Sunday 20 October 2019

Final thoughts of a footballing legend with magic touch

My Turn
My Turn

Book review - Alan Aherne

Two of the managerial protégés of the late Johan Cruyff met in the English Premier League on Saturday, with the Match of the Day commentator making reference to that very fact when the camera panned in on the pre-match handshake between Pep Guardiola of Manchester City and Everton's Ronald Koeman.

Both came under the gifted Dutch legend's considerable influence when Cruyff managed Barcelona and they were players.

Indeed, Guardiola is quoted as saying 'I knew nothing about football before knowing Cruyff' on the cover of 'My Turn', the autobiography which was thankfully finished prior to the sad passing of a sporting icon at the age of 68 last March, five months after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Any children of the 1960s and 1970s who grew up watching the game will have mentioned Cruyff in the same breath as legends like Best and Pele.

He was a gifted visionary who was such a central figure in the 'Total Football' style which revolutionised the game as he first shot to prominence as a player with Ajax of Amsterdam from 1964 to 1973.

His record speaks for itself, 253 goals in a mere 319 appearances, and he went on to rattle the net 61 times in 184 games with Barcelona before spending three years in the U.S.A. with Los Angeles Aztecs and later Washington Diplomats.

A brief spell with Levante back in Spain followed, before a return to Ajax and a final season with their bitter rivals from Rotterdam, Feyenoord.

And after retiring in 1984, Cruyff went on exert as much influence with both Ajax and Barcelona as manager. He guided his home club out of the wilderness with European Cup Winners' Cup success in 1987, before landing the European Cup with the Spaniards five years later.

A wizard with the ball at his feet, he first displayed what became quickly known as the 'Cruyff Turn' against Sweden in the 1974 World Cup. He lit up that tournament but Holland ultimately came up short despite a great start to the final against West Germany.

They were beaten finalists again four years later when they met hosts Argentina, but their talisman was watching that game from a far-off TV studio in an analyst's role.

A scary attempt to kidnap his family in Spain earlier that year had prompted Cruyff to place their safety as his first priority, although that reason wasn't made known for many years afterwards so he shipped some unwarranted criticism as a result.

It was perhaps inevitable that one of the finest footballers ever to play the game would form close links with Ajax, given that his family owned a shop close to their home venue.

From an early age Cruyff would assist the groundsman, whom he fondly referred to as Uncle Henk, to carry out odd jobs. And after his own father died at the age of 45, his widowed mother married Henk so the bond grew even stronger.

Cruyff's playing days with Ajax ended on a low note as he felt he had no other option but to leave when he was opposed for the captaincy in a dressing-room split.

However, he left a legacy like no other, and many of the book's closing chapters deal with his efforts to try to restore some lost glory to his first club in a series of battles with their board of directors.

Given that he is no longer with us, it's poignant to read about his philosophy on the universal game, but it's also wonderful that those thoughts were captured in time to share with the public.

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