Very sad to hear Johan Cruyff has passed away from cancer aged 68. For many years he was my favourite non-Liverpool player. He had sublime skills (the Cruyff turn is common now but we were all amazed when he executed it in the 1974 World Cup Final). He was also a highly intelligent player and an essential part of the Total Football developed by Ajax and then the Dutch National Team.
I’m pleased that I managed to see him play though the circumstances were unhappy for Liverpool supporters at the time. Having been comfortable League Champions in 1966 no Reds supporter imagined we would be troubled when we were drawn against an unknown Dutch team Ajax in the European Cup. But on a foggy night in Amsterdam Cruyff and his mates put us to the sword 5-1. I can tell you that school the next day was torture for Reds fans as the Evertonians mocked us and some even brought in tubs of Ajax scouring powder to throw at us (detention was full that week).
Despite our drubbing we still held a faint hope that we could recover in the second leg. Anfield was at its noisiest though when Liverpool trotted out we were taken by surprise as they wore yellow shirts, the only time I can recall them playing at Anfield in anything but red. Playing towards the Anfield Road end we came close early on through Peter Thompson but when his shot came back off the bar I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be our evening. And so it proved with 19 year old Cruyff a magician and scoring twice as Ajax held us to a 2-2 draw. It was the first time we had been outclassed in Europe and it was a sobering lesson.
Cruyff became a fixture in the Dutch National Team which was so wonderful to watch in the 1970’s. They should have won the 1974 World Cup but were beaten in the final by West Germany despite scoring first through Cruyff. Had they possessed a pure goalscorer of the class of Gert Muller who was the German hero they would have won but there was no room for a penalty box goal poacher in a team that played total football – it was a far more fluid system.
Cruyff won three European Cups with Ajax and had further success when he moved to Barcelona. He was a heavy smoker and blamed that on his heart problems in the 1990’s. I can recall mention of his name some time ago when it looked like Liverpool might appoint a director of football but nothing came of it. I often wonder how players of the past would fit into today’s game but I have no doubt that Cruyff would thrive despite the increased physicality and athleticism of today’s game. I’m sure there will be clips of him in action on various websites and I would urge those Kopfans who are too young to have seen this great player in action to watch and admire.