By Andrew Warshaw
March 24 – Genius is an over-used word in football – but few have laid claim to that description with more justification than Johan Cruyff. The football world was stunned into collective grief today with the announcement that the great Dutch icon had died of lung cancer aged 68.
Three times world player of the year, the mercurial Cruyff also won three consecutive European Cups with Ajax before moving to Barcelona for a then world record fee in 1973 where, just like at home, he became an immediate star.
He went on to manage the Catalan giants, becoming one of the most innovative coaches of his or any other era as he guided them to their first European Cup triumph in 1992 as well as four La Liga titles.
But it was as a creative playmaker with his national team and the embodiment of Total Football that Cryuff will perhaps be best remembered. He famously skippered Holland to the World Cup final in 1974 and it was during that tournament that the famous ‘Cruyff turn’ was first seen against Sweden and soon copied and passed into coaching manuals the world over. Cryuff would look to pass or cross the ball but instead would drag it behind his planted foot, turn through 180 degrees and accelerate away from the defender.
Holland never lost a match in which Cryuff scored. In all he found the net 33 times in 48 games.
Invariably opinionated on most aspects of football but hugely respected worldwide as one of the most knowledgeable technicians and tacticians ever to grace the game, Cruyff, who was a heavy smoker until undergoing a double heart bypass in 1991, made his illness public in October last year.
In February, he said he felt he was “2-0 up” against lung cancer and he was “sure I will end up winning”. Which made today’s announcement all the more poignant.
“On March 24 2016 Johan Cruyff (68) died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard fought battle with cancer,” said a brief statement on the World of Johan Cruyff website. “It’s with great sadness that we ask you to respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”
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