Johan Cruyff

gigatos | November 20, 2021


Hendrik Johannes (Johan) Cruijff ( pronunciation (info explanation)) (Amsterdam, April 25, 1947 – Barcelona, March 24, 2016) was a Dutch professional football player and soccer coach.

Cruijff is recognized worldwide as one of the best footballers of all time. In 1999, he was voted European Footballer of the Twentieth Century by the IFFHS. In the IFFHS election of World Footballer of the Twentieth Century, he finished second behind Pelé. The former striker and playmaker was particularly praised for his technique, starting speed, speed of action and game insight. Three times he was elected European Footballer of the Year and he also won the European Cup I three times. The latter Cruijff did with Ajax, where he was considered the leader and star of the team. In 1974 Cruijff reached the final of the World Cup as captain of the Dutch team, losing 2-1 to West Germany.

After a twenty-year career as a footballer, during which he played as a professional for clubs in the Netherlands, Spain and the United States, Cruijff turned to being a trainer in 1985. Without the necessary diplomas, the former player became a trainer at Ajax and with the Amsterdammers he won two KNVB cups and the European Cup II. After Cruijff resigned from Ajax in early 1988, he became a trainer at his former employer FC Barcelona. There he formed a team that entered the history books as the Dream Team. The highlight of his stay with the Catalans was winning the 1992 European Cup I. This made Cruijff the third player to win the cup. This made Cruijff the third footballer in history to win this tournament as a player and as a trainer, after Miguel Muñoz and Giovanni Trapattoni. In 1989 he already won the European Cup II with FC Barcelona and in 1992 the European Supercup. After his dismissal in 1996, Cruijff ended his coaching career, but remained influential at both Ajax and Barcelona. He founded several socially engaged institutions, focusing particularly on youth and sports. He also remained involved in soccer, including as an analyst, ambassador, advisor and columnist. In 2009 Cruijff decided to take up coaching again when he was approached for the national coaching position of Catalonia. He held this position until 2013. In addition, Cruijff served on the supervisory board of Ajax from June 2011 to April 2012.


Johan Cruijff was born on Friday, April 25, 1947 at the Burgerziekenhuis in the Linnaeusstraat in Amsterdam. He was the second son of Hermanus Cornelis Cruijff and Petronella Bernarda Draaijer, who named him after the grandfather on his mother”s side: Hendrik Johannes Draaijer. Johan, who was called “Jopie” by his mother, grew up in the Akkerstraat in the Betondorp district, a stone”s throw from the then Ajax stadium De Meer. Father Manus and mother Nel both came from the Jordaan. After the war they had started a greengrocer”s store in a residential building, called Cruijffs Aardappelenhandel. Nel also worked on a voluntary basis as an occasional help in the canteen of the Ajax stadium.

Together with his two and a half year older brother Henny, ”Jopie” played a lot of soccer in the streets. Later they also played together in the youth team of Ajax.

When Johan was twelve years old the family moved to a ground floor apartment in Weidestraat. On the evening of July 8, 1959, while ”Jopie” Cruijff was saying goodbye to the Groen van Prinstererschool on the Zaaiersweg, his father, 45 years old, died of a heart attack. The death of his father was the biggest tragedy in Johan”s life. For years to come he would have imaginary conversations with him. Nel could not continue the vegetable store on her own and therefore the store was closed. Nel was the sole breadwinner of the family at that time and went to work as a housekeeper for Ajax trainer Vic Buckingham. Ajax also offered the Cruijff family a solution by paying Nel for her work at the club from then on. A few years later she remarried.

After elementary school Johan went to the Frankendaal-Ulo from September 1959. At noon he regularly ate at his mother”s and the Buckingham family. Here he got acquainted with the English language for the first time. The school was not a success. Johan failed twice and left the Ulo after a few years without a diploma. Through Ajax he got a job as a sales clerk at Perry van der Kar on the Ceintuurbaan. After Johan”s marriage, in 1968, the contact with his brother was diluted. After the death of their mother, in December 2007, they had no more contact.


At the wedding of teammate Piet Keizer, on June 13, 1967, Cruijff met his future wife Danny Coster. They started dating and on 2 December 1968 they got married. They went to live in Vinkeveen and had three children: Chantal (16 November 1970), Susila (27 January 1972) and Jordi (9 February 1974).


It was during a Dutch Open in the mid-1970s that Cruijff first became acquainted with the sport of golf. Afterwards he could regularly be found on various golf courses. Traditionally, he and Maarten Lafeber took part in major golf tournaments every year, such as the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland or the KLM Open. According to the registration of the NGF, on the basis of which Golf Weekly published the results of a number of well-known footballers in 2006, Cruijff had a handicap of 35.3 in that year.

Smoking and health issues

On January 26, 1991, Cruijff suffered from heart trouble while on a walk with his wife Danny. In the hospital he then underwent emergency bypass surgery due to the diagnosis of arteriosclerosis. In addition to two months of rest, the then Barcelona coach was also advised by doctors to stop smoking. During his active career Cruijff had always behaved as an exemplary professional when it came to food and drink, but he could not resist the temptation of smoking. Sometimes he would smoke eighty cigarettes a day. The Wasem, a nickname the Bild-Zeitung once gave him, decided to follow the doctors” advice and cooperated in a commercial discouraging smoking. After quitting smoking, Cruijff traded his cigarette for a Chupa Chups lollipop, which he regularly sat in the dugout sucking on. In soccer-loving Catalonia, sales of this lollipop doubled in 1991.

In October 2015, Cruijff was diagnosed with lung cancer. A month before his death, Cruijff still expressed positivity about his prospects of overcoming the disease in a written statement: ”I feel like I”m 2-0 up in the first half of a game that hasn”t ended yet. I am sure I will win in the end”. On March 2, 2016, he sought out Formula One driver Max Verstappen at the Barcelona circuit. A week later he visited his son Jordi in Tel Aviv. He died of his illness on March 24, 2016 at Hospital Sant Pau in his hometown of Barcelona. His death was rather unexpected to the outside world, but it was known in a small circle that he had metastases.

After his death

Soccer club FC Barcelona praised Cruijff on the day of his death in an in memoriam signed by the president and no fewer than seven former presidents. The club declared a period of mourning until April 2. On the evening of his death, Feyenoord and Sparta played with mourning bands. Flowers were laid at the house in Betondorp where he lived for the first twelve years of his life. He was cremated the next day in a private ceremony. The same day at the practice match between the Netherlands and France in Amsterdam, the match was halted for one minute after fourteen minutes and there was applause for Cruijff for one minute. On March 26, De Telegraaf devoted three pages of obituaries to Cruijff. Former footballers and coaches Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, among others, each placed an ad, as did various companies and organizations. Three days later, during the friendly match between England and the Netherlands at Wembley, the spectators applauded Cruijff for one minute in the 14th minute, as agreed. The game was not interrupted. An image of Cruijff appeared on the stadium screen during that minute.

Immediately after Cruijff”s death, voices were raised to name the Amsterdam ArenA after him as a tribute. In April 2017, a letter of intent was signed to achieve an official name change to Johan Cruijff ArenA. FC Barcelona named the new second stadium (Estadi Johan Cruyff) at the youth complex after Cruijff. In addition, the footballer would receive a statue in front of Camp Nou. A meter-high mural appeared in De Watergraafsmeer in 2017.

The City of Amsterdam decided to rename Stadionplein as Johan Cruijffplein in 2018. Just before the change was to be made, it was announced that the name change was off the table for the time being. An investigation into the run-up to the decision showed that the advice of stadsdeel Zuid was based on incorrect information, and a negative advice from the Committee Naming Public Space (CNOR) had not reached the city council. Incidentally, Amsterdam has had the Johan Cruijffbrug since 2005.

Unauthorized posthumous biography

In November 2019, Johan Cruijff”s biography, written by Auke Kok, was published, painting a disconcerting picture of his personal life. In a broadcast of the TV program De Wereld Draait Door following the publication, Kok claimed that Cruijff had been a “notorious cheater” and also that during his life he had received an annual sum of 1 million euros from the Johan Cruyff Foundation.In summary proceedings, Kok was ordered to rectify the challenged passage. He did not appeal, but sought to clarify the matter. In March 2021 he came out with a reissue of the biography, with a whole chapter about the case. He now stated, that from 1998 Cruyff received about one million annually from a secret deal of his father-in-law and business manager Cor Koster with the Sponsor Lottery and Terre des hommes. The Cruyff Foundation, however, was not involved.

