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Legends: Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff, the godfather of the playing style ‘Total Football’. Technical ability, speed, acceleration, dribbling all grace the Ducthman but none of his great qualities compare to his extra-ordinary vision. His ability to find his team-mates is mesmerising as well as the invention of the well-known skill move called the ‘Cruyff turn’.


Cruyff joined Ajax at the age of 10 and made his senior debut on 15 November 1964 against GVAV scoring their only goal in the 3-1 loss. Ajax slumped to their lowest finish since the establishment of football but Cruyff really started to make an impression in the 1965/66 season.

He made himself a first team regular after scoring two goals against Door Wilskracht Sterk in October 1965. Cruyff then scored eight times in seven games through winter and in March 1966 scored a hat-trick against Telstar in a 6-2 win. He scored four against Veendam four days later. His total for the season was 25 goals in 23 games as Ajax won the league championship. Ajax again won the league championship in the 66/67 season and also lifted the KNVB cup which was Cruyff’s first double. He ended the season as the leading goal-scorer in the Eredivisie with 33 strikes.

Ajax and Cruyff’s success continued as they won the league for the third year in succession as Cruyff was named Dutch footballer of the year for the second successive time. Cruyff also participated in his first European cup final against Milan but lost 4-1 to the Italians.

In the 1969-70 season, Cruyff again won the league and cup double and won Dutch footballer of the year for the third time in a row. However at the beginning of the 70/71 season he suffered a long term groin injury. He made his comeback against PSV in October 1970 but did not wear his usual number nine shirt. Following that game, Cruyff permanently switched to the number 14 for Ajax and the Dutch national team.

First European Cup

In a league game against AZ’67 on 29 November 1970, Cruyff scored a remarkable six goals in an 8-1 victory. Ajax won the KNVB cup after defeating Sparta Rotterdam 2-1 after a replay. Ajax finally won the European cup by defeating Panathinaikos 2-0 in June 1971.

Speculation was rife that Cruyff was set to move to either Barcelona or Feyenoord but the Dutchman signed a new seven year contract in Holland with Ajax. At the end of the season, he became not only the Dutch footballer of the year once again but also the European Footballer of the Year for 1971.

1972 was a particular successful year for Ajax and Cruyff as they won their second European cup beating Internazionale 2-0 in the final with Cruyff netting both goals. Cruyff also scored in the KNVB cup final against ADO Den Haag and was the league’s top scorer with 25 goals leading Ajax to yet another title. Ajax also won the Intercontinental Cup beating Argentina’s Independiente and the European Super Cup by beating Rangers in January 1973.

The 1972/73 season was concluded with Ajax winning another league championship and a third successive European Cup beating Juventus 1-0.


In the summer of 1973, Cruyff was sold to Barcelona for 60 million guilder (£12.7 million). Cruyff immediately won over the Barca fans after revealing he chose Barcelona over Real Madrid. Also he chose a Catalan name Jordi for his son.

He helped the club win La Liga for the first time since 1960 as well as defeating Real Madrid 5-0 at the Bernabeu and was named European Footballer of the Year.

Cruyff scored one of the most famous goals ever at Barcelona against Atletico Madrid where he scored The ‘Phantom’ Goal where he rose to around neck height before twisting his body so he was facing away from goal; before kicking past Miguel Reina with his right heel wide of the right post. The goal has been dubbed Cruyff’s impossible goal.

Los Angeles Aztecs

At the age of 32, retirement loomed for Cruyff and he left Barcelona making 174 appearances scoring 61 goals enjoying relatively little success compared to his Ajax career winning just one Spanish championship and one Spanish cup.

Cruyff signed a lucrative deal with the Los Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League. He was rumoured to be joining New York Cosmos but the deal did not materialize. He stayed in the United States for just one season but won NASL Player of the Year.

Washington Diplomats

The following season, Cruyff left the Aztecs to play for the Washington Diplomats playing the entire 1980 campaign even with the team facing dire financial trouble at the time. Cruyff played as a guest player for AC Milan and was injured; missing the beginning of the 1981 NASL soccer season before ultimately choosing to leave.


In January 1981, Jack Wallace, manager of Leicester City, made an audacious attempt to bring Cruyff to England and the Dutch playmaker expressed his desire to play for the club. A deal could not be reached and he chose to sign for Spanish Segunda division side Levante.

Injuries and disagreements with the administration of the club blighted his spell in the division as he was only able to make 10 appearances scoring two goals. Levante did not keep the financial agreements that were specified in Cruyff’s contract after they failed to secure promotion to the first division.

Return to Ajax

After his short-lived stay in Spain, Cruyff returned to his homeland re-joining Ajax on 30 November 1980 as a ‘technical advisor’ of trainer Leo Beenhakker when Ajax were 8th in the table after 13 games.

Ajax finished second and in December 1981, Cruyff signed a new contract as a player for the club. Cruyff scored his first goal on his return against Haarlem in a 4-1 home win. His next two seasons resulted in Ajax becoming league champions as well as winning the KNVB cup in the 1982/83 campaign.


At the end of the season, Ajax decided not to offer Cruyff a new contract. Cruyff was furious and responded by signing for Ajax’s arch-rivals Feyenoord. Cruyff’s season at Feyenoord was a successful one in which the club won the Eredivisie for the first time in a decade part of a league and KNVB cup double.

He ended his Eredivisie playing career on May 13 1984 with a goal against PEC Zwolle. In his final season as a player, he was voted footballer of the year.

Dutch National Team

As a Dutch international, Cruyff played 48 matches scoring 33 goals. The team never lost a game in which he scored in but in his second international game against Czechoslovakia he became the first Dutch player to be sent off. He received a one-year suspension from the Royal Dutch Football Association.

Cruyff also refused to wear the national shirt with Adidas’ usual three stripes down the sleeves as he wore the kit with only two as he had a separate sponsorship deal with Puma.

He led the Netherlands to a runner up medal in the 1974 World Cup and was named Player of the Tournament. They coasted to the final knocking out Argentina, East Germany and Brazil. Cruyff scored two against Argentina and one goal against Brazil to knock out the defending champions. Cruyff faced West Germany in the final were they lost 2-1.

Cruyff is widely regarded as one of the best players ever and was voted European Player of the Century in an election held by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics and was came second behind Pele in their World Player of the Century poll.

Cruyff’s record speaks for itself with nine Eredivisie titles, six KNVB cups, one Intercontinental cup, three European cups, two UEFA super cups, one UEFA Intertoto cup, one La Liga title and one Copa del Rey.

He has gone on to manage at Ajax and Barcelona as well as Catalonia. He is now an advisor for Ajax and Barcelona plus Mexican club Chivas Guadalajara.

The next part of the legends series will look over Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish’s illustrious career

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By Marcus Banks

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