The Netherlands was in shock, still mourning the death of a great sportsman the whole nation could identify with, Johan Cruyff.
Football legend Cruyff died at the age of 68 on Thursday in Barcelona after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2015. Despite his illness his death came suddenly, leaving a country, a continent, the world, behind in sorrow, reports Xinhua.
From Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Prime Minister Mark Rutte to fellow football greats Diego Maradona, Pele and Lionel Messi, all paid their respects to the great. National TV and radio changed their schedule for extra broadcasts on Cruyff.
At the Johan Cruyff statue at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, Ajax fans gathered to remember, at his former home in the Amsterdam neighbourhood Betondorp, where he grew up, people spontaneously laid flowers. And at the Amsterdam museum and at the Ajax stadium people could sign a condolence register.
The tributes continued with all Dutch newspapers dedicating their pages to the greatest Dutch football player ever. “Dutch Master” headed Algemeen Dagblad. “Icon of a generation” was the header of Trouw while De Telegraaf and de Volkskrant had no words and only published a full page picture on the cover with his name: “Johan Cruyff, 1947-2016”. Former teammate Jan Mulder called him “The Unforgettable” in a tribute article in de Volkskrant.
Cruyff made his debut as a skinny, little boy at the age of 17 but his talent was eminent. This brilliant elegant boy ‘Jopie’ could play like no one else. He could pass, score, dribble and lead by example.
This Amsterdam-born kid soon became a national icon and developed into the best player of the world, a tactical and technical genius, winning the Ballon d’Or three times, leading Ajax to nine championships, three European trophies and the Intercontinental Cup, reaching the 1974 World Cup final with the Netherlands and winning the Spanish title with FC Barcelona.
More important than his prizes was his influence. Before Cruyff entered the spotlight, the Netherlands were not a big football country at all with only two participations at major tournaments, the 1934 and 1938 World Cups. Orchestrated by Cruyff and coach Rinus Michels, the Netherlands gained international fame in 1974 with a stunning style of football, nicknamed ‘Total Football’, with players constantly moving, taking over each other’s position.
For a small country that hundreds of years ago was the richest and one of the most influential countries and had come out of World War II in a miserable shape, this was a fact of life. Cruyff changed the national identity, taught people that they could be the best of the world. He gave the Dutch a new identity with what the nation could reach by showing initiative, showing self-confidence, by choosing the attack, by playing as a team.
The same applies to Ajax and FC Barcelona. Cruyff gave these clubs an identity, an image of positive and innovating football, recognised all over the world.
As a coach, Cruyff continued his legacy, his vision at Ajax and later at FC Barcelona. With these clubs, he once again collected many trophies. With Ajax, he claimed the European Cup Winners Cup in 1987 and he led Barcelona to a period of great successes with, among others, four league titles and their first European Champions Cup in 1992 with the so-called “Dream Team”.
Until now the playing style of Ajax, the Netherlands, FC Barcelona, even Spain, is influenced by him. His vision, his name will live forever. And not only this, with the Johan Cruyff University and the Johan Cruyff foundation and more, his legacy will continue on different levels.
The Dutch Cruyff tribute ended on Friday night with the friendly between the Netherlands and France in the Amsterdam Arena, which according to many people should be renamed Johan Cruyff stadium from now on. Outside the stadium, some people wore a shirt with Cruyff’s regular number, 14, and on big screens people got to see old images of Cruyff.
A 52-year-old man, John Derks, watched the images with his wife Sylvia. “He was a legend, a phenomenon. It really hurts. I have seen him play many times and admire him. It’s terrible, sorry, I get emotional,” he said.
A few metres away, a 54-year-old man, Michael Otten made a picture. He would visit the match with his son Wouter. “I am shocked. My youth idol had died,” the man said.
The Netherlands played the match without No.14 to honour Cruyff and a minute of honour was scheduled in the 14th minute. The game started with a minute of silence for the victims of the Brussels attacks and after that France showed they did not want to give presents on Cruyff’s day.
Antoine Griezmann opened the scoring with a free-kick and Olivier Giroud produced the second goal in the 13th minute. This made that the minute of applause started when the Dutch were ready to kick-off after having conceded the second goal. Not the moment all had hoped for and Cruyff had deserved.
The Dutch bounced back in the second half through goals by Luuk de Jong and Ibrahim Afellay, but the match ended with the last word for the only No.14 on the pitch. Blaise Matuidi made it 3-2 for France. Not the magic Cruyff night that everybody had hoped for. From above Cruyff could not influence. But does it matter? The unforgettable will never be forgotten.