AFC Ajax

From the age of six, Cruijff trained with Ajax. It was not until his tenth birthday that he could officially become a member of Ajax. On April 25, 1957, he received a letter stating that he was accepted as a member. Youth trainer Jany van der Veen had seen him play regularly in Betondorp and thought he was good enough to become an Ajax member immediately, he did not have to play a trial match. In the years 1957-1963 he went through the youth academy. In the season 196263 he became champion with the highest youth team of Ajax. Not much later Cruijff signed his first professional contract. This tied him to the Amsterdam team for four years. His salary was 15,000 guilders a year plus bonuses. This made him the second full-pro in the Netherlands after his teammate Piet Keizer.

On November 15, 1964, Cruijff made his official debut in the Ajax first team, which was under the direction of coach Vic Buckingham. As a debutant, Cruijff scored the only goal that afternoon in the 3-1 lost away match against GVAV. Three weeks earlier, on Saturday 24 October 1964, Cruijff played for the first time with Ajax 1 in an exhibition match in Helmond against second division club Helmondia”55 (2-3).

He did not play for long under Buckingham”s regime, because just two months after Cruijff”s first appearance, the coach returned to England and was succeeded by Rinus Michels. The inexperienced coach thought Cruijff was too young and not physically strong enough for the first team. Nevertheless, the seventeen-year-old talent played ten matches in his debut season, in which he scored four times. In sporting terms, the season was very disappointing for Ajax. The club finished thirteenth on the league table and narrowly escaped relegation. The final ranking of 1965 is still the lowest Ajax has ever achieved since the introduction of professional soccer. Michels decided to intervene and urged the board, which was led by the new chairman Jaap van Praag, to strengthen their ranks. The club decided to bring back Co Prins and Henk Groot and also signed goalkeeper Gert Bals from PSV. Although Michels did not yet feel it was time to give Cruijff a permanent place in the team, he was given a place in the starting line-up on 24 October 1965 against DWS when he replaced the injured Klaas Nuninga. Cruijff scored twice that afternoon, convincing Michels of his abilities. With Cruijff in the lead, Ajax remained unbeaten for sixteen consecutive matches. The 2-0 away win against FC Twente on 15 May 1966 meant that Ajax were certain of the title two games before the end of the competition. In that season Ajax was the most successful team in the Eredivisie with 79 goals. In the following season, Ajax”s first team scored 122 goals in the league; a number that has never been surpassed. Cruijff had the largest share with 33 goals and with this number became the top scorer of the Eredivisie. With a positive goal difference of 88, which would remain a record in the Eredivisie for 21 seasons until the 19871988 season, Ajax prolonged the national title and also won the double for the first time in club history, beating NAC 2-1 in the KNVB Cup final. His part in winning both the title and the cup led to Cruijff being named Dutch footballer of the year in 1967.

During this period, Cor Coster, Cruijff”s future father-in-law, was one of the first to realize that individual players represented a commercial value. He understood that De Meer attracted many spectators each match, who came mainly for Cruijff. As a result, Cruijff decided to be represented by his future father-in-law, who became one of the first agents in national and international soccer. The entrance of the case agent brought about a change in the world of soccer, as until then sports administrators were used to drawing up the terms of the contract and players only had to sign. Illustrative, for example, was when he learned that new acquisition Dick van Dijk was going to earn more than Cruijff. Coster intervened and personally ensured that Cruijff”s contract was broken. There was a financial upward adjustment in which the annual salary was increased to 50,000 guilders: the same amount that Van Dijk also received. Coster thought that when someone could play soccer as well as Cruijff, he should be rewarded royally. In the early 1970s, when players” salaries were soaring, Coster even went a step further by promising himself that he would make sure that Cruijff would become a millionaire because of his soccer skills.

In 1968 Ajax became national champions for the third time in a row. As a result, in 196869 the club was allowed to participate in the Europacup I and in it successes were achieved. Partly due to the goals of Cruijff and Danielsson against the Benfica of Eusébio, Ajax was the first Dutch club to reach the final of the European Cup tournament. On 28 May 1969, however, AC Milan proved to be too big for the Amsterdammers in the final match. The catenaccio of the Italians resulted in a 4-1 victory that evening. Due to a busy international schedule, Ajax missed out on all the prizes at the national level as well, so the 19686 season could be considered lost. Michels then decided to rejuvenate the team and this led to a positive result a season later: Cruijff won the double again with his club.

Due to a groin injury, Cruijff missed the first matches of the following season. After weeks of absence, Cruijff”s comeback took place on October 30, 1970 against PSV. During that match, however, he did not wear his regular number 9, but number 14. This was due to Gerrie Mühren”s missing shirt with number 7, which was not found in the laundry basket. Since Cruijff had been injured for a long time, he thought that Mühren should take his jersey with number 9. Cruijff then put on a spare shirt with number 14. After the game against PSV ended in a 1-0 victory for Ajax, Cruijff wore the number 14 shirt again a week later because things “went so well” against PSV and Mühren could once again play with number 9. Out of superstition, Cruijff retained shirt number 14, which eventually became inextricably linked to him in the image. In that context, it is notable that he continued to play with other numbers throughout his career. Cruijff recovered remarkably quickly after his long absence and showed this within a month of his return on 29 November 1970 against AZ”67, when he played a large part in Ajax”s 8-1 victory with six goals. In doing so, Cruijff equaled the record of Lammers and Kerkhoffs, who also scored six times in one league match. In 2007, however, Afonso Alves shot that record out of the books when he found the net seven times against Heracles.

By now Michels had a team that could compete with the European top. In addition to youngsters such as Stuy, Krol, Neeskens, Rijnders, Blankenburg and Haan, the team included veterans who had already been present at the 1969 European Cup final, such as Suurbier, Hulshoff, Vasović, Swart, Keizer and Cruijff. Almost two years later, the team reached the final of the European Cup I again on June 2, 1971. The opponent was the Greek Panathinaikos, coached by Ferenc Puskás, at Wembley. Just like Feyenoord the year before, Ajax won the prestigious tournament thanks to goals from Van Dijk and Haan.

After winning the European Cup I, speculation arose that Cruijff would leave Ajax. He was in the interest of FC Barcelona, but a transfer to Feyenoord was also a possibility. Coster secretly negotiated for months with the Rotterdam club to have Cruijff become the intended successor of the departing Ove Kindvall, via a rental construction with a foreign club. After long negotiations, Cruijff and Coster reached an agreement with Ajax on 12 July 1971. Cruijff got the financial security he was hoping for. He signed a seven-year contract that gave him 95,000 guilders annually, plus profit bonuses of 1,500 guilders. In mid-1978, when Cruijff”s contract was due to expire, it was planned that he would also stop playing soccer permanently. Therefore, Coster also arranged an agreement with Koninklijke Bijenkorf Beheer, which included an annual payment of 60,000 guilders to Cruijff from his 31st until his 65th birthday.

In 197172 Cruijff experienced one of the club”s most successful seasons with Ajax, after Johnny Rep, Arnold Mühren and Heinz Schilcher were added to the squad from mid-1971. Coach Rinus Michels meanwhile left for FC Barcelona and was succeeded by Ștefan Kovács. Under the guidance of the Romanian coach, the Amsterdammers won the double again and were in the final of the Europacup I for the second consecutive time. On 31 May 1972, the final took place at De Kuip, where Cruijff played a leading role by scoring both goals in the 2-0 victory over Internazionale. Other highlights that season include Cruijff”s fastest ever goal (on 21 November 1971 after nine seconds against Telstar) and the (then) biggest victory in the Eredivisie, when Ajax beat Vitesse 12-1 on 19 May 1972. The lob with which Cruijff recorded the 2-1 away victory against FC Den Haag in January 1972 can also be counted among the highlights of the season. After Cruijff passed his opponent in one fluent move, he shot the ball with a subtle bow over the Hague goalkeeper Ton Thie. The fact that Cruijff was considered by the media to be among the absolute top in that period was proven by his election as Dutch and European footballer of the year in 1971.

In contrast to 1971, when Ajax, as title holder of the European Cup I, had cancelled its participation in the World Cup, the club decided in the autumn of 1972 to seek out the confrontation with the winner of the Copa Libertadores. Initially, there were doubts due to the long journey and the low profile of the World Cup, but the intention within the players” group to want to win it all eventually prevailed. In the battle between the European and South American champions, Ajax defeated Independiente of Argentina 4-1 over two matches in August and September 1972. After the World Cup win, Cruijff succeeded Piet Keizer as Ajax captain. Under Cruijff”s leadership, Ajax also captured the European Supercup in January 1973 after a double victory over Glasgow Rangers (3-1 away in Glasgow and 3-2 at home in Amsterdam). An important 4-0 home victory over Bayern Munich followed on 7 March 1973 in the quarterfinals of the European Cup I. The game was voted the best ever European Cup match by L”Équipe in 2005. The French sports newspaper described the duel as “the best demonstration of total soccer. After the Ajax players also eliminated Real Madrid in the semi-finals (2-1 victory at home, 1-0 victory away), the club reached the Europacup I final for the third time in a row on 30 May 1973. In it, the Amsterdammers managed to win again, this time 1-0 over Juventus.

