During the early 1970s, Johan Cruyff emerged from Pele’s shadow to achieve fame, joining the Brazilian legend in a pantheon that has since welcomed Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo and many more.
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The Dutchman, a striker endowed with incredible talent, something that Sweden defender Jan Olsson can painfully testify to transform the way football was played at the top level and motivated new generations to try what for most seemed impossible but came easily to him.
Cruyff also used his aptitude for creativity to the coaching profession, incorporating and refining the ‘Total Football’ concept of his mentor Rinus Michels to astonishing success.
Hendrik Johannes Cruijff was born on April 25th, 1947, in Amsterdam, and his budding potential was noticed by Ajax, where his mother worked as a maid at the time. His senior debut came in 1965 at the age of 17 after progressing through the youth ranks.
He scored his first goal for the club in the process, which served as a foreshadowing of what was to come. Few people who witnessed his first steps in the professional game could have predicted how far he would go in the game.
Between 1966 and 1973, the Amsterdam team won six league titles and five Dutch cups, but they also made a name for themselves in continental football by winning the European Cup three times in a row in 1971, 1972, and 1973.
Cruyff’s impact was such that he was elected European Footballer of the Year in 1971, 1973, and 1974, by which time he had joined Catalan giants Barcelona in a move that was then a world record at the time of his death, which unfortunately was March 24th, 2016.
After a 14-year wait for a La Liga championship, Barcelona won it in his first season at the Nou Camp, bringing the Dutchman to the 1974 World Cup finals in the best shape of his career. Cruyff would go on to solidify his place among football’s elite during that summer’s trip to West Germany.
A spectacular stroke of talent sealed his place in history as the Netherlands’ World Cup hero. Although they were defeated by hosts Russia 2-1 in the final, the Barcelona star’s performance was unmistakable throughout the tournament. He was the best player on the field.