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Cruyff: 'God's gift to football'

THE HAGUE, May 10 – A revolutionary on the pitch and a rebel off it, Johan Cruyff was the most celebrated member of a generation of Dutch footballers who lit up the 1970s.Others may have been responsible for creating the ultra-skilful brand of attacking play known as total football, but Cruyff will be remembered as the philosophy’s embodiment.

Vic Buckingham, who coached the young Cruyff at Ajax in the 1960s, summed up the Dutch master’s range of talents.

"He could do everything – set movements up, fly down the wing, run into the penalty area, head the ball in. Left foot, right foot, anything – and such speed. God’s gift to mankind, in the football sense. That was Johan."

Born in 1947, Cruyff became a star with Ajax at 19, helping the Amsterdam side win the league and finishing as top scorer in his first full season with the club.

His skills were granted a wider audience in continental competition, and in 1966 he excelled as a member of the Ajax team which trounced Bill Shankly’s Liverpool 7-3 over two legs, a landmark result for Dutch football.

The same year also saw Cruyff awarded his first international cap, scoring on his debut against Hungary.

Two months later the tempestuous side of his nature flared up when he became the first Dutch player to be sent off in an international.

With Holland yet to fully develop as an international side – they missed qualification for the 1970 World Cup – Cruyff had to content himself with parading his genius in club football.

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Between 1966 and 1973, before he joined Barcelona, he won six league titles with Ajax, four Dutch Cups and a hat-trick of European Cups in 1971-73. He was also crowned European Footballer of the Year in 1971, 1973 and 1974.

The 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany looked set to be a coming out party for Holland, with Cruyff as captain, and all looked to be going to plan as the Dutch cruised into the final against the hosts.

From the kick-off against the West Germans, Holland were superb. Fifteen passes linked together, Cruyff darts into the box and is fouled, penalty. Converted by Cruyff, 1-0 Holland, with the Germans yet to touch the ball.

Cruyff was to be denied the World Cup crown however. Holland, intent on humiliating the hosts, allowed Germany back into the match and eventually lost 2-1.

While in Germany, Cruyff’s rebellious streak shone through.

He rowed with Holland’s football federation, refusing to wear Adidas boots supplied under a contract agreed with the German manufacturer, and he even played in a shirt with only two stripes instead of Adidas’ famous three.

Although he played in Holland’s qualifying campaign for the 1978 World Cup, Cruyff refused to play in Argentina, and his 48th and final game for the Dutch national side came in 1977 against Belgium.

A spell in America was followed by a return to Ajax in 1982, where he won another league title, before moving to Feyenoord where he won another championship in 1984.

Cruyff enjoyed a succesful career in management with Ajax and Barcelona, who won four Spanish titles under his guidance as well as their only European Cup in 1992.

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