By definition he was named the conductor of the total game, considered the most elegant footballer seen on football fields and according to Fifa statistics the strongest of all time behind Pele.
Johan Cruijff was born in Amsterdam on April 25, 1947, from a poor family, which due to the death of his father when he was 12, forced him to abandon his studies and devote himself completely to football to support his mother and his brother, also a footballer.
From the beginning in the Ajax youth sector where he entered at the age of ten, he immediately stood out for his extraordinary technical qualities. In the first official championship played in the youth sector he scored 74 goals and at the age of fourteen, he won his first trophy. After two years he signed his first contract with the Lancieri team and made his debut at the age of 17 in the first team in the Groningen-Ajax match on November 15, 1964. The following week he scored his first goal in the Ajax-PSV finished 5-0 for the hosts.
From that moment began the career of the strongest Dutch footballer of all time, who under the guidance of Rinus Michels gave rise to a new era of the way of playing that was defined as total football. Starting from the 1965/66 season, the Amsterdam team won three consecutive championships and Cruijff, despite not being a pure striker, managed to score 33 goals in 30 games in the 1966/67 season. In 1969 Ajax also reached the final of the European Cup where they were defeated by Milan 4-1, but even if his team was defeated, the young Cruijff impressed everyone with his speed, his way of being on the pitch and his great personality of him.
Starting from the 1970 season he began to wear the number 14 shirt which was the one that distinguished him throughout his career. There are several versions that were given of why he began to wear the shirt with number 14, the one always given by Cruijff is that in that season the club decided to give personalized numbers to be used for the whole season, since at that moment he was injured , when he returned all the numbers had already been given and there was still 14 which represented that of the substitutes and at that moment he took that number which became his lucky charm.
In 1971 Ajax won their first European Cup by beating Panathinaokos 2-0 in the final and Cruijff made an assist for di Haan. At the end of the year he won his first Ballon d’Or. In the following season Ajax won the Dutch championship, the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.
In the final of the European Cup the Dutch played against Inter and Cruijff was the great protagonist where he scored the two goals that gave the title to the Lancers of Amsterdam. In the following season he was appointed captain of the team, which won the championship again, and the Champions Cup against Juventus in the final played in Belgrade with the result 1-0 thanks to the goal scored by Johnny Rep.
In 1973 disagreements arose within the team, Cruijff was not confirmed captain and from there he decided to leave Ajax and Amsterdam. From 1965 to 1973, the Dutch team won six national titles, three European Cups, an Intercontinental Cup and a European Super Cup. In those eight years the explosion of total football was born and there was, where each player could move to different parts of the field to occupy the spaces created by his companions, in which Cruijff was the greatest interpreter directing his companions like a director of orchestra.
In the 1973 season in Spain the borders were opened to foreign players and Cruijff having had disagreements with Ajax, he decided to move to Spain. Real Madrid asked the Dutch team for the player with whom they agreed for his transfer, but Cruijff refused because he already had a commitment with Barcelona president Agusti Montal and threatened to stop playing if his transfer did not take place to the Catalan team.
After some discussions between the player and his club, he finally moved to Barcelona on 13 August 1973 for the sum of 1 billion lire. At the same time Lloyd’s of London insured the footballer’s legs for two and a half billion lire.
Upon his arrival at Barcelona he reunited with his mentor Rinus Michels and wore the number 9 shirt. His debut in the Barcelona shirt came at home against Granada and he scored two goals. From that moment began the run-up of the Catalans towards the victory of La Liga which had not happened for fourteen years and materialized after 26 consecutive useful results, 10 victories in a row and with the Dutchman who scored 16 goals.
In the summer of 1974 Cruijff participated in the World Cup in Germany and his Netherlands reached the final against the Germans, which they lost but in which they saw him as the absolute protagonist so much that he managed to win the D ball for the third time at the end of the year ‘Gold.
