Johann Cruyff, the suave, visionary Dutch genius died this morning aged 68. Cruyff was so indispensable to the great Dutch “Clockwork Orange” side of the 1970s that he had his own customized uniform. Because Cruyff was sponsored by Puma and the jerseys were made by Adidas, the team provided him with a tailor-made shirt featuring Puma’s logo instead of the three worn by the other players. Gifted with balletic grace, and a Jedi-like ability to switch direction and leave everyone behind, this gaunt, long-nosed, rakish Amsterdamer was one of the greatest player never to win the tournament.
It took only seven games during his one and only tournament in 1974 to establish his legend. His enormously gifted Dutch team pioneered “Total Football,” the versatile system in which all ten outfield players could play in any position,confusing their opponents by consistently switching roles to take advantage of open space. Cruyff, nominally the striker, was almost always the fulcrum, finding a way to drop off to the flanks and attack from the wings. All 15 of the Dutch goals seemed to start or end with him and his flowing style and revolutionary thinking. The fact that his team fell short in the final against West Germany made him even more compelling and beloved, although his reputation wasn’t helped by unproven allegations that the squad spent the night before big games luring innocent German madchens into the hot tub (Cruyff, champagne, and naked girls! screamed the German tabloids).
By the next World Cup he was gone. His controversial retirement from international soccer at his peak, on the eve of the 1978 Argentina World Cup has never fully been understood, although not for want of theories. It has been explained as a statement against the Argentinean junta, his wife’s effort to keep him away from the hot tub, or, as he himself has claimed more recently, an attempt to protect his family’s welfare after a botched kidnapping attempt at gunpoint. Whatever the reason, Cruyff, like Edith Piaf, claims to regret nothing: “I don't go through life cursing the fact that I did not win a World Cup. I played on a fantastic team that gave millions of people watching a great time. That is what football is all about. There is no medal better than being acclaimed for your style.” Although Cruyff’s international scoring record was sensational (33 goals in 48 games), he is best remembered not for a goal, but for a move against Sweden which became known as the “Cruyff Turn.” Trapped on the right-hand side of the penalty area and being marshaled into a harmless position by a Swedish defender, Cruyff somehow turned his upper and lower torso in two different directions while flicking the ball in a third. Watching the move in slow motion, you can almost see the defender’s brain freeze as he struggles to stay upright, while the Dutchman breaks free to deliver a lethal cross.
Jan Olsson, the poor Swede victimized by the move, generously claimed that the moment was “the proudest memory of my career. I thought I’d win the football for sure, but he tricked me. I was not humiliated. I had no chance. Cruyff was a genius.”
To appreciate Cruyff's singular majesty watch this video: