Legends of the game part 4: Johan Cruyff part 1

 

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Johan Cruyff - The Total Footballer
Image from: varzesh11.com

Article part 1 of 10

Johan Cruyff - 'El Flaco (Skinny One), Nummer 14 (Number 14), The Total Footballer, Jopie (while a child), The Prophet of Betondorp, The Saviour'


"Without Cruyff, Holland wouldn't have had a football tradition." - Simon Kuiper


Johan Cruyff was born just five minutes away from Ajax's stadium in Amsterdam, on 25th April 1947, the second son of Hermanus Cornelius Cruijff and Petronella Bernardo Draaijer. He would spend all his spare time playing football with older brother Henry and his schoolmates, with his father's encouragement, as Hermanus loved football. Spotted by a youth coach from Ajax, Jany van der Veen, he was offered a place in the youth team and joined on his 10th birthday, to his father's delight.

Just a couple of years later tragedy struck for young Johan as Hermanus died from a heart attack in 1959, aged just 45. Johan later said he developed a belief that he would also go young: "my father died when I was just 12 and he was 45, from that day the feeling crept over me that I would die at the same age and, when I had serious heart problems when I reached 45, I thought: 'This is it'. Only medical science which was not available to my father kept me alive.

Despite the feeling, or maybe partly because of it, young Johan was driven in his pursuit of football as a future career, seeing it as a tribute to his father and using that to inspire him. His mother had needed to take a job to make ends meet and began working as a cleaner at Ajax, where she later met her second husband, a field hand (groundsman in England) called Henk Engel. By then young Johan had already left school, aged just 13, to focus on his football, despite still being small and frail.

His size and weakness is something that he never forgot and became an important part of his later thinking when he moved into management. For now though he was just a skinny kid who also had a talent for baseball, playing as either a pitcher or a catcher. Like school he put it aside while still a child when, at 15 years old, he left Ajax's baseball section to concentrate on his burgeoning soccer talent which was beginning to draw notice within the club.

English coach Vic Buckingham was in charge at Ajax and he said of Cruyff: "He was so mature. He was such a skinny little kid but he had such immense stamina. He could run all over the field and he could do everything: set movements up, fly down the wing, run into the penalty area, head the ball in. Left foot, right foot, anything - and such speed." So impressed was Buckingham that he gave Cruyff his debut on 15th November 1964, in the Eredivisie versus GVAV. The 17 year old Johan scored Ajax's only goal in a 3-1 defeat.

The stage was now set for a great talent to emerge as Ajax appointed Rinus Michels to be their new head coach. Michels designed an exercise programme to develop Cruyff's frail physique and to enable the youngster to deal with the rigours of pro football, as he looked to build his new team around Cruyff's talents. Michels would produce something different, based on a style called 'Carousel' which had been around since the 50s, at least, under Michels and with Cruyff leading on the pitch, it became 'Total Football' and began a revolution in the sport.

Written by Ed001