The year 2016 witnessed Johan Cruyff, one of the football legends saying good bye to this world. On March 24, He died peacefully in Barcelona, after he lost his battle with lung cancer. Cruyff was a three-time winner of the Ballon d'Or award, taking the award in 1971, 1973 and 1974. He won three consecutive European Cups with Ajax from 1971. He helped the Dutch reach the 1974 World Cup final, where they lost 2-1 to West Germany. His time in the Netherlands as a player and coach saw the golden age of Ajax Amsterdam and the transformation of a country that had not qualified for the World Cup since 1938 into the best team, if not necessarily the most successful in the world.
Known for the “Total Football”, Cruyff espoused a simple, yet visionary, form of game, where anyone can successively play as an attacker, a midfielder and a defender. Total Football engages the whole team in creating space for the ball, meaning that all the outfield players need to be fluent in all the positions, and even the goalkeeper needs to be a highly proficient ballplayer with both feet.
The Cruyff Turn, a football technique is named after him. The player would look to pass or cross the ball. Instead of kicking it, he would drag the ball behind his planted foot with the inside of his crossing foot, turn through 180 degrees, and accelerate away from the defender. The trick was executed by Cruyff in the 1974 FIFA World Cup. It remains one of the most commonly used dribbling tricks in the modern game
A sought-after football thinker, he managed Ajax from 1985 to 1988, and then, Cruyff was lured away by Barcelona. At the Nou Camp he won four league titles among a raft of trophies. He led Barcelona to their first European Cup triumph in 1992. Cruyff changed the way the sport was played in Barcelona, allowing Spanish football, a generation later, to reap the benefits with a team that was almost unbeatable over an eight-year period. Pep Guardiola, winner of the 1992 European Cup at Barcelona as a player under Cruyff and, in 2009 and 2011, as coach, said of the Dutchman’s influence on Barcelona: “Johan built the cathedral, and it’s up to us to maintain it.”
Cruyff was instrumental to the 1979 founding of La Masia, the famed Barcelona youth training camp he hoped could emulate the Ajax Youth Academy. In 2010, La Masia achieved a record breaking honour becoming the first youth academy to have trained all three finalists for the Ballon d'Or in a single year, with Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi. As Messi acknowledges on the back cover of Cruyff’s excellent memoir 'My Turn: A Life of Total Football', there would be no Messi without the Dutch master. Nor would Pep Guardiola. The legendary number 14 changed the game of football forever and football world owe him a debt of gratitude. Surely it was a great loss for football in 2016.