Monday, March 2, 2009

Cruiff arrived! He was voted European Player of the Year for the first time. To write about Cruiff is redundant at best. There is so much already. Back in 1971 it was a breath of fresh air – fun was returning and how! The Dutch was definitely the 1970s – he was only 24 years old, a big promise for the future.
Slender, fragile looking on the field, Cruiff possessed skill, imagination, and fearlessness. Cruiff operated on large front, preferring to attack from deep midfield, usually accelerating quickly. Great balance, change of direction, and speed. He never appeared intimidated, but preferred to settle arguments by outplaying the opposition. Not a traditional centre-forward either: he operated everywhere, left, right, and centre of the attack; in midfield; whenever necessary – in defense. Later, he settled more like typical midfielder, but in the early 70s he was an attacker with flair and constructive mentality. Unlike many an attacking star, he was selfless and never a consumer. He was not a physical fighter and was not involved in rough play – another already rare quality. Did not simulate as well – he obviously favoured fair play. No wonder fans idolized him – he gave us the beauty of the game after years of dull tactical football. A charming personality too, seemingly easy going, yet, once on the field, he was deadly. There was no scandal in his life – Cruiff appeared modest, highly intelligent, unusually opinionated and articulated, and loyal. The dream of a fan: a boy from humble origin, coming from the club’s youth system, debuting at 17 in 1964.
It was not exactly like that – true, he was the dream of any fan: a player emerging from poor family, playing for one club from kid to the first squad. But he used his charms cunningly: little was known until 1974 about his not so charming side. His shrewdness when money was an issue; his refusals to play for both club and national team when something was not to his liking; his chain smoking; his authoritative persona; his readiness to jump ship. To my mind, Cruiff cleverly manipulated public opinion – no scandal became public, thus, the fans remained sympathetic to him and adored him without hesitation. Which is great – when compared, for instance, to Ronaldo saying that he dreams of playing for Real Madrid when donning Manchester United jersey. Cruiff was always careful to keep the fans on his side and, most importantly, his quarrels stayed outside the pitch – once on the grass, he played. Did not sulk, did not show how ‘unhappy’ he was… it was by far more dignified behavior not to come out on the pitch than to be in the team, but to handicap his teammates by demonstrative disinterest, as Berbatov did until transferred to Manchester United.
It is often said that Cruiff had short temper – I don’t remember him ‘short tempered’. He argued with referees occasionally, but only when captaining the team. However, he was pigheaded, especially in the national team. He debuted for Holland in 1966 and was national player until 1978. For 12 years he played a total of 48 matches – very small number for one of the greatest players of all time. Well, he often refused to play for Holland – was he the ‘father’ of this particularly Dutch trend is hard to say, but he had many followers. At the time even his negative qualities were charming. The grand master of total football was pleasure to watch. He never disappointed on the pitch.