Hendrik Johannes Cruijff was born in the Linnaeusstraat in Amsterdam on the 25th of April 1947. The baby was to become The Netherlands best football player ever. He was proclaimed Europe’s best soccer player of the 20th century.
Johan grew up facing What was then the Ajax home ground De Meer (the lake). After his father died in 1959, the family moved to the street we all came to know so well, in Betondorp (concrete village). It wasn’t until after he married in 1968 that “Jopie” (only to his close family and friends) moved out of his paternal home.
Johan married the daughter of one of Amsterdam’s best-known businessmen, Cor Coster. On December 2 1968, he took Danny Coster as his wife. They had three children, Chantal, Susila, and Jordi, who became a football player and coach. Johan and Danny are still married today.
The Surname: Cruijff Cruyff, Cruif, Cruiff, Cruyf, Cruijf
As Cruijff was his father’s surname, it also became his, but as the “ij” is somewhat hard to pronounce in some countries, the letter y is often used instead.
The Ajax years
Johan joined Ajax in 1957, at the tender age of 10. He made his first appearance on the main team when he was 17; people immediately recognized his insight in the game and his sharp analyses. For me personally, everything changed from the day I first saw Johan on the field; I thought, my God, he’s skinny. I hope his legs don’t break, and the “hair,” Johan was the first long-haired football player in The Netherlands. Of course, that all went out the window after I actually saw him play, play, that’s what we call what football players do, but with Johan, it was different; he actually “played” with the ball and his opponents. He would pass three men by keeping the ball high above his head, heading it over one player after the other in full speed. He would lift the ball behind him with his feet and tip it over both himself and his opponent. His ability to go from zero to 30 was astonishing. He had only played a few matches before he was asked to join the national team. His entry into the world of soccer changed the way I related to the game. Until then, I had been more interested in playing the game than watching it on tv. From then on, I made sure I was in front of the tube on Sunday nights at 7 o’clock. I would ask my dad: is Cruijff playing? Is he playing?
Cruijff was a forward, a left forward, to be exact, but he didn’t feel limited byhise position on the field. It wasn’t long before he was everywhere, dictating the team, spurring them on and driving the other side mad.
Johan and Ajax won six national championships and 4 national cups together; he was part of the most successful team that the Netherlands ever produced. They won what is now known as the champion league 3 times in a row and once the world cup for club teams.
He was named European player of the year in 1971, 1973, en 1974.
In his early days, he wore shirt number nine, later would change to the legendary number 14. Ajax doesn’t use that number anymore; 13 is fine, 15 is also no problem, but 14 belongs to Johan, no one will ever wear that number again.
The Barcelona years
Cruijff moved to Barcelona; we couldn’t believe it; Amsterdam was devastated, we felt betrayed. Transfer’s weren’t as common then as they are now and for an icon as Johan to leave his city and country was more than somewhat of a shock. Barcelona paid Ajax six million for its star, the first time a Dutch team was paid over a million for a player. Cruijff spends four years with Barcelona and led that club to great heights.
Of course, it wasn’t all Johan that had done it; Ajax and the Netherlands also had a coach named Rinus Michels. Rinus had moved to Barcelona the year before, and it was on his recommendation that they brought Johan to Barcelona. The city by the same name is the capital of Catalonia, a region in the northeastern part of Spain. It has its own language and culture and would like to gain independence from Madrid. Those were still the days when Franco held sway in Spain, a contemporary of Adolf Hitler. The Catalonians hated him because, under his reign, they were not allowed to speak their own language or express any elements of their culture in any way.
Johan and Rinus team ‘Barca’ became a political tool in the hand of its supporters and indeed of the whole Catalonian population. For the first time in 15 years, Barcelona could defeat Real Madrid and win the championship. Johan was called El Salvador (the saviour). During that season, they beat Real Madrid in Madrid by 5-0.
Johan would stay a total of 6 years with Barca. After that, he felt he’d had enough; he was given a farewell match by Ajax which they lost 8-0 of Bayern Munchen. Cruijff went into business, only to find out that that was not his best talent; he trusted the wrong people, and they took him to the cleaners. He saw himself forced to do again what he did best, play football.
The American years
Rinus Michels left Barcelona and went to the United States. he became the coach of the Los Angeles Aztecs. Rinus wanted Cruijff on his team and Cruijff heeded the call. He stayed in L.A. for a season and then moved to the Washington Diplomats.
Johan spends two seasons in America (1979 and 1980); consequently, he was named America’s football player of the year twice in a row.
Cruijff went back to Ajax, his first love. America had been great financially, but there was nothing like Europe to Johan, as far as football was concerned. The next years in a row, Cruijff and Ajax won both the championship and the national cup.
At the end of his 2-year contract, Cruijff had reached 36 and had been injured quite a bit during the last season. Ajax did not want to extend his contract; they were afraid he wouldn’t make it. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!
The Feyenoord years
Cruijff was pissed off, to say the least! Now Holland has two major football cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Rotterdam is a town that derives its name from the river Rotter on which it is situated. I believe that the English word “rotter” is of Dutch origin and refers to the people of Rotterdam. (That’s not true, of course, but in the spirit of football and competitiveness, it makes perfect sense). Iowa. Feyenoord and Rotterdam are where football is concerned the enemy. The two teams are the greatest rivals in Dutch soccer. As I said, Cruijff felt he had something to prove! As he had done with Ajax, so he did with Feyenoord, he won the double, cup and championship for his team once more and was proclaimed Dutch football player of the year. It would be his last.