Meanwhile, enthusiasm about Cruijff”s captaincy began to wane among players. In July 1973, a divided selection went on a training camp in a hotel in De Lutte. Keizer wanted to be captain again, but Cruijff was not keen. A vote was therefore held on whether Cruijff should remain captain or not. With three votes in favor and thirteen against, the players” group expressed their confidence in Cruijff and Keizer got the captain”s armband back. Cruijff experienced the players” decision as a vote of no confidence and felt that his authority was being undermined. Shocked, he returned to his hotel room, where he contacted his father-in-law. Speaking on the phone, Cruijff instructed him, “You have to call Barcelona right now. I”m leaving here.”

The borders in Spain were opened up again for foreign players and Barcelona, which had wanted to sign Cruijff earlier, made a move, after the transfer of Gerd Müller had failed at an earlier stage. Cruijff did play two more league matches for Ajax in the new 19731974 season, on August 12, 1973 (FC Groningen-Ajax 0-4) and his last on August 19, 1973 against FC Amsterdam (6-1). Although Cruijff was booed in the first minutes of the game, he was eager to leave the club with dignity. Ten minutes before the end of the match, the departing star managed to find the net, after which he was given a public change to say goodbye to a loud applause. Three days later, on 22 August, the contract was signed and Cruijff moved to Barcelona for six million guilders, three million of which were for himself, after six national championships, two second places with the best goal difference, five KNVB Cup finals of which four were won, four European Cup I finals for national champions of which the last three were won, a World Cup for club teams and a UEFA Super Cup with Ajax in 8¾ years. His transfer allowed Cruijff to call himself the most expensive footballer of all time.

FC Barcelona

In Barcelona, Cruijff was reunited with Michels, who was his coach at Ajax from early 1965 to mid-1971. The Catalans had had to wait a long time for Cruijff”s arrival. First the Spanish Football Association did not allow foreigners and then the KNVB did not cooperate, as Cruijff was contracted after the transfer period had expired. Cruijff could initially only play for Barcelona in friendly matches and made his unofficial debut against Cercle Brugge (6-0) on September 5, 1973. The receipts from the friendly matches were such that Barcelona, even before Cruijff was eligible to play in the Spanish league, recouped Cruijff”s transfer fee in full. With the argument that Cruijff had to maintain match rhythm for the Dutch national team, the KNVB gave in after all. This allowed Johan Cruijff to finally make his official debut for Barcelona on October 28, 1973 in the home match against Granada. Meanwhile, the season was already seven rounds old and Barcelona found themselves, after two wins, two draws and three losses, in the lower regions of the rankings. Cruijff scored two goals against Granada, making it a 4-0 win. With the Dutchman in the team, the club then remained unbeaten for 25 consecutive matches (nineteen wins and six draws). Five games before the end of the competition, the competition could not catch up with the club: after fourteen years Barcelona finally won the championship of Spain again. Cruijff scored sixteen goals (one goal less than club top scorer Marcial) and made a fundamental contribution to this championship. This became the highest number of goals he would score in a season in Spain, a number that remained far from the 33 in his best season at Ajax.

When his wife was pregnant with their son Jordi and was due on the very day of the away match against arch-rival Real Madrid, the couple agreed to bring the delivery forward by a week by means of a caesarean section. The match on 17 February 1974 ended in a resounding 5-0 victory, in which Cruijff scored once. There was also the famous goal against Atlético Madrid that season, in which Cruijff turned with the back of the goal and tapped the ball past goalkeeper Miguel Reina with his heel. Cruijff”s achievements led to him being voted European Footballer of the Year again in 1973 and 1974. This made him the first player to win the award three times. Michel Platini and Marco van Basten were the only players to achieve this for a long time.

Although Cruijff was in the heyday of his career at the time, the national title of the 19731974 season remained the only prize he won in the service of Barcelona for many years. He did reach the semi-finals of the 1975 European Cup I against Leeds United with FC Barcelona. After Michels” departure in mid-1975, his successor Hennes Weisweiler was also unable to win a prize. The German trainer celebrated great successes with Borussia Mönchengladbach, but even there it was clear that Weisweiler did not get along well with celebrities. He constantly clashed with his star player Günter Netzer. This history repeated itself in Barcelona: Weisweiler clashed with Cruijff, who was even taken off the field in 1976 against Sevilla. The socios overwhelmingly sided with Cruijff and his popularity remained unaffected. Weisweiler”s days were numbered and he had to leave after only one season. Despite rumors that Cruijff would go to Juventus or even return to the Netherlands (to Ajax or AZ”67), he signed on for two seasons. He demanded that Michels should be brought back. This demand was granted. Under the guidance of the returned coach, Cruijff won his second and final prize during his five-year stay at FC Barcelona in the 19771978 season. On 19 April 1978, the club won the Spanish National Cup after a 2-0 victory over Las Palmas.

Johan Cruijff”s popularity in Barcelona is not only due to his sporting contribution. Cruijff started playing at FC Barcelona in the final days of the Franco regime. The regime had only one Spain, including the region of Catalonia – Catalan symbols were not allowed. FC Barcelona was one of the few visible symbols of Catalan identity.The victory over Real Madrid in early 1974 was therefore celebrated as a victory over Spain, with a big party at the Plaça de Catalunya. He then named his son, who had been born a few days earlier, Jordi, after Catalonia”s patron saint, Saint George. Because Jordi was born in the Netherlands, the Spanish civil registry could not refuse this name, although forbidden by the Spanish regime. Partly because of this, his popularity in Barcelona is enormous to this day.


The 31-year-old Cruijff decided to put an end to his career in the summer of 1978. With a 3-1 victory over Ajax, he said goodbye to the Catalan public on 27 May 1978. Especially for Cruijff, Ajax organized a farewell match on November 7, 1978. Germany”s Bayern Munich was invited to the match of honor in the Olympic Stadium. Beforehand, Cruijff received a golden watch with inscription, and a color TV from chairman Ton Harmsen. The latter gift caused hilarity in the stands, but it later emerged that the television had been purchased at the wish of Cruijff”s wife Danny.

It was not a day of celebration and not a usual result for an honorary match. In a full stadium and with millions of TV viewers around the world, Ajax was canned 8-0. The Germans were taunted by the defeats they had suffered in previous years against Ajax (in August 1972 in Munich it was 0-5 and in March 1973 in Amsterdam 4-0). In addition, no one from the Amsterdam club was at Schiphol to welcome the Germans and they were accommodated in a second-rate hotel. They also let it be known afterwards that they had been called names from the stands (for ”Nazi-Schweine”, among other things). The Ajax team wanted to make it a fun night, but was surprised by Bayern”s concentrated fighting spirit. After the eighth goal, by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Cruijff left the field for Ray Clarke. It is the biggest defeat Cruijff suffered in his career. In May 2006, some former players of Bayern Munich apologized for this match in NOVA.

After his soccer career, Cruijff plunged into a business adventure in Spain. He had previously focused on business with Jack van Zanten and now Cruijff decided to join forces with good friend and business partner Michel Basilevich. From a luxurious office on the Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, together they started CB-International (with the C of Cruijff and the B of Basilevich). The company”s activities included exporting wine, cement and vegetables, trading real estate, representing Warner Bros. and operating pig farm Ganadera Catalana. However, the project ended in a fiasco: Basilevich turned out to have conveniently siphoned off the assets, fooled Cruijff with forged papers that he owned several companies, and left him with a debt of six million guilders. Cruijff”s father-in-law warned him about Basilevich, but Cruijff ignored that advice and broke off contacts with Coster. After the debacle, things got back on track between them.

Los Angeles Aztecs

Cruijff was forced to take up soccer again. He wanted to go to the United States, where New York Cosmos seemed to be the next club of his career. At Cosmos, Cruijff had once signed a preliminary contract stipulating that he could only play for that club in the United States. When he participated as a guest player in a benefit match on August 30, 1977, just weeks before his retirement, Cruijff had already become acquainted with the American team. Club owner Steve Ross, who was also the boss of WarnerBros, decided to make work of Cruijff”s arrival and offered him a three-year deal with a total fee of four million dollars. Cruijff turned down that offer, however, because he only wanted to play for the club for one year. The explanation for this is that Cruijff was not keen on the commercial activities he had to carry out on behalf of the club for Warner Bros, as former player Pelé was expected to do in the past. Among other things, New York Cosmos would go on a world tour, raising millions of dollars. Other stories tell that influential star player Giorgio Chinaglia was not keen on Cruijff”s arrival and therefore blocked a transfer.

