It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the Dutchman to Holland, to Barcelona, to the game of football. his vision sculpted the Barcelona of today, he brought a way of playing with him from Ajax and the Dutch national team, and Barça made it their own. Total Football became tiki-taka.
Without Cruyff we wouldn’t have Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, or even Pep Guardiola.The club has changed the game but it was Cruyff who changed the club.
When he walked into the dressing room and drew 3-4-3 on the tactics board for the first time, this is how the players reacted:“We looked at each other and said: ‘What the hell is this?!’ This was the era of 4-4-2 or 3-5-2”, explained Eusebio, who had come to Barcelona to play under Cruyff, “He single-handedly introduced a new way of playing football in Spain. It was a revolution”.
“I much prefer to win 5-4 than 1-0” said the erstwhile manager, and set about finding the players that fit his ideology. This was 1988 when players were chosen for their physique, or more accurately, not chosen because of it. Even Barcelona had 'a prueba de la muneca' – the wrist test – that discounted anyone at 15 who didn’t look like growing to be at least 5’11.
Cruyff changed that, focussing instead on ability and technique, cultivating players who treated the ball with care, were quick and pressed the opposition.One benefactor of this new policy was a skinny 15 year-old named Pep Guardiola, who would play an integral part in the club’s first European Cup success as a player in 1992, then manage the team in their most successful period ever:
“Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore or improve it”, was how Pep put it.The Dutch master was the Godfather of La Masia, Barça’s talent factory that has since become a production line of footballing prodigies.
They play 3-4-3 from the under-8’s all the way to the senior side, a continuity that has served the club well.
Cruyff has passed on, but he has left more to the world of football than most, and as the tributes flow in, the memory of Cruyff lives on.