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Johan the master

By March 24, 2016No Comments

You know you are a star when you have a piece of skill named after you. The ‘Cruyff turn’ was every boy’s dream to execute on the field, in the street and even under the lamp-post last thing at night, just before your mum told you it was time to come in.

Cruyff was our european Pelé. We wanted to brag that we had someone on our continent that could rival the greatest player that ever lived and the Dutch master was as close as we could get.

As a boy, all I wanted was an Ajax top but, in those days you couldn’t just walk up to any sports shop and buy the strip, the way you do now. They were scarce and hard to get, if you came from a working class area with seven sisters and two brothers in your family!

I can still hear the horns, I can remember the grainy colours of red and white on the green surface, lit up by the floodlights on a european football night and the magic of watching Cruyff strut his stuff on our telly rented from DER.

Johan was thin and seemed to have long gangly legs to me, a boy from Lanarkshire, brought up believing that only wee guys like Jimmy Johnstone and Willie Henderson could have unbelievable close control and skill to beat anyone, anywhere on the pitch.

But this was Johan Cruyff, a genius and I was transfixed by his every move. He was like a gazelle moving at pace with grace, yet able to stop, change direction and move quickly in another direction with consummate ease.

Then there was the turn. It is the World cup 1974 and I have collected every sticker in the Panini World cup ’74 book. We are watching Holland v Sweden. It is the 23rd minute and Cruyff leaves Jan Olsson spinning as he swivels one way, then the other, in one mesmerising piece of skill with the ball.

I am shouting Mum, come quickly and look at this! There might only be one replay but, I had to let her see what I had never seen before.

My Mum had seen Cruyff play in the 70’s and she never stopped raving to me about how great he was.

When he moved to Barcelona, our only insight into what he was achieving were from black and white news articles on the fourth or fifth back page of our newspapers. There was no Sky HD to record and talk about all day long at school with your mates the next day.

When he became a manager, I wanted him to succeed even more. That’s what happens when you have heroes, you never want them to fail.

The Barcelona ‘Dream team’ of 1992 at Wembley in the European cup final was merely a continuation and the epitome of Cruyff the player, now passed onto the next generation.

When Cruyff spoke, I wanted to listen. He let his feet do the talking on the pitch but, off it, he tried to explain what came natural to him.

‘Football is simple but the hardest thing to do is to play simple football.’

There’s no point in me telling you how many honours he’s won. I just need to tell you that a little part of my youth has been taken away today with the passing of a legend, a genius and a footballing God.

Johan Cruyff, rest in peace. 1947-2016

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