An idol of the football world in the 1970s, a successful coach, and now a respected observer of the game: Johan Cruyff celebrates his 65th birthday today.
Alongside Rembrandt and Vincent van Gogh, he is the most famous Dutchman ever – and one of the world's greatest players of all time. A study once even proved that more than 2 billion people know the name Johan Cruyff. UEFA.com looks back on his contribution to the beautiful game.
Born in Amsterdam on 25 April 1947, Hendrik Johannes Cruyff electrified football fans – first with AFC Ajax. He won three European Champion Clubs' Cups in 1971, 1972 and 1973, and the UEFA Super Cup in 1972 and 1973, as well as eight Dutch league titles. Cruyff, who joined the Amsterdam team as a young child, was the on-field orchestrator of Ajax's 'total football' – a swashbuckling style of attacking play in which attackers and defenders interchanged positions to stunning effect.
"Winning [the European Cup] is so big, it's very difficult to understand when you win it," he told UEFA.com in 2011. "You know it's big, but it's much bigger than you realise. And that's what you find out, not at the time, but later. When you travel the world, and play here and there, people still talk about it."
Dutch total football also graced the 1974 FIFA World Cup, as the Netherlands captivated with their vivid forward play. Cruyff was again the leader as the Oranje stormed to the final before losing to hosts West Germany. Cruyff, who made his national-team debut in 1966, played 48 matches for the Netherlands, scoring 33 goals.
A three-time winner of the Ballon d'Or, Cruyff was able to operate up top, but often initiated attacks from deep, or drifted to the flanks, making it hard for opponents to track him. In 1973 he moved to FC Barcelona, where he became the darling of the Camp Nou, hitting 48 goals in 143 games and helping the club win their first Spanish title in 14 years in 1974.
After a two-year spell in the United States, Cruyff returned to Europe in 1981 before ending his playing career back in the Netherlands. He first rejoined Ajax and then went to Feyenoord, hanging up his boots in 1984. In total he made 704 outings in club football, scoring 392 goals – 266 of them for Ajax.
Cruyff turned his hand to coaching and took over at Ajax in 1985 where he lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup. In 1988 another old flame beckoned and he headed back to Barcelona, where further continental glory came his way as he led the Catalan side to their first European Cup in 1992.
Cruyff has remained involved in football, especially as an adviser, media expert and technical consultant. His attitude as a player and a coach endeared him to fans. Entertainment was his No1 priority. "Wherever I played or worked, I wanted people to talk and think about football," he once said. To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each European national association nominated its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. The Netherlands chose Cruyff as their Golden Player.
Cruyff's social conscience has also borne fruit. He launched the Johan Cruyff Foundation and the Johan Cruyff Institute for Sports Studies, with centres in the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Mexico and Peru. The institute created a school system, tailor-made for sportsmen and women who wanted to study during their careers.
With the foundation, he adopted nearly 100 projects across the world for poor and disabled children and used football as a means of improving their lives. One notable project has been the Cruyff Courts initiative, promoting street football. UEFA recognised its positive impact on young people when selecting it for the UEFA Grassroots Award on the opening of the 100th court in late 2009.
A thrilling player, an innovative coach, a lover of the beautiful game. Johan Cruyff – many happy returns.
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