Stellars Club

Johan Cruyff: A legacy of character

If there was one word that could define Johan Cruyff quickly and concisely we could only choose one: character.

It is impossible that a player with no character would threaten not to attend a World Cup with his national team, knowing he had a chance of winning it, simply because they wouldn’t let him wear the logo of his sponsor.

In 1974, Cruyff’s “Clockwork Orange” played in the 1974 World Cup in the Federal Republic of Germany. At that time Adidas was synonymous with the World Cup, it was synonymous with football and above all it was the official sponsor of the national team. Far from resigning himself, Johan threatened not to play in that World Cup if he was not allowed to wear the two stripes of his sponsor, Puma, a business rival of the German firm. Such was the pressure that Cruyff was the only player in his entire national team to be allowed to wear Puma kit.

Character was also what he showed in 1980, the year he did the unthinkable while watching Ajax lose to Twente in the first half as a spectator. More than 13,200 spectators were buzzing in the Der Meer stadium just after Spaniard Sanchez Torres scored to make it 1-3 for Twente. Despite the fact that the scoreboard was opened by the “ajacied” team with a direct free-kick, two goals from the striker Thoresen and a shot from the Spanish mustachioed Sanchez Torres, put Leo Beenhakker’s team in an embarrassing 1-3 down against the “Tukkers”.

Johan Cruyff was shifting uncomfortably in his seat as the first half drew to a close, while on the pitch Twente defender Tjalling Dilling was beginning to notice something strange.

“We were well placed on the field. The Ajax players couldn’t do anything, we were playing a great game.“Dilling recalls. “I didn’t see anything, I just started noticing that the crowd was starting to roar,” and “Then he arrived,” evidently referring to Johan Cruyff, who, without a word, climbed down from the stands, opened the metal gate separating the dugout area and sat down next to a stunned Beenhakker and the rest of the coaching staff.

Although it is true that Cruyff was no longer connected with Ajax at the time, it was common knowledge that he would be joining the club as sporting director in the coming months, and yet the whole stadium was amazed at what had just happened.

Just before the break a goal from Tscheu La Ling reduced the deficit for Ajax, 2-3.

The second half began and Dilling again felt that something had changed: “The atmosphere was agitated, one felt that something was changing, but we didn’t see what it was”.

Until suddenly she saw him. On the bench in his brown jacket Cruyff was gesticulating and giving orders to the Ajax players while encouraging the players and the fans.

The Twente players looked at each other in disbelief and even more so as they realised that it was also having an effect.

The Amsterdam side stepped up to the “boss’s” harangues and began to press higher and higher up the pitch. Twente had not changed their approach, but Ajax were fighting more and more fiercely.

In the 72nd minute came the equalizer.

Dilling was aware of what was to come: “We didn’t drop our level, it was Ajax who started to give everything on the pitch, as if their motivation had tripled after the ‘boss’ came on the pitch. La Ling, for example, hadn’t been on the pitch for 30 minutes. Then he scored a brace.

They could do absolutely nothing.

Cruyff gave entry to a very young Frank Rijkaard and ordered to adjust the position of many other players. Twente tried to resist by taking off a midfielder and bringing on an extra defender, but a handball on the edge of their box turned into a goal. 4 – 3.

Arnesen rounded off Ajax’s heroics by making it 5-3.

In the dugout, Johan Cruyff did not hide his happiness and gave his version to the press: “We were losing and I felt helpless, I didn’t feel useful up there. To give advice and see how things can be adjusted, it’s better to be on the pitch. And besides, two heads are better than one. While one is thinking, the other is giving instructions. That way the players have to work harder.

Leo Beenhakker, on the other hand, was much less happy, trying not to make a fool of himself and playing down the incident: “There was no point in talking back to him, I’m the only boss on board. We are both concerned about Ajax’s fate. We talked together to try and get the game back on track. It wasn’t a problem.

For the players, on the other hand, it had had a little more significance: “Cruyff wanted to help the coach and the team, but on the pitch we said to each other: ‘Johan, not again’,” explains Boeve. “That could have affected Beenhakker’s credibility. Leo was a young coach, he had bad results and Cruyff restored the good play in 45 minutes.

Years later Beenhakker recalled the anecdote in a different tone : “I should have punched him.

Undoubtedly the character of a person who has left us a legend, a mark and an unrepeatable legacy. Johan Cruyff.


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