Ajax a European Superpower
Johan Cruyff joined his hometown club Ajax when he was ten years old. After fifteen years, the Netherlands’ greatest player of all time had converted Amsterdam into a European powerhouse.
Cruyff worked with manager Rinus Michels to perfect the “Total Football” approach that would characterize the Dutch game for centuries.
Cruyff won the first of three successive league titles with Ajax in his second season as a professional player. He helped the Amsterdammers win their first European Cup in 1970-71, due to a 2-0 triumph over Panathinaikos in the final in London.
Ajax would go on to win the title for the next two seasons, during which time Cruyff gained a terrifying reputation—and a world-record move to Spain.
The Cruyff Turn
The Cruyff Turn happened in the 23rd minute of the Netherlands’ group-stage game against Sweden at the 1974 World Cup, and it will ensure Johan Cruyff’s name is remembered by future generations.
When Cruyff received the ball on the left wing, he escaped the charge of Swedish defender Jan Olsson with an unprecedented manoeuvre. Cruyff sent Olsson downtown to get fish and chips with a simple drop of his shoulder while dragging the ball behind his standing leg to reverse direction quickly.
The 1974 World Cup
Cruyff rose to prominence at the 1974 World Cup, and not simply because he invented new manoeuvres.
Cruyff, the main exponent of the Total Football system created at Ajax, guided the Oranje all the way to the final. The Dutch looked genuinely unstoppable as he grabbed onto a through ball and beat Argentinian goalkeeper Daniel Carnevali during a 4-0 thrashing in the second round.
In 48 appearances for the Dutch national team, Johan Cruyff scored 33 goals. Surprisingly, he never lost a match in which he scored.
Winning 3 Ballons d’Or
The 1974 World Cup catapulted Cruyff into the stratosphere—and not simply because he created football. Cruyff was at the pinnacle of his talents in the early 1970s. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1971, 1972, and 1974, with only Franz Beckenbauer of Germany breaking his run in 1973.
Winning the League with Barcelona in 1974
Cruyff had a memorable first season in 1974 when he helped Barcelona win their first league title in 14 years.
In 26 league games for the Blaugrana that season, he scored 16 goals, including a stunning performance in a 5-0 triumph over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
His love for Barcelona was evident, not only because he subsequently returned to manage the club, but also because he gave his son Jordi a Catalan name.
The ‘Impossible’ Goal
During that excellent 1973-74 season, Barcelona finished 10 points ahead of its nearest opponents Atletico Madrid, owing in part to a 2-1 triumph at the Vicente Calderon.
Cruyff scored one of his most famous goals that night, latching on to a pass and turning in a volley from beyond the far post with the outside of his right foot.
Because it is so difficult to recreate, it has been termed the “Impossible Goal.”
Winning 4 Consecutive League Titles as Manager of Barcelona
Few renowned players have had a big effect on management, but Cruyff was an exception.
Cruyff joined Barcelona in 1988 after leading Ajax to two Dutch Cups and a European Cup Winners’ Cup.
He brought in players like Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup, Pep Guardiola, Gheorghe Hagi, and Ronald Koeman and was able to re-energize the Catalans in the same way he did as a player.
Between 1991 and 1994, his “dream club” won four consecutive Liga titles, and he also led them to tremendous success in the European arena…
Winning the European Cup with Barcelona in 1992
During Barcelona’s record-breaking domestic run, Cruyff delivered the club’s first-ever European Cup victory.
Cruyff won the championship three times as a player and transferred his winning ways to the Blaugrana bench, claiming the title following a 1-0 triumph over Sampdoria at Wembley.
Cruyff became the club’s most successful manager of all time after eight seasons in command at the Camp Nou, with 11 title wins—a record only surpassed by a famous disciple of his ideology, Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola once stated succinctly that Barcelona owes the Dutch master: “Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona managers subsequently just preserve or improve it.”