By Isaac Moreno
Cruyff laid the foundations for what you see now. He was responsible for the major turnaround of the club. – Ronald Koeman
Since this month we play against Levante we will introduce a well known figure of both clubs and 3 time winner of the Ballon d’Or (1971, 1973, 1974): Johan Cruyff. Famous 3 times over: as a player, as a coach and as a soccer guru. He is the father of Barcelona’s modern soccer success and nothing explains his influence in our club better than the cover of France Football Magazine with three Barcelona shirts: the Father being Cruyff, the Son being Guardiola and the Holy Spirit being Messi.
Johan Cruyff joined Ajax of Amsterdam youth teams when he was 10 years old and he was there in the beginning of the 70s when a Dutch coach, Rinus Mitchels, conceived of total football: offensive playing, preassure everywhere in the field, changes of position, and fast passing. After winning 3 consecutive European Cups (the old Champions League) he left Amsterdam and landed in Barcelona the year 1973 to play for a team that had won its last league in 1960. Back then culés thought of themselves as part of an oppressed institution that didn’t win due to external interests, the number one of those being the fascist regime that ruled Spain and controlled all the referees, so when Barcelona won the league that season Cruyff was pleased to find himself turned into a hero: “I was used to being congratulated, but here people said thank you“. That season also left a game for history: 0-5 in Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. After that game -according to writer Jimmy Burns- a New York Times journalist wrote that Cruyff had done more for the spirit of the Catalan people in 90 minutes than many politicians had done with years of struggle. Cruyff also blended with Catalan society and chose a Catalan name, Jordi, for his son. He probably blended too much and started talking more than doing (“You are only a better player than the rest when you take care of your body”, said the man who smoked at the half time in the changing room) and complaining more than playing (“The Barcelona coach always did the opposite of what I told him to do”), so he did not win anything else besides a Copa del Rey and left in 1978. He then moved to US where he played for the Washington Diplomats in DC. Then he played 10 games for Levante and finished his careeer in Netherlands.
Cruyff became a coach with the mission of improving total football and he brought his tactical revolution to Barcelona in 1988. He also had a request that would be key in the future of Barcelona’s soccer success: the tactical revolution and the training methods had to be applied to the young teams as well. What was that revolution? Every Barcelona fan has a different aphorism of the master that summarizes it: “If you have the ball, the other team doesn’t have it”; “The most important thing is the rhythm of the ball”; “I rather win 5-4 than 1-0”; “The ball is an essential part of the game”; “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”; “To win a game you have to score one more goal than your opponent”. Like the best oracles some of them seem very obvious but we must understand that before him most of the training was physical exercise and the ball was used often as a balloon that had to be played with the head. He also transformed a position known as the 4 in something like a quarterback whose main job was to distribute the ball and has been executed at its best by Pep Guardiola and Xavi. Cruyff changed not only the way FC Barcelona played, also the way Catalan people played. If you’re in an amateur game and you see a player scanning around like a giraffe instead of running, he/she must be Catalan.
With Cruyff, Barcelona won our first European Cup in 1992 and became known worldwide as The Dream Team. His last words to the players in the changing room of The Wembley Stadium before the final against Sampdoria was “go out there and enjoy”. But all stories have an end and he parted on bad terms with the president when, it is said, he asked him to spend money on two then unknown young french players: Zidane and Thierry Henry (“money must be on the pitch, not in the bank”, he told him). At least a different president years later accepted his advice of hiring Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola as coaches.
These days he plays golf and sometimes he appears on Dutch TV analyzing games where he says things like “British football has improve since they have foreign players” or ” Italy can’t win; you can lose against Italy” or “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, but he’s still a one-eyed man.” Who knows why he said that, but as he confessed once: “When I get home after doing analysis for TV, my wife asks: What did you say? I respond: No clue whatsoever.”