After it became clear that a continuation of Cruijff”s career at New York Cosmos was out of the question, Los Angeles Aztecs showed interest. The American west coast offered Cruijff a lucrative contract with an annual salary of 750,000 dollars. The unemployed Cruijff agreed and signed for one season. However, it was not about the money, as he indicated in dozens of interviews. In his own words, he could have earned much more in Europe. Cruijff thought of himself as being on a mission: he wanted to make soccer a success in the United States, show that it was “the most beautiful sport in the world. Whether Cruijff meant this or not, in the Netherlands he got the reputation of a money-grubber. In the US, however, he was praised for his dedication and love of the sport. Cruijff was willing to drive for hours if he could talk about soccer on television for ten minutes, free of charge.

Washington Diplomats

Cruijff decided to stay in America and signed a contract with Washington Diplomats, where he became the teammate of Wim Jansen. His debut on March 29, 1980 against Tampa Bay Rowdies ended in a 3-2 defeat after shoot-outs. In America, there were different rules. There was a maximum of nine points per game and a tie was not possible. Shoot-outs, which Cruijff not infrequently missed, had to bring the decision. In Washington, Cruijff had a less sporty season than with the Aztecs. The Diplomats were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. In addition, Cruijff regularly suffered from injuries, which were probably caused by the artificial turf. He also came into conflict with coach Gordon Bradley and some of his teammates. Unlike the LA Aztecs, who listened to Cruijff”s instructions, fellow players at the Diplomats were not interested in his advice. In addition, Cruijff had to get used to the Diplomats” style of play, which was almost the opposite of what he was used to. The game was similar to the hard soccer played in the English third division.


After the end of the American competition, Cruijff became active in the Netherlands. In the autumn of 1980 he trained with the Ajax selection. He was banned by the KNVB from playing in the team because recruiting “American” players outside the transfer period would lead to competition distortion. However, Cruijff was appointed technical advisor to coach Leo Beenhakker by Ajax on 24 November 1980, after Ajax had fallen to 8th place in the Eredivisie due to 3 consecutive league defeats in October 1980, and equally weak results in November 1980. The 1-1 draw away against MVV on Saturday night, November 22, 1980, was the straw that broke the camel”s back for the Ajax board; in the last 6 league matches, Ajax won only once, drew once, and lost no less than four times, and in the Europa Cup I tournament, Ajax went down 6-3 in total in two matches against Bayern Munich. In his role as technical advisor, Cruijff caused a sensation by coming down from the stands in Amsterdam during a match against sub-topper FC Twente on 30 November 1980 and taking a seat on the bench next to the bewildered Beenhakker. After trailing 3-1, Ajax, ranked eighth at the time, won the match 5-3 after bringing Rijkaard and others into the fold. This prevented a sixth league defeat in the fourteenth round of matches. Former Feyenoord player Wim Jansen, who was asked by Cruijff to come along from the Washington Diplomats to Ajax, joined the selection. Jansen was on the stand for the Ajax-FC Twente match (5-3) and would make his debut a week later in the Feyenoord-Ajax game (4-2) in Rotterdam. He was forced out of the match after only 18 minutes, having been hit by a snowball in one of his eyes by a young, vindictive Feyenoord supporter. From January 1981 things really started to go well for Ajax and in May 1981 and June 1981 Ajax finished 2nd, a feat. Ajax finished far behind AZ”67, the superior team of the season, but at least Ajax was able to overtake the numbers 3, 4 and 5, FC Utrecht, Feyenoord and PSV. Ajax also reached the cup final, after eliminating sub-top FC Twente (5-1) and top club PSV (2-2 away, 2-1 at home), among others. The cup final was lost 3-1 to national champion AZ”67 in Amsterdam.

In addition to his work for Ajax, Cruijff also played four friendly matches as a guest player for first division club DS”79 from Dordrecht in January 1981. The request for this came from DS”79 chairman Nico de Vries, who wanted to draw more attention to his sports brands Admiral and Pony. Besides Cruijff, De Vries also found Rob Rensenbrink willing to participate. Together with DS”79, the two former internationals worked four duels against Chelsea, Charleroi, MVV, and Ajax.


As Cruijff planned to make his return to the Dutch national team in early 1981, he needed to play regularly again. His intention spread through Europe and led to concrete interest from four clubs. Arsenal was interested, but did not want to sign him until the 198182 season, so a transfer to London did not happen. An unknown German club also made an offer, but because of the lost World Cup final Cruijff was reluctant to leave for the Bundesliga. After weeks of negotiations, Leicester City seemed to be the biggest contender. Coach Jock Wallace was already counting on his arrival and informed the English press that the transition was complete except for one or two points. When this news reached Spain, the fourth contender Levante came with an improved offer that offered more financial security. Cruijff reached an agreement on 28 February 1981 with Valencia”s second club, where his childhood idol Faas Wilkes had also played. Cruijff”s arrival at Levante was the idea of Luis Rodríguez, a supporter of the club. Levante was at the top of the Segunda División around the winter break, but despite this the stadium remained empty. Rodríguez knew that Cruijff was in the Netherlands and advised the club”s management to contact him. The club management flew to the Netherlands and met Cruijff in a hotel in Rotterdam. Coster arranged the contract which included that the footballer would sign until 30 June 1981 in exchange for a fixed fee of ten million pesetas. Converted to the exchange rate of the time, this amounted to about 250,000 guilders. The amount of the fee was described at the time as a downright scandal. Levante, however, was never able to fulfill the agreement. Cruijff eventually received no more than six million pesetas.

On March 1, 1981, Cruijff made his debut in the Spanish second division against Palencia. It caused the home stadium Estadi Ciutat de València to be completely sold out for the first and only time. However, Cruijff”s arrival proved to have a negative impact on the club. There was no serious football anymore and within the board of Levante everything revolved around money. Although there were still prospects of promotion to the highest level around Christmas, the club eventually finished ninth on the league table. The organization within the club became a mess and players locked themselves in the locker rooms towards the end of the season to force the board to pay their salaries. Cruijff also experienced a disappointing period at Levante. His entire stay was marked by minor injuries and loss of form, which prevented him from making more than ten appearances and scoring two goals.

Washington Diplomats

Even before his tenure with Levante officially ended, Cruijff signed another contract with Washington Diplomats on June 18, 1981. His return to the American field took place on July 1 during the away game against San Diego Sockers (3-2 loss). During his second season with the Diplomats, however, Cruijff made only five appearances and scored only two goals due to the after-effects of a hamstring injury. He suffered the hamstring injury in June 1981 during the Mundialito tournament, where he was a guest player in a friendly match between AC Milan and Feyenoord. Player agent Ploon Konijnenburg arranged for Cruijff to play one half in the Milan side for a fee of $20,000.


In December 1981, Cruijff returned to Ajax. It was Jack van Gelder, at the time the PR manager of Cruyff Sports since 1979, who ensured that the two parties would start talking to each other again. On a Sunday afternoon, Van Gelder reported for Langs de Lijn, in which he stated that it was too crazy for words that both Cruijff and Ajax wanted to work together, but that both parties were too proud to take the first step. Then, that same evening, Rolf Leeser, a good friend of Michels, called Van Gelder and said that he was willing to play a mediating role. The next morning Van Gelder realized that he could also play that role himself. After receiving permission from Cruijff, he called Ajax chairman Harmsen, who also immediately agreed. A constructive conversation followed, but after the meeting there was no unanimity within the Ajax management. Van Eijden and Harmsen appeared to be in favor of Cruijff”s arrival, but they were unable to convince the other three board members. Westrik and Neefjes were blocked by treasurer Bartels, who felt that Cruijff represented a financial risk and that there would therefore almost certainly be problems over money.

Meanwhile, Van Gelder was tipped off by Harmsen that a decision on Cruijff”s arrival would be made at an upcoming board meeting. Van Gelder then decided to use a trick to get Cruijff”s return through the board. He called Neefjes the night before to tell him he was aware of the planned vote one day later. Van Gelder then managed to convince him that he was the only board member opposed to Cruijff”s arrival. Neefjes replied that he did not want that on his conscience. When Harmsen started the vote the next day at the board meeting, unlike all the other times, Neefjes agreed with Cruijff”s arrival. Cousins” decision led to a unanimous board decision, allowing Cruijff to return to the club where he had started his career.

