POTCHEFSTROOM, July 9 – Spain and Holland, who meet in Sunday's World Cup final, can both thank one man for inspiring their soccer style – Johan Cruyff.Cruyff was in the Dutch side which lost the 1974 final to Germany, but his influence can be seen today on the Spanish just as much as on his own countrymen, thanks to his spell at Barcelona.
"I represent a time when beautiful football was entertaining – and moreover, successful," said the creative fulcrum of the Dutch side which wowed the world with their flowing "total football" three decades ago, whereby players could comfortably slip in and out of several roles.
Cruyff likes the current Dutch generation.
So, too, does Oscar Tabarez, whose Uruguay could not prevent Holland from edging them out in their semi-final to reach a third final after 1974 and 1978.
"They are all good players, technically gifted – (Mark) Van Bommel, (Wesley) Sneijder, (Arjen) Robben… and there are some who are very good technically allied to incredible power, such as (Dirk) Kuyt. You have the impression the Dutch are permanently on the attack," said Tabarez.
The abiding Cruyff influence comes from spending a large chunk of his career in the colours of Barcelona.
He was there at his peak in the mid 1970s and then coached them for eight years, landing the Catalan club’s first European Cup in 1992.
Current Barca boss Pep Guardiola – who led them to their third European crown in 2009 after another Dutchman, in Frank Rijkaard, had masterminded the second in 2006 – was a player under Cruyff.
Clearly something rubbed off as Barca landing an unprecedented six trophies in the season before last.
The Barcelona effect is now under-pinning the Spanish success with seven of the starting line-up featuring in the semi-final win over Germany.
Current Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque is also a fan of the pass-and-move game which Cruyff likes.
That’s where the two finalists interface with the Dutch influence on Barcelona going back four decades to when Rinus Michels was coach at the Nou Camp and Cruyff was the playing star.
In more recent years, the Dutch influence has grown with the likes of Louis Van Gaal and then Rijkaard also coaching the side while a host of Dutch stars such as Johan Neeskens, 1992 Champions League-winning goalscorer Ronald Koeman, Cruyff’s own son Jordi, Patrick Kluivert and the De Boer brothers playing for Barca.
Only with Rijkaard leaving in 2008 and the 2007 departure of current Dutch skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst back to the Netherlands has the influence waned.
The Barca streak in the Spanish-set up is stronger than ever with Carles Puyol heading the winner against the Germans and Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta pulling strings while David Villa has just joined the club from Valencia.
Keeper Victor Valdes – understudy to Spanish skipper Iker Casillas – says the club-to-country transition is quite easy.
"For the style that the coach wants us to play it’s very similar – we try to move the ball around and that’s rather like the Barca way of doing things."