In that season he played a total of 52 games scoring 32 goals. The following season Barcelona finished third in the table and there was the departure of Rinus Michels. From there the problems began for the Dutch champion, because the right feeling was not created with the new German coach Hennes Weisweiler which consequently led to his exemption and the new call for Michels. But problems off the pitch and the departure of president Montial meant that the Dutch footballer decided to give up football at the age of thirty-one.
Some time later it was his manager Cor Coster who convinced him to return to play in the American league, first with the N.Y Cosmos and then the Los Angeles Aztecs to finish with the Washington Diplomats. After two seasons he returned to Europe to play for Levante in the second division where he played just 10 games. Then there was the possibility of finding an agreement with Milan that didn’t materialize due to physical problems and he returned to play for another two seasons in the ranks of Ajax where he won two championships. He finished his career in the ranks of Feyenoord where he won another championship exactly the ninth of his fantastic career.
The final numbers of his career as a footballer were: 402 goals in 716 games, three Golden Balls and was elected the second best footballer of the 20th century behind Pele, in the ranking drawn up by the IFFHS. In the clubs where he played he won: Nine Dutch championships, six Dutch Cups, one Liga of Spain, one Spanish Cup, three European Cups, one European Super Cup and one Intercontinental Cup.
His debut with the senior national team was at the age of nineteen in the Netherlands-Hungary match which finished 2-2 where he scored a goal. In his second match for the national team in a friendly against Czechoslovakia he had a rather unpleasant episode in which he punched the referee. Because of this event he was banned for one year which was later reduced to six months. In 1971 he became the captain and great protagonist until the 1974 World Cup in Germany.
In the German World Cup Cruijff was one of the protagonists where he managed to bring his national team to the final against West Germany, which was won by the Germans 2-1. After the disappointment of 1974, the Dutch team went to the 1976 European Championships determined to win them, but due to some quarrels between Cruijff and several teammates they had to settle for third place. The end of the relationship with the national team took place before the 1978 World Cup in Argentina where Cruijff decided not to participate due to the lack of stimuli and the desire to end his competitive career.
After the competitive activity ended after some time, in June 1985, Cruijff was called to coach Ajax to replace Aad de Mos. On the bench of the red and whites in Amsterdam he won two Dutch Cups, the Cup Winners’ Cup in May 1987 against the Germans of Leipzig 1-0 thanks to the goal scored by Marco Van Basten. He left his position with the Lancers in January 1988.
As happened as a footballer, after having coached Ajax he came to coach Barcelona in May 1988. In the eight years at the helm of the Catalans he achieved results never obtained before by the Spanish team. He won Liga four times in a row, a King’s Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup and a Champions’ Cup, which never happened, in which he beat Vialli and Mancini’s Sampdoria in the final played at Wembley. Finally he lost in 1994 a European Cup final in Athens against Fabio Capello’s AC Milan. He ended his adventure on the Catalan bench in May 1996 in which he was sacked.
The coaching numbers are: two Dutch Cups, one Spanish Cup, four Spanish leagues, two Cup Winners’ Cups, one European Cup and one UEFA Super Cup. He is one of seven managers who have won the European Cup/Champions League after winning it as a footballer. He shares this record with: Miguel Munoz, Giovanni Trapattoni, Josep Guardiola, Frank Rijkaard, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane.
Due to repeated heart attacks suffered in the 90s, in 1996 he announced his retirement from the coaching activity which he resumed for a brief spell at the helm of the Catalan selection in 2009.
After his coaching career, he began his managerial career first in Ajax with coach Marco Van Basten on the bench and was later named honorary president of Barcelona.
In 2012 he was appointed new general manager of Guadalajara team militant in the top Mexican league. In 2015 he returned to Ajax but resigned shortly after due to differences with the club.
On 24 March 2016, at the age of 68, he died in Barcelona due to problems resulting from lung cancer.
In 2018, the Amsterdam Arena, the stadium where Ajax plays, was named after him.
In recalling the story of this great champion, who between the sixties and seventies delighted stadiums around the world with his class, we want to point out his social commitment in which in an anti-smoking campaign in 1991 he said:
“In my life I’ve only had two vices: one, football, has given me everything, the other, smoking, was about to take it away from me”.