Johan Cruyff's legacy spans two continents

Americans were just awakening to soccer in the early 1970s.

The player they all knew was Pele, by then already retired from international soccer and in the twilight of his career.

The player they all watched and copied was Johan Cruyff, who died on Thursday at the age of 68. Watching Cruyff was not easy. He led Ajax to three straight European Cup titles, but the European Cup wasn't like the Champions League today when every game is televised.

Tony Quinn Photo

Most Americans, lucky enough and resourceful enough, first saw Cruyff in 1974 when he led the Netherlands to second place at the World Cup, which aired on closed-circuit at arenas in major U.S. cities. After scoring off the kickoff, the Dutch lost to host Germany in the final, but there was no doubt who was the better team.

The Dutch have gone on to lose in the World Cup final twice more, in 1978 without Cruyff, who refused to travel to Argentine, and in 2010, but neither team compared to the 1974 team Cruyff captained.

The Dutch masters introduced total football -- Clockwork Orange they called it -- and their star introduced the Cruyff turn. The Dutch influence on American soccer lives on to this day, and Cruyff's moves helped spawn an entire industry as Coerver Coaching teaches them as schools in dozens of states.

Cruyff played in the NASL for the Los Angeles Aztecs in 1979 and the Washington Diplomats -- under different owners -- in 1980 and 1981. Few remember but he also toured with the Cosmos after the 1978 season.

Perhaps Cruyff's greatest influence was not at Ajax or in North America, but at Spanish club Barcelona, where he played and coached.

It took one game -- one Barcelona-Real Madrid match -- for Cruyff to become a legend in Catalonia. He knew enough of the rivalry that he and wife Danny agreed to move up the birth of their son, Jordi, a week and she had cesarean section so he could play in the Clasico, which Barca won, 5-0, in Madrid.

At Barcelona, his influence was greatest as a coach. He led Barca to its first European Cup title in 1992 when the "Dream Team" with Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup and Pep Guardiola beat Sampdoria, 1-0, on Koeman's golden goal.

Cruyff instilled a philosophy of attacking soccer that became Barca's trademark, and Guardiola carried on with Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

As Graham Hunter wrote on ESPN FC:

"If the 175,000 FC Barcelona members, or socios, queued up in an orderly line, night after night, to massage his tired feet, cook his dinner and tuck him into bed; if they carried his golf clubs around Montanya's hilly 18 holes; if they devoted 50 percent of their annual salary to him, it still wouldn't be anywhere near enough to repay the debt, which those who love this club owe to Johan Cruyff."

1 comment about "Johan Cruyff's legacy spans two continents".
  1. Peter Helenius, March 24, 2016 at 9:16 p.m.

    "the Dutch influence on American soccer lives on to this day, and Cruyff's moves helped spawn an entire industry as Coever Coaching teaches them as schools in dozens of states."
    I went to the Netherlands and spent three weeks at Wiel Coerver's camp. He was there coaching. A few years ago I took my son to a "Coerver Camp" in upstate N.Y. What I experienced in The Netherlands was enlightening. What was presented in N.Y.S was a joke.

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