Johan Cruyff’s ability to transcend football’s tribal boundaries was evident in Rotterdam on Thursday where fans of his final club, Feyenoord, paid tribute to the Dutch great, who lost his battle against lung cancer.
A charity match between Feyenoord – for whom Cruyff played in the 1983-4 season, helping them to a league and cup double – and Sparta Rotterdam was temporarily halted in the 14th minute so players and fans could recognise his passing with a minute’s applause.
Cruyff made his name with Feyenoord’s fierce rivals Ajax, but his loss to the whole of Dutch football is clearly keenly felt.
There was also a pause in the 14th minute of Holland’s friendly against France in Amsterdam last night. Cruyff wore the No 14 shirt for his country and guided them to the final of the World Cup in 1974.
The tributes are set to continue for Cruyff, with Dutch Football Association (KNVB) president Michael van Praag saying: “I can’t wait for the moment when we rename our stadium the Johan Cruyff Arena. It’s the best tribute we can pay him.”
A three-time Ballon d’Or winner, Cruyff helped Ajax to eight Dutch titles and three successive European Cups before following manager Rinus Michels to the Nou Camp and winning the Primera Division in his first season.
Cruyff became synonymous with ‘total football’ and returned to Holland to finish his playing days, with the sought-after football thinker again swapping Amsterdam for Catalonia after retirement.
He led Barca to four league titles and their first European Cup in 1992 – a period in which he underwent major heart surgery, which prompted him to stop smoking.
Cruyff was sacked in 1996, but remained influential at the Nou Camp for the rest of his life, with son Jordi playing at the club for a time.
Following the legend’s death from cancer, Barcelona posted on Instagram: “We’ll always love you, Johan. Rest in peace”, with a fuller statement paying tribute to a “player and a coach who will forever be a legend at the club”.
Here is a world XI of which Cruyff would have been proud to be part:
GIANLUIGI BUFFON: Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning goalkeeper set a new Serie A record earlier this month after going 974 minutes without conceding.
CARLOS ALBERTO: Arguably one of the best right-backs in the world in one of the planet’s greatest teams having won the World Cup with Brazil in 1970. The fourth goal in the final against Italy, scored by Carlos Alberto, was arguably the greatest team goal scored.
FRANZ BECKENBAUER: Won the World Cup in 1974 and redefined the sweeper role during an incredibly successful club career at Bayern Munich.
BOBBY MOORE: England’s World Cup-winning captain is regarded as one of the best centre-backs of his generation. One of the greatest readers of the game there has been, he made the art of defending look effortless.
PAOLO MALDINI: A shoo-in for the left-back role. The former AC Milan captain, a one-club man with seven Serie A crowns and five European Cup winners’ medals.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE: The current manager of Real Madrid inspired France to the 1998 World Cup and the Euro 2000 crown; he scored a stunning volley in the 2002 Champions League final for Real.
PEP GUARDIOLA: The future Manchester City manager played under Cruyff at Barcelona, winning the 1992 European Cup at Wembley, four titles and two Copa del Reys under his mentor.
JOHAN CRUYFF: Eight titles at Ajax plus one at Barcelona and Feyenoord as a player, he added four more as Barca manager and was a great exponent of the Dutch ‘total football’ approach.
PELE: He hailed Cruyff as an “example of excellence” but the Brazil striker is an example himself, having won three World Cups and scored 1,279 goals between 1956 and 1977.
DIEGO MARADONA: He had a hand – in more ways than one – in helping Argentina to the 1986 World Cup and is recognised as one of the greatest to have played the game.
LIONEL MESSI: Cruyff did not include the Barcelona star in his own world XI, but it is hard to overlook the forward who has 413 goals in 440 games for Barca.