Tributes are pouring in following the death of Netherlands footballing great Johan Cruyff, a player who helped revolutionise the game.
The three-time Ballon d’Or winner passed away after losing his battle against lung cancer aged 68.
Cruyff is considered a pioneer of the modern game, helping to usher in a new era marked by a new football aesthetic and a new mentality.
Slender and swift, Cruyff displayed both technical and tactical prowess. Alert to everything around him, the Dutchman was a fountain creativity on the pitch.
“As a player he turned football into an art form. Johan came along and revolutionised everything,” said former Barcelona president Joan Laporta.
If there was a single moment that exemplified his approach, it was the way in which he left Swedish defender Jan Olsson for dead during a group game of the 1974 World Cup finals.
Using his right instep, The Dutch No 14 turned the ball back inside before spinning and sprinting away from the hapless defender, leaving the crowd agape.
Many years later, Olsson spoke of the incident: “The proudest moment of my career. I thought I’d win the ball for sure, but he tricked me. I was not humiliated. I had no chance. Cruyff was a genius.”
Along with Ajax Amsterdam coaches Rinus Michels and Stefan Kovacs, Cruyff helped formulate the ultimate version of what became known as ‘Total Football’ – an influential tactical theory in which any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team.
Perhaps no player exemplified this approach more than Cruyff, whether running out for Ajax or for the Dutch national side.
“We showed the world you could enjoy being a footballer,” he said. “You could laugh and have a fantastic time. I represent the era which proved that attractive football was enjoyable and successful, and good fun to play too.”
Cruyff won three European Cups in a row at Ajax, also claiming eight Eredivisie titles and five KNVB Cup wins. With Barcelona, he won one league title and the Copa del Rey.
He also came within a whisker of World Cup glory. In 1974, The Dutch side looked on course for the title after going 1-0 up against West Germany in the final, although they would go on to lose 2-1.
As a manager, Cruyff also left an indelible legacy. After achieving great success with Ajax, he moved to Nou Camp, helping to create the Barcelona we know today.
“Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore or improve it,” said Pep Guardiola.
Under Cruyff, the Spanish side won La Liga four years in a row and captured the 1989 European Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1992 European Cup.
He created the footballing academy that would produce players like Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta.
While his relationships with both clubs was often contentious in later years, it has done little to tarnish his legacy – one sure to stand the test of time.
We salute you, Johan Cruyff!
We’ll always love you, Johan. Rest in peace
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 24, 2016