It would be impossible to even approach summing up the totality of Johan Cruyff’s unparalleled influence and contributions to the game of soccer in one blog post. First as the best player on the planet suiting up for Ajax, Barcelona, and the Dutch national team in the 1960s and 1970s, and later as a manager for those same two clubs, Cruyff developed, advanced, and embodied a playing style, Total Football, that represented probably the most radical and significant tactical innovation in the sport’s modern history.
For more than 40 years, some of the very best teams in the world—from his Ajax side that won three straight European Cups to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich to the all-conquering Spanish national team of recent vintage—were direct products of his play, his personality, and his ideas. Cruyff, who died today of lung cancer at 68, leaves a legacy as one of the most important figures to ever touch a soccer ball.
There are literally scores of books to be written about what Cruyff meant to the game in his various guises, many of which, both directly and indirectly, have been. The most viscerally accessible trace of his greatness, though, remains what he did on the pitch itself. He was, put simply, a marvel with the ball at his feet.
The single most iconic moment of Cruyff’s brilliance is his eponymous move, the Cruyff Turn. Like any innovation in this realm, it is at once so seemingly simple yet totally confounding in practice that it took a genius seeing the game from an angle no one had before to invent it:
There was an unending stream of moves like this in his repertoire—feints and flicks and tricks and goals that still have the power to invoke as much awe in viewers today as they did for those who saw them in real time:
You can spend hours watching individual videos of Cruyff’s array of iconic moments and reels of his best goals and dribbles and even entire matches if you want, and if you have the time, I’d recommend you do so. With his death, the physical representation of the inimitable and enthralling way the Dutchman moved through the world is gone, with only fuzzy images and grainy videos left to remind us what it was exactly that made him so revered. It makes sense, then, to take time to watch all the wondrous feats Cruyff wrung out of that body today, to memorialize what is no longer here. We lament the death of the man today, with full knowledge that the lasting impact of his actions on the field and the force of his ideas off of it will continue to reverberate throughout the sport’s history and future long after their physical form has left.
Photo via AP