[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lthough today’s media is dominated by the Champions League fixtures of the latest midweek round and the prospect of Europa League action tonight, some sad news has also made the mainstream press.
BBC Sport report that Johan Cruyff has been diagnosed with lung cancer, with the 68-year-old undergoing tests to ascertain the extent of the illness.
Although Pelé and Diego Maradona are widely acknowledged as the best players to ever grace a football pitch and that Lionel Messi is destined to join or even eclipse the legendary duo, there is sentiment to suggest that Cruyff should be spoken of in just as high a regard.
Although his time on the pitch is perhaps best remembered for his invention of the fabled ‘Cruyff turn’ or as a chief protagonist in the Netherlands’ Total Football ideal, the retired attacking midfielder deserves more respect and recognition than these two already impressive claims to fame.
Both as a player and a coach, the Dutchman shaped the evolution of the sport through his expansive thinking, with his influence still being felt in the modern game.
As a player at club level, Cruyff won three Ballon d’Ors during an astounding period of success at Ajax, lifting eight Eredivisie titles and three European Cups over the course of a memorable 11-year period in Amsterdam.
Holland are deemed as the best footballing nation to never win a World Cup, with the Oranje contingent at the 1974 tournament still the stuff of legend.
The team that characterised the Total Football ethos, Cruyff was the side’s talisman, leader and most gifted player, with his performances in the competition in Germany still being regaled about today.
However, despite these fantastic achievements, the Dutchman’s most telling contribution to the sport has been his exploits both on and off the pitch for Barcelona.
The Camp Nou side had not won the La Liga crown for 13 years upon his arrival in 1973, but the mercurial Dutch attacker all-but led the club to the Spanish title single-handedly in his debut campaign.
He was part of a Barcelona side that beat fieriest rivals Real Madrid 5-0 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, scored the famous ‘phantom’ goal against Atlético Madrid and was crowned as the European Player of the Year in 1974.
Cruyff returned to Catalunya as the club’s manager in 1988, again with Barcelona not at the same level as their Clásico rivals.
However, with the adoption of his ‘dream team’ – a side every bit as able and star-studded as Pep Guardiola’s recent Barcelona side – the outspoken coach led the Camp Nou side to four consecutive La Liga titles and their first-ever European Cup in 1992.
Despite achieving success on the pitch, Cruyff’s legacy lives on at the Catalan club due to the ideals that he built, which are still followed to this day.
It was the 68-year-old that vehemently campaigned for Barcelona to look to their home-grown players as a base for the team, something that has flourished due to the fabled La Masia academy.
As a result, the at-times difficult character has played his role in the likes of Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta’s development into world-beaters.
It was Cruyff who instilled the possession-focussed ideology that turned into tiki-taka and ironically a Dutchman that furthered the cause of Catalan identity at the Camp Nou club.
Guardiola openly admits his reverence and complete respect for the Dutchman’s thoughts on the game, with the now Bayern Munich coach admitting to following the Camp Nou blueprint that the Amsterdam man had created.
A living legend at both Ajax and Barcelona, Cruyff remains one of the most revolutionary thinkers on the sport and an absolute legend of the game all over the world.
Given his lasting importance and impact, not only on Ajax, Barcelona and Holland but on the global game, there is credence in stating that Cruyff has had more influence over football through his deeds than Pelé, Maradona or Messi have.
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