Cruijff signed a contract on a recette basis whereby it was agreed that as soon as there were more than 11,000 spectators at De Meer, he would receive half of the additional revenue. Both parties were satisfied with this deal, as on the one hand the Ajax board knew that matches in 1980 sometimes had no more than 8,000 spectators, and on the other hand Cruijff realized that he could personally provide extra spectators, especially when Ajax would go uphill again. Despite fine results in, and a first place after the first eight league matches of the 19811982 season in August and September 1981, the first quarter of the league, Ajax was in 3rd place at the time Cruijff arrived just before the winter break, just before the end of the first half of the league, a long way behind PSV and AZ. This was caused by poor results in the league in October 1981 (two big defeats away, one draw against NAC at home). Ajax had a number of 17- to 20-year-old talents at its disposal (including Wim Kieft, Frank Rijkaard, Gerald Vanenburg, Sonny Silooy and Jesper Olsen), but they were unable to take the soccer to a higher level. It remained to be seen whether the now 34-year-old Cruijff could change this.

Cruijff”s comeback took place on December 6, 1981 against HFC Haarlem in a sold-out De Meer. That afternoon, 12,000 more spectators showed up than usual, while thousands more fans lined up in front of the ticket booths. Initially, there was skepticism about Cruijff”s arrival, but it was dispelled in the 21st minute when he slalomed past Piet Huijg and Martin Haar in the penalty area on a pass from Sören Lerby and made it 1-0 by tipping the ball over goalkeeper Edward Metgod with a subtle lob. The stadium went wild and the crowd saw that the player with shirt number 14 still had what it takes. With the arrival of Cruijff, Ajax”s volatility disappeared, allowing them to pass PSV and AZ on the league table after the winter break. The club from Amsterdam didn”t lose a single match in the competition anymore and only drew twice. Because its closest competitors lost points in the final stages of the competition, Ajax became the national champions in 1982 with a five-point lead on number two, PSV, and an impressive goal difference of +75 (117-42).

Almost exactly a year after his comeback, Cruijff provided another rare moment when Ajax led 1-0 against Helmond Sport on December 5, 1982. The Amsterdammers were awarded a penalty, after which Cruijff claimed the ball. This in itself was a remarkable incident, as the veteran had never taken a penalty for Ajax before. Cruijff played the ball wide to Jesper Olsen, who kicked it back to Cruijff, who tapped it in as goalkeeper Otto Versfeld stepped up to Olsen. The Helmond players protested, but the penalty kick was in accordance with the rules. The goal went all over the world, but later it appeared that it was not the first time that a penalty was taken in three. The Feyenoord duo of Bas Paauwe and Gerard Kuppen had done it before on 4 May 1944 against Sparta. Ajax won the national championship and the KNVB Cup in 198283.

In the final months of the season Cruijff came into conflict with Ajax chairman Harmsen. The board member thought Cruijff was too old and did not want to pay his salary of one and a half million guilders. Driven by resentment over the treatment by the Ajax board, Cruijff instructed Coster to contact Feyenoord for an unimaginable switch to the archrival. After months of negotiations, the parties came to an agreement, which involved setting up a similar remuneration structure on a recette basis to Ajax”s, as Feyenoord”s club coffers were almost empty. On May 10, 1983, Cruijff announced his retirement. A week later, after winning the cup final, the club icon departed.


Initially, Feyenoord supporters had trouble with the veteran player, who had come over from Ajax. This quickly disappeared when Cruijff proved his worth after making his debut against FC Volendam on August 21, 1983. Despite an 8-2 defeat against Ajax, Cruijff got his sporting revenge by winning both the national title and the KNVB cup with the Rotterdam club. In addition to an agitated Cruijff, this was due to the strong playing Ruud Gullit and André Hoekstra and the sure-footed Peter Houtman. Despite his relatively advanced age, Cruijff played all but one match that season. His performances on the pitch earned the 37-year-old Feyenoord player a fifth Dutch footballer of the year award in 1984. At the end of the season, the veteran announced his final farewell. On 13 May 1984 he was sent off with a symbolic red card by referee Severein eleven minutes before the end of the match against PEC Zwolle. He was replaced by a youthful Mario Been.

Cruijff”s very last game was three quarters of a year later in Saudi Arabia, when Feyenoord received a very tempting offer from the Saudi King Fahd for many millions. Two departing internationals from the Saudi national team were offered a farewell match, and because Cruijff was the best footballer the king had ever seen, he had to play. Cruijff, already retired from soccer, appeared untrained at kickoff. He scored twice in the first half for the Saudi Arabia team and brought Feyenoord back into the game after the break with a goal and an assist. After the game ended in a 2-2 draw, Cruijff received a 24-carat gold dinnerware set as a thank you for his participation.

Matches and goals

* Excluding the stoppage match Ajax – Feyenoord (21 January 1968)

Debut and controversy

Cruijff made his debut for the Dutch national team on September 7, 1966 as a nineteen-year-old during the European Championship qualifier against Hungary. The striker scored the second goal for the Dutch team, ending the encounter in a 2-2 draw. Almost six months earlier, on February 9, 1966, Cruijff made his unofficial appearance for the Dutch national team in an exhibition match against Racing Strasbourg. In that match Cruijff scored a hat-trick and the Dutch team won 7-0. Already in his second international match, on 6 November 1966 against Czechoslovakia, Cruijff was sent off. This made him the first Dutch international to be sent off the field. Cruijff was said to have hit referee Glöckner in the face, although this was disputed by the player himself. As a result of the incident, the KNVB decided to exclude Cruijff from international soccer for a year, but under pressure from the media the striker was called up again after just eight months for the EK qualifier against the GDR. He scored a goal within two minutes of being called up, which also made the final score.

Although Cruijff soon made a name for himself in the Dutch national team, it did not prove to be the start of a long-term international career. In 1968, disagreements began to arise between Cruijff and the KNVB. The striker, along with four Ajax teammates, did not agree with the amount of compensation they would receive for participating in a training camp and playing an international match against Bulgaria. The internationals led by Cruijff only wanted to play for the national team if they received a substantial sum of money in return. It was not unusual for Cruijff to put his own interests above those of the national team. He regularly cancelled matches for various reasons. For example, the striker was once suspended by national coach Keßler because he had missed an important training session due to visiting a foreign shoe fair for his own company. Although the relationship was at times difficult, Cruijff was now elected captain of the Dutch national team. He had fulfilled this role since his fifteenth international appearance, on 1 December 1971. He would keep the captain”s armband for the remaining 33 matches of his international career.

Despite the international successes of Ajax and Feyenoord in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Dutch team failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1970 and European Championship in 1972. Cruijff later admitted that during that period the importance of the Dutch team was not so well understood. The Netherlands did manage to qualify for the World Cup in 1974, after 36 years of absence from the global final tournament. Before traveling to host West Germany, Cruijff told Voetbal International that this would be his first and last World Cup. The striker left no doubt that he would stop playing soccer in 1978 at the age of 31. Participation in the next World Cup in Argentina was thus ruled out. Cruijff was looking forward to the long stay in South America, but also feared the risks he would run in Argentina. In 1972 Ajax played for the World Cup in Buenos Aires and that trip was accompanied by various incidents. Also, when staying in South America, the danger of kidnapping was lurking.


Under the leadership of national coach Rinus Michels, the Dutch team started the World Cup on June 15, 1974. In the opening match against Uruguay, two goals by Johnny Rep determined the final score, and because the Netherlands was the only country to impress during the first round of play, it was immediately dubbed the future world champion by the press. Against Sweden, the next opponent in the group stage, the Dutch team was held to a 0-0 draw. In the last group game, however, the Dutch showed what they were capable of against Bulgaria. Cruijff was given a free role in the attack by Michels. Roaming all over the field, he created space and put teammates in position. The Netherlands played the kind of total soccer for which it would be known for years to come and defeated the Bulgarians 4-1. After two wins and a draw, the Dutch qualified for the final pool, where Argentina was the next opponent. Against the South Americans, the Dutch played their best match so far. The system of Michels and Cruijff was implemented as it was intended. Cruijff scored his first two World Cup goals. The Netherlands won 4-0 and could prepare for the next game against East Germany. This game was not as high profile as the one against Argentina, but was won relatively easily 2-0. A draw during the final game against Brazil would then be enough to reach the final. However, the meeting with the reigning world champion degenerated into a legendary kicking match, which was marred by spitting at opponents, stepping on each other”s feet and flying tackles. The Dutch did not allow themselves to be swayed, and thanks to goals from Neeskens and Cruijff, the Brazilians were defeated 2-0, allowing the Netherlands to reach the World Cup finals for the first time.

Even before the final match was played, there was a riot on the Dutch side. One day before the final, the German boulevard magazine Bild-zeitung published a story about a swimming party at the Waldhotel Krautkrämer in Hiltrup, where the Dutch team was staying. The article carried the headline “Cruyff, Sekt und nackte Mädchen” and described a swimming party that allegedly took place after the victory over East Germany, during which Dutch players would have been in the company of naked German women. What exactly happened that night remained a mystery, but Cruijff in particular got into big trouble with his wife Danny, who immediately hung up the phone. According to some, this would have affected Cruijff”s play during the final, as he did not reach his usual level in that match.

On July 7, 1974, the Netherlands kicked off for the final against West Germany. Before the Germans had even touched the ball, the Dutch took the lead through a utilized penalty kick by Neeskens. The penalty kick was given after a foul by Uli Hoeneß on Cruijff, who would not play a major role in this match anymore. After West Germany took the lead into the break, referee Taylor showed Cruijff a yellow card on his way to the dressing room for persistent protesting. In the second half, the Netherlands tried to return the favor, but the combination game and the supremacy with which the team had won previous matches were missing in the final. The game ended 1-2 and West Germany became world champions. Cruijff”s performance at the tournament did result in him being voted the best player of the World Cup.


Two years later, the Netherlands qualified for the European Championship in 1976. The goal was to make up for the lost World Cup two years ago by reaching the final. In the semi-final against Czechoslovakia, however, the Netherlands failed to score and goals from the opponent made it a 3-1 final. One of the main characters during the game was referee Thomas, who was known for his strict interpretation of the rules of the game. Van Hanegem and Neeskens received red cards from him, as did Czechoslovakian Pollák. Cruijff received a yellow card and because he had also received one during a qualifying match, the European Championship was over for him after one match. The Netherlands then won the consolation final against Yugoslavia 3-2, finishing third after all.

On October 26, 1977, Cruijff played, as he had announced years in advance, his last match for the Dutch national team. Hardly anyone believed that it was Cruijff”s last international, but the protagonist himself proved determined. In 1981, it looked like Cruijff would make a comeback with the national team after all, after he had a long talk with national coach Rijvers. Due to different sponsorship interests, Cruijff (who had a contract with Cor du Buy Sports, who had acquired the import rights of Puma for the Benelux from Rudi Dassler) and the KNVB (who was sponsored by Adidas) could not agree on the number of stripes on the sleeves of the shirts. Cruijff wanted to play with two stripes, but the KNVB insisted on adidas” signature three stripes. Prior to the 1974 World Cup, the stripes issue was also an issue, but back then Adidas and the KNVB eventually agreed to Cruijff”s demands, making him the only Dutch player to play in a shirt with two stripes. All other internationals did have the three Adidas stripes on their jersey.


After his active career, Cruijff was technical advisor at Roda JC for a short time during the 1984-85 season. Cruijff seemed to continue his path at Feyenoord afterwards, but decided in mid 1985 to return to his childhood sweetheart Ajax, which had fired Cruijff”s previous trainer at the club, Aad de Mos. The Ajax board chose Cruijff over the 3 other candidates Tomislav Ivić, Rinus Israël and Leo van Veen. However, because Cruijff did not have the required qualifications to work as a trainer, the former player joined Ajax as technical director on June 6, 1985. This position gave him responsibility for all technical matters within the Amsterdam club, from youth training to the first team. Halfway through the season Cruijff received official dispensation from the KNVB to train the first team in his role as technical director. The appointment came in for criticism from various bodies within soccer. Although the club had three trainers with the a-diploma in their pocket with Spitz Kohn, Cor van der Hart and Tonny Bruins Slot, Cruijff did not possess any diploma. Initially, there was talk of Kohn or Van der Hart officially serving as head coach. Later Cruijff reported that there was no head coach, but that the responsibility for the first team lay with the complete foursome, much to the annoyance of the VVON, the Dutch interest group of trainers in professional soccer. At the end of July, the KNVB decided to investigate the matter. In January 1986, the KNVB decided to grant Cruijff dispensation to practice the profession of head coach. Willem van Hanegem, who was working at Feyenoord, was denied such a request.

With the trainership, Cruijff brought about new developments within the soccer world. Under his supervision, total soccer was further developed and he also came up with new insights. For example, he hired an opera singer to teach his players to breathe differently. He also had youth footballers switch positions, so that attackers learned how defenders thought. In addition, Cruijff believed that players should receive low base salaries and high performance bonuses. At Ajax, Cruijff had access to a talented group, with players such as Menzo, Silooy, Koeman, Vanenburg, Rijkaard, Van ”t Schip, Van Basten, Bosman and De Wit. Successes as a trainer soon followed. In his first season, Cruijff won the Amsterdam-710 Tournament (August 1985, 2-0 against Verona from Italy and 4-1 against Atletico Mineiro from Brazil) and the KNVB Cup with Ajax. The national title went to PSV, despite a positive Amsterdam goal difference of 85 (120 goals for and 35 against) and very offensive and spectacular play with a 3-4-3 system in the first half of the competition and even a 3-3-4 system in the second half. Ajax finished second. During the second season Ajax again only managed to cash in on their performance in the KNVB Cup, the national title again went to Eindhoven, again Ajax finished second in the premier league. The European success was a plaster on the wound, however, because after fourteen years another international prize was won in the form of the European Cup II. On June 1, 1987, two weeks after winning the European Cup II, the KNVB awarded Cruijff the license Coach Professional Football on the basis of “his merits for Dutch soccer in general and Ajax in particular.” This officially empowered the lord of choice to work as a trainer.

In the first half of the 1987-1988 season, the team ran roughshod. Many of the players that Cruijff had put in place left Ajax. Ronald Koeman and Gerald Vanenburg left for PSV in the summer of 1986, and Rijkaard”s transfer to PSV was narrowly averted. In the summer of 1987, four-time Eredivisie top scorer Van Basten and veteran Silooy left for foreign clubs, while after a conflict with Cruijff, Rijkaard also left a few months later. Cruijff also came into conflict with routiners Jan Sørensen and Peter Boeve. The purchases made by Cruijff, Jan Wouters, Danny Blind, Arnold Scholten and the Scot Alistair Dick in 1986, Henny Meijer, the Irishman Frank Stapleton, the Finn Petri Tiainen, the Dane Jan Sørensen and the Swede Peter Larsson in 1987, did not all prove to be immediate reinforcements for the first team. In the contract negotiations for a new two-year contract, Cruijff demanded that he be allowed to make purchases and sales without consulting the board. However, the board was dissatisfied with the game shown and even distanced themselves from Cruijff”s training method with the words “It is time that a team with such player material learns to play more than one system.” Also, since De Mos” dismissal in 1985, the club had not won a national title, Ajax had finished second twice, and were also in second place this third season, 1987-1988. The board also wanted to give Cruijff no carte blanche in the technical policy, given the results and purchases. In January 1988, the bomb burst and Cruijff unexpectedly submitted his resignation.

On 1 April 1988, the Utrechts Nieuwsblad published an article about an imminent takeover of FC Utrecht. A consortium consisting of, among others, the English newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell, Philips, KLM and Cruijff was said to have plans to take over FC Utrecht. The club”s supporters were strongly opposed to this takeover, especially because of the interference of the archetypal Ajacist Cruijff. In the end the takeover was cancelled.

FC Barcelona

In the months after his departure, it seemed for a while that Cruijff would leave for sc Heerenveen. But after an offer from FC Barcelona, the former player decided to return to his former employer. As in the Netherlands, there were also objections to his appointment as coach in Spain. Cruijff did have the necessary diplomas, but he lacked the required three years of experience as a trainer. Despite this lack, Cruijff”s appointment was approved. In doing so, he succeeded interim coach Charly Rexach, who had been a close friend of Cruijff”s during their time together at Barcelona in the 1970s. Rexach returned to his old position as assistant coach and went on to support Cruijff in building a new team. Indeed, much of the original players” group revolted when they demanded the departure of the club”s management on April 28, 1988, during a press conference they had called themselves because of a financial dispute. Club president Núñez was unforgiving and dismissed all but nine players.

With the departure of so many players, Núñez and Cruijff had all the freedom they needed to lay the foundations together for a team that met their own needs. For the creation of the new FC Barcelona, they used a double strategy. First of all, the best soccer players had to be contracted from home and abroad. Afterwards, the rest of the team would be supplemented with talents from the cantera (youth academy). The first part of the strategy was made concrete with Spanish purchases such as José Bakero, Txiki Begiristain and Julio Salinas. Foreign reinforcements appeared after the first season when Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup were signed in 1989 and Christo Stoichkov in 1990. For the flow of talent, Cruijff had already laid a foundation ten years earlier when, just before his departure as a player, he gave Núñez an important piece of advice: start a youth academy. With the creation of La Masía, Núñez heeded his call, allowing Cruijff to call on promising youth players like Pep Guardiola, Guillermo Amor, Albert Ferrer and Sergi Barjuán over time.

The team that Cruijff formed had to adopt a style of play that was derived from total soccer. Starting points were technique and ball possession: Barcelona had to have the ball as much as possible, dominate and not adapt to the opponent. In Cruijff”s eyes, scoring is not the most important thing, it is only a part of the game. In his philosophy, the key to achieving results is to play attacking soccer. Cruijff”s vision was not only communicated to the first team but also to the entire youth academy. This made it easier for talented youngsters to make the transition to the first team.

After a few seasons, the style of play began to pay off and a boom period of many years began. The successful team was nicknamed the Dream Team, which was derived from the American basketball team of the same name that won Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992. Under Cruijff”s leadership, the Dream Team broke Real Madrid”s long-standing dominance and won four consecutive national titles (1991-1994), three of them on the last match day of the competition. At the European level, Barcelona captured the 1989 European Cup II and won the 1992 European Cup I. During both finals, the Catalans were too strong for Sampdoria. Especially the win of the European Cup I is a memorable moment, as it is the first time in history that Barcelona captured the most important European cup. Other trophies that Barcelona won under Cruijff”s reign include the Copa del Rey in 1990, the European Supercup in 1992 and three Supercopas in 1991, 1992 and 1994. By winning these eleven prizes, Cruijff became by far the most successful coach in the club”s history. The record remained for fifteen years, but was broken on August 26, 2011, when Guardiola, by winning the European Supercup with Barcelona, took his twelfth title and passed the number of his teacher. This took him only three seasons.

On May 18, 1994, the turning point in the Dream Team”s success series took place. On that night, the pre-declared FC Barcelona lost the Champions League final to AC Milan 4-0. In the previous sixteen editions, only once had a team lost the final by more than one goal difference. After the beating, two seasons without a title followed for Barcelona. This is mainly due to the decline in quality of the player group by the departure of successively Laudrup, Romário, Koeman and Stoichkov. Cheaper Eastern European replacements like Hagi, Kodro, Kornejev and Prosinečki failed under Cruijff”s reign. In hindsight, Rexach says, it was often wrongly thought that the system determined the result, while the players were the ones who had to win matches. Drafting his son Jordi and bringing in son-in-law Angoy also got Cruijff into trouble after accusations of nepotism. Jordi was still able to keep up with the level, but Angoy was clearly short of Barcelona”s needs, according to Spanish media. Núñez increased the pressure by holding Cruijff personally responsible for the disappointing results and started criticizing his selection policy. On May 18, 1996, the day before the second-to-last match against Celta de Vigo, the bomb burst. Indeed, the Saturday newspaper reported that morning that Núñez and vice president Gaspart had contracted Bobby Robson as their new coach. When Cruijff sensed that Barcelona had secretly forced a break, he went out of his mind. He said there was no way to explain it, after which the conversation with Núñez and Gaspart degenerated into a painful argument. The rift marked the departure of Cruijff, who was fired after 2,936 working days. With his eight consecutive years of service, he became the longest-serving coach in club history. After his dismissal, Cruijff remained active in soccer as an advisor, ambassador and analyst. A return as trainer or national team coach was often discussed but never materialized.


Cruijff had lived in Barcelona since 1988 and had a soft spot for Catalonia. In 2006, he received the Saint George”s Cross, one of the highest honors, from the Catalan government in recognition of his achievements for the region. After leaving Barcelona, Cruijff never accepted any offers from soccer associations or clubs until he was polled by the Catalan Football Federation in September 2009 for the national coaching position of Catalonia. He decided to comply with the request. On November 2, his appointment was announced. In addition to his role as national coach of the autonomous region, he also undertook other work for the soccer federation to further develop Catalan soccer. The Catalan national team plays only a few matches a year and is not affiliated with FIFA or UEFA, so it cannot qualify for a final tournament.

From Spain, an attempt was made to arrange a practice international with the Dutch national team, but due to the full schedule, the KNVB rejected the request. Cruijff then made his debut as national coach on December 22, 2009 against Argentina and booked a 4-2 victory in the Camp Nou stadium. During Cruijff”s second appearance as national coach, more than a year later against Honduras, Catalonia again recorded a big win (4-0). The third game under Cruijff”s leadership, on December 30, 2011 against Tunisia, ended in a goalless draw. On 7 November 2012, Cruijff announced in an official statement that he would be on the bench for the last time as national coach during the international game on 2 January 2013. During the game, the team played a 1-1 draw against Nigeria. As a result, Catalonia maintained its unbeaten status under Cruijff”s reign.


This list has been updated up to and including the Catalonia – Nigeria match (1-1) on January 2, 2013.

In a career spanning more than thirty years, Cruijff won many awards as a player and as a trainer. He is one of only seven footballers to have won The Cup with the Big Ears as both player and trainer, alongside Muñoz, Trapattoni, Ancelotti, Rijkaard, Guardiola and Zidane. Moreover, his name regularly appears in lists of the best footballers ever, including those of FIFA, UEFA, IFFHS, AFS and magazines such as France Football and World Soccer. He was also included in several 20th century world leagues, appearing worldwide from the early 1980s.

For his outstanding merits in sport and society, Cruijff received royal honors twice. After the lost World Cup final, Cruijff, like Michels and Fadrhonc, was appointed Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau, for which he received the decorations from Prime Minister Den Uyl. Twenty-eight years later, on 10 April 2002, Cruijff was promoted to Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau. He also received high recognition from various organizations such as the KNVB, UEFA, FIFA, Ajax and the Ministry of Welfare, Public Health and Culture. In 2004 Cruijff was nominated for the title of The Greatest Dutchman. In doing so, he finished in sixth place as the only living Dutchman within the top ten. Posthumously, the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports awarded Cruijff the Gold Medal in the Royal Order for merit in sport.





Jan van Beveren and Willy van der Kuijlen

Jan van Beveren was missing from the 1974 World Cup, having been the first choice in the Dutch team for almost seven consecutive years. There are, however, different stories about the reason for his absence. What is certain is that Van Beveren was struggling with persistent groin problems prior to the World Cup. The goalie seemed to have recovered just in time to travel to West Germany. During the training for the preparation games against Argentina and HSV it went wrong anyway. Van Beveren was forced to train for two days but appeared to need more time for his recovery. Together with his club coach Kees Rijvers, he therefore informed Rinus Michels that he was unable to participate in the World Cup.

However, the book Klem! written by Ruud Doevendans about Jan van Beveren gives a different reading of the story. The biography reveals that a high-profile financial conflict with Cruijff and Coster was at the root of Van Beveren”s absence. In the summer of 1974, the KNVB allocated a sum of 150,000 guilders to buy out the personal contracts of four players (Cruijff, Neeskens, Van Hanegem and Keizer). However, this money came from a common pot, from which all players had to be paid. On balance, therefore, the remaining players were paid less money than the four celebrities. When Van Beveren noticed this and informed the players about it, the problems started, according to him: “Something must have come up: we have to get rid of that guy. He”s too difficult, too dangerous for us. Also the fact that Van Beveren did not want to be guided by Inter Football, Coster”s company, was described by a KNVB official as “not smart”. Michels wanted to avoid problems with Cruijff and therefore put Van Beveren under pressure. Just before the World Cup, Michels demanded that the goalkeeper play in the friendly match against HSV. Van Beveren was not yet fully fit because he had just recovered from a groin injury, but said that he would be ready to play in a few days. Michels answered: ”Then I have a bad message for you”, and he sent Van Beveren home. Orange historian Matty Verkamman also confirms this reading of the story.

In September 1975, Van Beveren returned to the Dutch national team, when he and five other PSV players were selected for an away match against Poland. Cruijff and Neeskens were allowed to travel to Eastern Europe a day later. When they arrived, however, they were the only players to bring their wives. Everyone greeted them except the six PSV players. Van der Kuijlen then made a remark along the lines of: so, the kings of Spain have arrived. To Cruijff”s dismay, Van der Kuijlen”s words made the newspaper. He called Van Beveren to account for this, because in his opinion he was the instigator. Cruijff then demanded: you out or we out. The decision was not taken immediately, but after the match against Poland was lost 4-1, Cruijff decided to call national coach George Knobel with the message that Van Beveren and Van der Kuijlen had to leave the team and Jongbloed and Van Hanegem had to enter. If not, according to Cruijff, all Ajax players would quit. As a result, a meeting was organized in Zeist, where Cruijff once again let Knobel decide whether to kick Van Beveren and Van der Kuijlen out or to quit himself. Knobel chose Cruijff”s side, after which the Dutch national team won 3-0 at home against Poland.

Van Beveren then returned to the national team one more time, when the Dutch team had to play against Iceland in 1977. Just before the subsequent World Cup qualifier against Belgium, national coach Zwartkruis told Van Beveren that Jongbloed would play in his place. Zwartkruis gave the reason that he was being manipulated: Cruijff would not participate when the PSV goalkeeper was between the posts. Van Beveren then knew enough and said goodbye to the Dutch national team for good. Van der Kuijlen, who was only indirectly involved in the actual conflict, also said goodbye to the Dutch national team twice because he did not get along well with Cruijff and the other Ajax players. The Ajax players arranged among themselves that the striker was not involved in the game, by passing the ball to each other each time. Van der Kuijlen did not feel welcome and this led to the Eredivisie”s all-time top scorer deciding to end his international career prematurely in 1977, as did Van Beveren.