The years as an international
Johan Cruijff had a great scoring average, he didn’t always choose to play for the national team, only 48 times, but he scored 33 goals in those 48 matches. He functioned as team caption for 34 games. Cruijff did not like to take unnecessary risks; he cared for his body and avoided getting injured if possible. He didn’t play if he didn’t deem it necessary; for instance, he refused to play practice matches, nor did he play against dwarf teams like Andorra or Luxembourg. He was captain at the world cup championship in 1974 and the best player of the tournament. Holland lost the final against host Germany. Cruijff didn’t play well. Apparently, some German journalist had taken pictures of him and the team at the hotel swimming pool in the company of naked girls.
As they say, all is fair in love, football and war. Germany’s favourite gossip magazine Bild had set this up to discredit the Dutch team and get to them. Holland should have won the match as they were the better team, but the Germans succeeded in their attempts and became the official world champions.
Again we lost the final against the country that hosted the games. Again it was the world cup, and again Holland was the runner up. The blame was laid at the feet of Johan Cruijff, who had decided to stay home; when asked why he didn’t go, he replied, “he didn’t feel like going.” It was like a black page in what was otherwise seen as a perfect career. It wasn’t until 30 years later that the truth finally came out. Several shooters held the Cruijff family hostage at their house; they intended to kidnap Johan. Fortunately, they did not succeed, but he chooses to stay with his family instead.
Cruijff as coach
Johan had it in him to become a top coach; it was thought that with him at the helm, The Netherlands would finally no longer be the runner up at the next world championship. It was not to be; he only coached his favourite teams Ajax and Barcelona. His time with Barca especially was very successful.
The Catalonians team
In Catalonia, Johan Cruijff is still treated as a hero. The people love him; everybody knows his name. He still lives in Barcelona, although he apparently also rents an apartment near Vondel park in Amsterdam. People take it for granted that his address remains private because of what happened when he and his family were held hostage and almost kidnapped. There are, of course, quite a few folks who do know where he lives; he’s not a person that can walk around unnoticed.
Johan was asked in 2009 if he would function as a coach for the Catalonian (national) team. Of course, officially, Catalonia has no national team as it is part of Spain. Nevertheless, Catalonia has a team made up out of players who have their roots in Catalonia. It played its first match in 1912 against France. The team would only play one or two matches a year. Cruijff sees the humour in it and agrees. And guess what happened? In typical Cruijff fashion, both matches played under his supervision were won. Argentina was defeated by 4-2 and Honduras by 4-0.
Cruijff is not a man to sit. Still, he tried his hand at business and didn’t do too well; he went into pigs, football shoes and appeared regularly on tv to comment on international or European championship matches. Now Johan tends to be curt; he doesn’t mince his words. PSV Eindhoven, the country’s current second-best team, complained about him. Johan decided it wasn’t worth it and quit.
He writes columns in the daily The Telegraph, The Netherlands biggest and most superficial newspaper. Actually, a friend of his writes them in his name; Cruijff provides the material, the insight and the commentary by phone.
Johan fulfils the role of an advisor, both by Ajax as well as Barcelona. He’s been knighted by the Dutch national football association. Barcelona honoured him with the title of honorary chairman when, however, a new chairman was chosen who apparently had a bone to pick with Cruijff. He decided that there was such thing as an honorary chairman within the statutes of football club Barcelona. Cruijff returned whatever it was that they had given him to symbolize his honorary chairmanship the next day.
Cruijff has refused to commend on the incident. Some say this was extra motivation for him to accept the position of national coach of Catalonia.
Johan Cruyff is also an honorary member of Ajax; not many people were given that honour until recehonour. His old teammate Sjaak Swart, known as Mr Ajax, was only recently granted this.
Cruijff is famous for his statements; there are whole websites dedicated to them. The ball is round, is. As far as I know not a football idiom that originated with Cruijff, but he is responsible for the Spanish version of it, “la pelota Esta Redonda” it means that the game isn’t always won by the strongest team. Another one is “if we possess the ball, the other team can’t score”, “You can’t win if you don’t possess the ball,” “if you want to score, you need to shoot” are a few more onliners that proceeded from the mouth of Cruijff. Here’s another Spanish one he’s credited with, “en un momento dado” the word dado is not used in regular Spanish; it has to do with acts of the divine. In Barcelona, he was often called El Salvador, the saviour; this exclamation may have added to him being given this blasphemous title.
A famous Dutch citation of his is “are you score one more goal than the other team you’ve won.” “Every disadvantage has its advantage” is another one credited to Johan.
Cruijf as benefactor
Johan started a foundation called The Cruijf foundation, which collects money for disadvantaged children worldwide. He also lets his donors know what happens to the money and where it goes.
It builds so-called Cruijf courts; these are football fields where children can safely work out and learn to play football or basketball. The courts are supervised, so there’s a large measure of safety, and the children have something else to do than hang around the streets and get in trouble.
Each year the foundation holds a Cruijff Foundation Cup.
In the thirty years Johan Cruijff played football or coached teams, he has won 64 prizes, an average of two a year. Cruijff loved his fags, (cigarettes) until he got a heart attack; that was it for him; for quite some time afterwards, he got to be seen coaching from the sideline with a Lollie in his mouth. He also participated in an anti-smoking commercial.