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Cruyff leaves mark on football as well as culture.

Britain had the Beatles and the Stones. The Netherlands had Johan Cruyff. Their art forms were different but his legacy has been just as important. Cruyff was not merely the key figure in tactical revolutions in the 1960s and 70s that took them from being a football backwater to the world's most important football nation.

He changed the personality of the country, too. In an article to mark Cruyff's 50th birthday in 1997, the Dutch writer Hubert Smeets argued that Cruyff had done more than anyone to shape the modern Netherlands.

Emerging at the same time as the Provos and hippies, he embodied the spirit and ideas of the 1960s as much as John Lennon did. Cruyff clashed with football authorities, inspired, astonished and delighted his contemporaries and smashed old patterns of deference. To the old "regents" who ran the country he was the voice of youth who said: "Now it's our turn."

Some of his teammates in the Holland team who should have won the 1974 World Cup (carelessly losing to the West Germans in the final mainly through arrogant overconfidence) had long hair and wore love beads but Cruyff was never any sort of hippy. He was ferociously competitive and interested in money. As he pointed out: "When my career ends, I cannot go to the baker and say: 'I'm Johan Cruyff, give me some bread.'"

In what was still the largely amateur world of Dutch football, playing for the national team was considered an honour but Cruyff demanded payment. When he discovered Dutch FA officials were insured for foreign trips but players were not, he demanded - and forced - a change. He started asking questions that the whole generation was asking: why are things organised this way? And he never stopped asking such questions on the field or off.

Much like the Beatles' songs, the Total Football that emerged at Ajax was the product of several remarkable talents provoking and inspiring each other. The coach, Rinus Michels, provided the drive, professionalism and organisational nous. The veteran Yugoslav defender Velibor Vasovic taught the callow Dutch kids how to fight and win. The doctrine of high pressing - now ubiquitous in world football but a sensation in 1970 - derived from Johan Neeskens' habit of chasing opponents deep into their own half.

Cruyff was the essential genius behind the operation. He influenced events on the field not only as a preternaturally gifted and original player - the equal of Diego Maradona or Pele - but also through his habit of making major tactical adjustments during a match without reference to the bench.

Cruyff was argumentative, arrogant, dominating and brilliant. He prized creativity over negativity, beauty, originality and attack over boring defending. Several generations of players therefore developed the same characteristics.

His last football battle came at Ajax. Dismayed by falling standards at the club, in 2011 he engineered a coup that replaced the old suits he despised with a group of players - former pupils mostly - including Wim Jonk and Bergkamp. The idea was to make Ajax once more a world centre for football talent. But the key personalities fell out and, late last year when he was diagnosed with cancer, he withdrew. His passing away is indeed a great loss for football.

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Geographic Code:4EUNE
Date:Mar 28, 2016
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