Wednesday 24 March 2021, 10:54

A tribute to Johan Cruyff

  • Johan Cruyff was one of the greatest players and coaches ever

  • The Dutchman passed away five years ago today

  • pay tribute with stories, stats, quotes and golazos

Rinus Michels once commented that his star pupil was “a man from Mars”. He was not wrong.

Johan Cruyff performed, and later orchestrated, extraterrestrial acts on green fields, while a minor planet in the solar system is named Cruijff in his honour. pays homage to a man who revolutionised football on the fifth anniversary of his passing.

What they said about Cruyff

“Cruyff is the most influential person in football history,” said author Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling. Click the link below to read some of the best tributes to the Dutchman from the likes of Rinus Michels, Pele, Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer, Gary Lineker, Marco van Basten, Pep Guardiola and Xavi.

Stick-thin, 17 but bossy as hell

When a schoolboy enters a professional football squad for the first time, he’s invariably shrinking. Not ‘Jupie’.

The stars he suddenly called co-workers were familiar faces. His step-father, after all, was Ajax’s groundman, while his mother cleaned their dressing room.

“He was really skinny," recalled Piet Keizer, "but right from day one he’d be shouting orders, pointing at people where to go. He wasn’t intimidated in the slightest. And even at that age he saw the game much quicker than everybody else.”


The No14

A quirk of fate allowed Cruyff to become synonymous with his trademark number. He predominately wore the No9 shirt in his first six seasons at Ajax, but in the dressing room before a huge game against PSV in 1970, Gerrie Muhren couldn’t find his No7 jersey.

Cruyff handed his team-mate the No9 and took the nearest shirt from the basket of spares, which was the No14. He later recalled: “I told him, ‘Gerrie, PSV went really well. From now on let’s stick with these numbers.’”

Cruyff duly began immortalising the shirt and, when he discovered he would be assigned the No1 for the 1974 FIFA World Cup Germany™ – the Netherlands decided upon alphabetical numbering – he entered into a dispute with the Dutch Football Association to wear the No14, refused to back down, and finally had his wish granted.

The likes of David Ginola, whom Cruyff tried to sign for Barcelona, Thierry Henry and Claudio Pizarro have gone on to wear the No14 with distinction in homage to its Godfather.

Most goals in a season for Ajax

Henk Groot64461960/61
Luis Suarez49482009/10
Marco van Basten44431986/87
Johan Cruyff41411966/67

‘The Phantom Goal’

Cruyff arrived in Catalonia revered as a serial scorer of wonder goals. Nobody, however, could believe what he pulled off against Atletico Madrid just four months later.

It was astonishingly on several levels. Cruyff had the foresight to realise where Carles Rexach’s low-flying cross was heading; the intuitive imagination to concoct his plan; the spring and flexibility to leap and contort his body; and the preposterous skill to fizz a back-heel, executed with his back to goal, four feet off the ground, into the Miguel Reina’s net.

“Cruyff is the only man in history who could have scored that goal,” said the still-wowed father of former Spain goalkeeper Pepe.

‘The Phantom Goal’ remains one of the most mind-blowing in football history.


Cruyff quotes

“Before I make a mistake, I do not make that mistake.”

“What is speed? The sports press often confuses speed with insight. See, if I start running slightly earlier than someone else, I seem faster.”

“Players today can only shoot with their laces. I could shoot with the inside of my foot, the outside, the laces – with both feet. In other words, I was six times better than today’s players.”

“Surviving the group stage is never my aim. Ideally, I’d be in one group with Brazil, Argentina and Germany. Then I’d have eliminated two rivals in the first round. That’s how I think. Idealistic.”

“With my teams, the goalkeeper is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender.”

“What makes me different from most other [coaches]? I want people to come to the stadium and enjoy themselves. Football has to be about joy.”

‘Total Football’ intoxicates the world

‘Total Football’, and ‘The Cruyff Turn’, were paraded on the FIFA World Cup™ platform in 1974. They wowed.

The Netherlands may have fallen just short in the Final, but they delivered some unforgettable performances en route. They won all three matches in the second group stage without conceding a goal, pulverising Argentina 4-0 and beating Brazil 2-0 in a result that flattered the defending champions.

Cruyff delivered one of the greatest individual World Cups ever, while that Oranje side remain arguably the best team not to conquer the competition.

The Netherlands' all-time top scorers

Robin van Persie501020.492005-17
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar42960.552006-17
Patrick Kluivert40790.511994-2004
Dennis Bergkamp37790.471990-2000
Arjen Robben37960.392003-17
Faas Wilkes35380.921946-61
Ruud van Nistelrooy35700.501998-2011
Abe Lenstra33470.701940-59
Johan Cruyff33480.691966-17
Wesley Sneijder311340.232003-18

The 'Dream Team' and La Masia

After impressing in the Ajax dugout, Cruyff was made Barcelona coach in 1989, immediately creating the exhilarating 'Dream Team'. Between 1990 and ’94, he led the club to four straight La Liga titles and three European trophies, including the UEFA Champions League.

Fundamentally, he pushed for the founding of La Masia and persuaded the club to abandon its policy of rejecting anyone smaller than 1.80m.

“Without him there would have been no Messi, Xavi, Iniesta,” said Albert Ferrer, while Xavi added: “Cruyff is the father of everything, the patriarch of this philosophy, the DNA of Barça.”

Did you know?

  • Cruyff almost doubled the world-transfer record when he joined Barcelona from Ajax. So huge was the fee that Barça had to register the player as a piece of agricultural machinery to pass him through import regulations.

  • The Dutchman was the first player to win three Ballon d'Ors (1971, ’73 and ’74). Only one man had seized the prize with more than double the votes of his runner-up – Alfredo Di Stefano in 1957 – until Cruyff did it twice.

  • Cruyff almost joined Leicester City in 1981. The Foxes boasted Gary Lineker at that time.

  • Cruyff came second in a 1999 vote conducted by the IFFHS for the Greatest Players of the 20th Century, behind Pele. Franz Beckenbauer, Alfredo Di Stefano and Diego Maradona completed the top five.


Johan Cruyff, extraordinary player, extraordinary coach, inspiration to millions, football revolutionary, thank you for everything. RIP.