Even today, the name Johan Cruyff is famed throughout world football. Not only was he one of the greats, but he literally changed the way football was viewed and played by many across the game.
His take on how football should be played is something to be enjoyed. Winning is the ultimate end goal, but ultimately if isn’t played well, what is the point?
His legendary status is, of course, still known with his name still seen in the modern game of football. From the ‘Cruyff Turn’ to the ‘Johan Cruyff Arena’, there is no doubt that Cruyff’s impact on football is still of great influence on football, even today.
Cruyff’s legacy no doubt starts at the club where he his best known at, that being Ajax.
Taking influence from the revolutionary Rinus Michels, Cruyff was part of the legendary Ajax side that won three European Cups in a row in the early 1970’s, while taking on a new playing style of the time, known as Total Football.
The basis of Total Football revolves around the idea that any player on a team can take on the role of any other player in order to maintain the structure of the team.
Michels encouraged Cruyff to have free roam around the pitch when he played allowing for greater chances to be created.
This system was of great success for both Ajax and then the Dutch national team at the 1974 World Cup, who came through as runners up.
Cruyff took on what he learnt to Barcelona and his impact was an instant one, as they claimed their first La Liga title in 13 years during his first year in Spain.
Although the trophies didn’t come in as great abundance as they had done during his time in Amsterdam, his views on the game would change the route of Barcelona’s history forever, including the introduction of a new academy system based around the one seen under the guidance of Michels at Ajax.
Cruyff would go on to have spells in the United States, back in La Liga with Levante and finally, when he claimed another Eredivisie title, this time with Feyenoord.
Of course, the way Cruyff played the game was something to be admired as the key man for Michels’ views on the game, but it was his time as a manager that proved the pinnacle for his influence on the modern game.
His success as a manager was the complete opposite to what it was as a player. Having seen greater success at Ajax as a player than with Barcelona, it was at Barça where he saw his greatest amount of honours during his managerial tenure, leading them to their first Champions League success and winning four La Liga titles in a row during the early nineties.
Cruyff had continued what he learned under Michels to transform Barcelona into the dominant outfit which they are known for today based on the principles of Total Football.
He saw great need for the club to invest time into the academy system of La Masia which was created under his guidance. His philosophies were based heavily on taking players from the academy and mixing them with the great players he already had at his disposal to create what has become known as a dream team.
Not only was Cruyff’s vision for the game based around having the ball, but also using the ball to his side’s advantage, moving the ball quickly and playing football almost for entertainment.
This all was influenced best by his change of formation to a 3-4-3 which focused on the need for more attack-minded players in order to best produce the foundations of Total Football.
Attacking football was at the forefront of Cruyff’s mind, emphasised by this famous quote: “I much prefer to win 5-4 than 1-0.”
These principles have been embedded into the culture of the Catalonian side. With a culture of devolving talent from within along with a strong focus on winning games with possession-based football and pressing the opposition when out of possession.
Barcelona, of course, have since become one of the best sides in world football, most notably under one of Cruyff’s most famous students, Pep Guardiola.
Cruyff first saw Guardiola playing in one of the youth teams at Barcelona and decided to move him from the right of midfield into the centre and the rest, as they say, is history, as a short time later he was setting up for the first team.
As Cruyff was the key for Michels at Ajax, so too did Guardiola become the key for Cruyff at Barcelona as Total Football led to one of the great eras in Barcelona’s history at the expense of the great Real Madrid side of the time.
To this day, some of the greatest sides of the modern era have adopted the principles set out by Cruyff with possession-based football.
One, of course, being the legendary Arsenal Invincibles side of 2003/04, who went an entire season without losing playing under the mantra of ‘Wengerball’ which echoed the principle of possession-based football, with a strict focus on the attack.
However, the teams who have been best known for playing under Cruyff’s mould have been those led under Guardiola. Most recently the dominance of Man. City and Bayern Munich has been touted to Guardiola’s impact, but the side he produced at Barcelona was virtually unplayable.
Though Guardiola brought players in, he made sure to keep with Cruyff’s traditions as the foundations of the success of his Barcelona side came from players produced at La Masia, such as Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and most notably, Lionel Messi.
The quick transitional play from defence to attack was a spectacle to be admired and very few teams could work out how to defend against it let alone win against it.
His Barcelona side was one of the greatest in their history and all thanks to the influence of Cruyff’s legacy.
More managers since Cruyff have not only played their sides to win, but to win by playing football almost for entertainment and enjoyment of the game.
This is all Cruyff wanted and this legacy has lived on through some of the best teams who are playing by the philosophies of Total Football.
As the man himself once said, “quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.”
Article by Ciarán McLoughlin via Football’s Finest