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The great Cruyff as a player...


It was a terrible surprise: Cruyff passed away at the age of 68. We all knew about his illness but the speed of his deteriation was unexpected. Although gone, he has left a lot for the footballing world, firstly as a player (one of the elite) but also later as a coach (another of the greats). Maybe the only person to have achieved such greatness in both fields and his age should have allowed even more lessons to be given. It wasn't to be. Now I remember some chats with him and this more than others: "Football has given me everything in life, tobacco almost took it all away".

The first time that Spain was introduced to him was when our national side faced up against Ajax, which until then was mainly known a brand of detergent. It was played in Santiago on the eve of the 1966 World Cup. Spain were European champions. The Dutch side showed us what they were made of that day which destroyed our confidence and had a big impact on our showing in the World Cup. But at that point nobody really knew what was happening in Holland, in that club side or indeed for that young man. Only months later Ajax would play the famous Madrid yé-yé, the latter only avoiding elimination thanks to a miraculous goal from Veloso in extra-time.

April 1969 when a young Johan Cruyff ran the show during the European Cup
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April 1969 when a young Johan Cruyff ran the show during the European CupROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSENEFE

At the heart of all this was Cruyff, an immature teenager who made the ball obey him and who had, above all, a divine gift. The gift of every great player. To anticipate his opponent's reaction, in a strange time loop. By the time the defense reacted, he was already gone. He was ahead of others by a quarter of a second. From here, Dutch football grew around him. Victorious in three European Cups for Ajax he then joined Barcelona for a million dollars, one hundred million pesetas. On his first visit to the Bernabeu, the new Barca of Cruyff won 0-5. He would return to win the league, fourteen years later...