Here’s a look at seven of the best moment of Cruyff’s playing career.
Cruyff made his Ajax debut in November 1964 aged 17, but it was the following season in 1965/66 that he became more heavily involved. Although not fully a regular, the teenage forward scored nearly a goal per game in the Eredivisie to help Ajax claim a first title in six years.
It was the first of eight Dutch titles he would win over two spells in three separate decades – 1960, 1970s and 1980s – with his boyhood club.
Strange squad numbers: Why did Johan Cruyff wear 14?
It all happened in 1970 vs PSV. Team-mate Muhren couldn’t find his Ajax number 7 kit. Cruyff gave up his number 9 shirt for Muhren to wear in the match and picked up a spare, it happened to be a number 14 shirt. pic.twitter.com/5Bnv6fibIU
— Classic Football Shirts (@classicshirts) August 14, 2019
In an era of 1-11, Cruyff rewrote the rules regarding shirt numbers and became synonymous with the number 14 shirt at both club and international level.
He often wore nine or 10 on his back early in his career, but starting wearing 14 from 1970 after handing his jersey before a game to teammate Gerrie Muhren, who couldn’t find his own.
Cruyff grabbed a random shirt for himself from a basket nearby and it happened to be 14.
Muhren later recalled that Cruyff kept 14 because it was a challenge to the KNVB, and he notably wore it in all three European Cup finals he played for Ajax, with other players in the side starting to break the 1-11 status quo as well.
Cruyff first played in the European Cup final in 1969 when Ajax were beaten 4-1 by AC Milan, with the Italian Catenaccio style of the 1960s defeating Total Football in its infancy.
After Feyenoord had beaten Celtic in 1970, Ajax returned to the final in 1971 to face Panathinaikos. This time, Cruyff and his teammates were victorious, winning 2-0 at Wembley.
Ajax went on to dominate European football, becoming the first side since Real Madrid to win three European titles on the bounce after further wins in 1972 and 1973.
Both of those latter two were against Italian opposition in Inter and Juventus respectively, with Dutch Total Football firmly breaking Italian Catenaccio and flourishing.
Most Expensive Player in the World
Shortly after his third European Cup win with Ajax in 1973, Cruyff joined Barcelona in a world-record transfer worth the equivalent of around £922,000.
That move almost doubled the previous global transfer record set in 1968 when Pietri Anastasi joined Juventus for the equivalent of £500,000, with Cruyff the very last world-record transfer to go for under £1m.
He won La Liga and the Copa del Rey once each during five years in Catalonia, with the former Barcelona’s first Spanish title in 14 years. But his lasting legacy runs far deeper through his influence regarding the club’s overall philosophy and the focus on development at La Masia.
The Cruyff Turn
If ever a player throughout history is known for a single moment on a football pitch that isn’t specifically a goal or save, it is Cruyff when the world saw the turn for the first time.
Although one of the more basic and simple skills young kids are taught these days, the watching world was stunned at the genius when Cruyff pulled out his deceptive trademark 180-degree feint and drag back in a game against Sweden at the 1974 World Cup.
Jan Olsson was the defender on the receiving end of it and was completely flummoxed as Cruyff shaped to play the ball and knocked it back between his own legs to head the other way.
Third Ballon d’Or
Even though he couldn’t cap 1974 with World Cup glory when Netherlands were beaten in the final by West Germany, Cruyff received the Ballon d’Or for the third time that year.
Cruyff won his first in 1971 to mark his role in Ajax’s European Cup success, while he matched Alfredo Di Stefano as the only other player to win it twice in 1973. But his 1974 gong was the first time anyone had ever been presented with a third Ballon d’Or.
Michel Platini and Marco van Basten eventually matched that record in the 1980s and 1990s, but it wasn’t until Lionel Messi won his fourth in 2012 that it was actually surpassed.
Double With Feyenoord
Cruyff left Europe of the United States and NASL in 1978, returning to Spain in 1981 when he briefly joined Levante, having flirted with Leicester, and heading back to Ajax later that year.
There, he won his seventh and eighth Eredivisie titles in successive seasons, only to fall out with the Amsterdam club when they decided against offering a 36-year-old Cruyff a new contract.
In response, he joined arch-rivals Feyenoord to prove Ajax were wrong and played all but one game as his new team won only a second Dutch title in 15 years, as well as claiming the KNVB Cup. Cruyff promptly retired, point proven, and rejoined Ajax as head coach a year later.
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