AMSTERDAM. — Johan Cruyff, the legendary Dutch soccer striker and one of the game’s greatest players, has died of lung cancer aged 68, according to a message posted on his website. The site said he had died in Barcelona, surrounded by family.
As a player, Cruyff was the embodiment of Dutch “total football”, a fluid style of play focused on ball possession and rapid passing, and involving all members of the team in both attack and defence.
He emerged as one of the world’s greats in the early 1970s when he helped Ajax Amsterdam win three European Cups in a row from 1971-73, and he was named European Footballer of the Year in 1971, 1973 and 1974.
He joined Barcelona for a then-world record transfer fee of $2.0 million, and it was the Catalan club that later defined his coaching career as he led them to their first La Liga title in nearly 15 years in 1974.
He was also a key player in the great Netherlands team that reached the 1974 World Cup final, when a global audience saw him perform the now-famous “Cruyff turn”, in which the player tries to deceive a defender by hooking the ball behind their own leg before swerving away in the direction of the ball.
Cruyff had been a heavy smoker, and had a heart surgery done in 1991. His death comes less than six months after he announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Argentine football legend Diego Maradona bid farewell yesterday to the late Dutch maestro Johan Cruyff, promising “We will never forget you, skinny” on his Facebook page.
Another Argentina and Barcelona star, Lionel Messi, also paid tribute to Cruyff, saying on Facebook: “Another legend has left us.”
In February, he released a statement insisting that treatment was going well and that he believed he would make a full recovery.
It read: ‘After several medical treatments I can say that the results have been very positive, thanks to the excellent work of the doctors, the affection of the people and my positive mentality.
‘Right now, I have the feeling that I am 2-0 up in the first half of a match that has not finished yet. But I am sure that I will end up winning.’
Cruyff’s son Jordi, who had a spell with Manchester United between 1996 and 2000, paid tribute to his father last Saturday – Father’s Day in Spain – via Twitter.
‘In Spain it’s father’s day! Thanks for being who you are & teaching me life’s values, my role model @JohanCruyff.’
Cruyff is regarded as one of the greatest footballers in history and was the leading star of the Dutch team that introduced ‘Total Football’ to the world.
Under the strategy, players pass the ball frequently to seek advantage, and switch positions seamlessly to adjust to the flow of play. Latin American admirers referred to the orange-clad Dutch national team as ‘The Clockwork Orange’.
Cruyff was the personification of a total footballer, playing deep or shallow as the moment required, as deadly from the wings as from his assigned position in the centre. He was among the first to see defenders as part of the attack.
Cruyff captained Holland at the 1974 World Cup, at the height of his playing career, and led the Dutch to the final.
Despite winning Holland an early penalty, which Johan Neeskens converted, Cruyff and Holland were left disappointed as they lost 2-1 to West Germany.
Cruyff’s career at Ajax ran in parallel to manager Rinus Michels implementing the highly successful Total Football system. Michels went to Barcelona in 1971 and Cruyff followed two years later.
A prolific goalscorer, and a great creator for others, Cruyff even had his own trick, famous and still used to this day.
The ‘Cruyff turn’ was perfected by its inventor, who finished his playing career in Holland with spells at Ajax and Feyenoord.
A sought-after football thinker, he managed Ajax from 1985 to 1988, and then, just as in his playing career, Cruyff was lured away by Barcelona.
At the Nou Camp he won the European Cup, in 1992, and four league titles among a raft of trophies. During his time at the club he underwent major heart surgery in 1991, which prompted him to stop smoking.
He was sacked by Barcelona in 1995 but remained influential at the club for the rest of his life.
Cruyff was also a three-time winner of the Ballon d’Or award, taking the award in 1971, 1973 and 1974. At the time, the award recognised the best player in Europe, rather than being a worldwide award as it is today. The death of Cruyff stunned football. The Dutch football association (KNVB) wrote on Twitter: ‘With great sadness we have learned of the death of Johan Cruyff. Words are not enough.’ The former Liverpool striker Ian Rush wrote: ‘Very saddened by the passing of Johan Cruyff – a dear friend, unbelievable player and a national hero!!’
Ossie Ardiles, the former Argentina and Tottenham midfielder, added: ‘Johan Cruyff. Extraordinary player. One of the best ever. Had the privilege to play with him twice. RIP’
Clubs and players from across Europe paid their own tributes, and Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos made his own fond tribute.
While Barcelona and Real Madrid are fierce rivals on the pitch, Ramos said: ‘Goodbye to one of the all-time legends of football. Player and coach ahead of his time. RIP Johan Cruyff.’
Manchester City’s Yaya Toure wrote: ‘Shocked by the sad news about Johan Cruyff. RIP’. — Mailonline/AFP.