Cruijff himself looked back on these struggles when Van Beveren died in 2011:

The last time I met him was during the Contest of the Century in 1999. Not only was it nice to see Jan again, we immediately had good contact. I did not notice any old sorrow at the time. I therefore regard the conflict we once had as players as a snapshot in time. In the same order as I had with Tscheu La Ling and Marco van Basten. Sometimes things happen at certain moments, but that”s it. That becomes clear when you run into each other again later. Then you go straight to the order of the day.

Louis van Gaal

Johan Cruijff and Louis van Gaal lived at odds with each other from the late 1980s, early 1990s. In 2009, Van Gaal explained in his autobiography why things collided between him and Cruijff and things never got back on track after that:

I went to his house once, twice. Had one very good conversation about life, but that was mostly with Danny. Johan didn”t say much. On December 26, 1989, I celebrated Christmas, with the Koemans as well, at the Cruijff family home. Then the phone rang. It was for me. The family: “Riet has died. My sister. I rushed home. Later I heard that Johan resented that I never thanked him.

Cruijff then gave his reading of the story:

I don”t remember the incident, but Van Gaal really has Alzheimer”s when he writes down something like that. As far as I”m concerned there is no problem, so nothing needs to be solved either. When you hear something like that, you wonder if someone has a loose wire or a cable. Normally I don”t react to something like that, but this time the standards that we have in our family are being violated. If I were angry, I would not be a good person.

Cruijff confirmed in his column in De Telegraaf that Van Gaal was at his home during Christmas 1989, but that he left suddenly because of the death of his sister. Shortly after, they met again at the Sports Gala: “Van Gaal was very friendly. So it is not true that I, or anyone in our family, would be angry because he left without thanking”.

However, there is another explanation for the difficult relationship between Cruijff and Van Gaal. It has its origins in the summer of 1992, when both trainers had achieved European success with their club. Cruijff had won the first European Cup I in club history with Barcelona, and Van Gaal ended his first year as head coach at Ajax by winning the UEFA Cup. Both teams played attractive soccer and were considered the epitome of modern soccer. In the media, however, Cruijff supporters reacted with reservation to Ajax”s unexpected success. After all, it was the first international prize that Ajax had won without Cruijff playing a significant role. Van Gaal was of the opinion that the press did not grant him the success.

According to Cruijff himself, the feud began only a few years later:

When Van Gaal became coach of Barcelona in 1997, he immediately came out with some severe criticism of the youth training there. The training that I set up together with Tonny Bruins Slot. And not only that; Van Gaal immediately sent away a lot of youth players that we trained. That was unacceptable, you don”t do that. Van Gaal would do things differently at Barcelona. And then he brings busloads of Dutch players and trainers to the club where the Catalan identity is so important. Then you don”t understand anything at all.


In his role as a soccer analyst, Cruijff worked for the NOS television program Studio Sport for many years. He made his debut on 11 September 1996 during the Champions League match Juventus – Manchester United. After that, he provided analysis for twelve European matches every year and was featured during final tournaments such as the European Championship or World Cup. In August 2009 Cruijff resigned his duties as an analyst because he felt that NOS approached soccer from too critical a perspective.

Cruijff was a columnist for the daily De Telegraaf for decades, although chief sports officer Jaap de Groot was his ghostwriter here. Between February 2005 and December 2007, Cruijff was also a columnist for the soccer monthly Nummer 14, where Bert Nederlof acted as ghostwriter.

Failed return to Ajax

In 2008 Cruijff returned to Ajax. The honorary member suddenly joined the members” meeting on 20 February after an absence of many years, where the results of the Coronel Committee report were discussed. During the meeting, an important recommendation to change the management model of the Amsterdam club was adopted. The board stepped down and Cruijff was subsequently asked to shape Ajax”s soccer policy. Cruijff got involved in choosing the best organizational form, but after two weeks he resigned. His ideas did not match those of new head coach Marco van Basten. The reforms went too far for him because Cruijff wanted to overhaul the entire youth academy and fire almost everyone in order to train new talents.

Honorary Chairman FC Barcelona

Because of his significance for FC Barcelona, Cruijff was appointed honorary president of the club on March 26, 2010. According to the Barcelona board, Cruijff met all the requirements and the decision to award him the honorary title was unanimous. However, three months later he unexpectedly surrendered the title with insignia after new club president Rosell found that the decision to appoint him as honorary president was made in a non-statutory manner.

”Velvet revolution” Ajax

At the start of the 201011 season, it quickly became apparent that Ajax could not maintain the form of the previous season. After a resounding defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League, Cruijff began to voice strong criticism of the Amsterdam team”s play and management from 20 September onwards in his columns in De Telegraaf. With the poor results, the criticism also grew among the supporters, Cruijff received more and more support from them. In his column of November 15, he called for action among the Ajacists. The goal was to have the eight vacancies in the members” council filled by former footballers during the general meeting of 14 December. To Cruijff”s great displeasure, the council only consisted of people who had no soccer background. Former Ajax players heeded the call en masse. Under the leadership of Keje Molenaar, Barry Hulshoff, Aron Winter, Dick Schoenaker, Peter Boeve, Edo Ophof, Co Meijer, Dirk de Groot and Molenaar himself put themselves forward as candidates. Cruijff”s action was quickly labeled the Velvet Revolution in the media. After the general members meeting of December 14, it was announced that seven of the eight former footballers who made themselves available were elected to the new members” council.

Cruijff himself also officially returned to Ajax, when the club announced on 10 February 2011 that he was being added to the technical affairs sounding board group. From that role, Cruijff, as chairman of the advisory body, presented a report in March with which he wanted to bring Ajax back to the top. According to Cruijff, the key to change lay in tackling the youth academy. In his eyes, Ajax had to be led again by former top footballers such as Wim Jonk and Dennis Bergkamp. To also take responsibility for his plans, Cruijff put himself forward as a candidate for the Supervisory Board. After approval from the members” council, he took office on June 6. However, at the end of 2011 Cruijff came into conflict with his fellow supervisory directors. They blocked the appointment of Tscheu La Ling as Ajax”s new general manager. After a long stalemate and after Marco van Basten eventually also relinquished the position, the remaining four commissioners appointed Louis van Gaal as general manager without Cruijff”s knowledge. Cruijff appeared to disagree with this appointment and therefore instituted summary proceedings against Ajax NV and his four fellow supervisory directors. In December 2011, the court initially ruled against Cruijff by approving the appointment of Van Gaal, but nevertheless suspended the appointment to gauge the confidence of Ajax shareholders in the supervisory board. Ajax NV and the four supervisory directors appealed against this judgment, but these proceedings were lost at the court of appeal in February 2012. Cruijff won his case and as a result, the entire Supervisory Board decided to resign. Ten Have and Römer were the first to resign on 26 March 2012, and on 13 April 2012 the remaining Supervisory Board members Davids, Olfers and Cruijff also resigned. Cruijff remained involved with Ajax in an advisory capacity. At the end of 2015 it still came to a break and Cruijff withdrew from Ajax as an advisor. The reason he gave was that his advice was not properly followed.

Advisor Chivas Guadalajara

On 23 February 2012, Mexican soccer club Chivas Guadalajara announced that it had recruited Cruijff as an external advisor for a two-year period. After a long series of losses, club owner Jorge Vergara initially wanted Cruijff to join him as a trainer to turn the tide, but that was not an option for Cruijff. On his advice, former Ajax player John van ”t Schip was hired as the new coach on 21 April 2012, after Cruijff had previously pushed for the departure of Mexican Ignacio Ambriz, the then current coach. However, due to disappointing results Van ”t Schip soon came under pressure. Cruijff therefore decided to break with tradition at the club and stop playing only with players from his own country, which until then Chivas had done as the only team in the Mexican league. All the changes that Cruijff had instigated did not have enough effect, however, and on 2 December 2012 Cruijff was fired by the club for ”not achieving the goals set”. Van ”t Schip also had to leave the club a month later.

After his active career, Cruijff wanted to get more involved in social initiatives and decided to establish a number of socially involved institutions.

Cruijff has also become famous in the Netherlands for his statements, usually one-liners that are somewhere between a brilliant insight and an open door. One speaks of Cruijffian language. Cruijff often uses ”what” where he should use the demonstrative pronouns ”that which”. Some of Cruijff”s quotes are:

Because of Cruijff”s specific voice, there are quite a few people who imitate him. Below is a selection:


  1. Johan Cruijff
  2. Johan Cruyff
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