A Tribute To...Johan Cruyff

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IAugust 14, 2008

Today's 'A Tribute To...' looks at one of the most skilled players in the history of the game - Johan Cruyff.

One of the main exponents of the majestic "Total Football", Cruyff was often called "the Total Footballer" for his ability to play it like no other.

Born on April 25, 1947, Johan Cruyff made his debut for the Ajax first team at 18 years old, scoring on it. His first season at Ajax, however was one to forget.  It was in his second season that things started picking up for him.

At just 19 he was a first-team regular, and was quickly becoming the star player. At one time during the season he scored seven goals in just four days. Overall he went on to score 25 goals in 23 games, which helped Ajax to the League Championship.

Cruyff and Ajax's rise continued in his third season there. In his first season they went trophy-less, in the second season they won the League and in the third they improved further, securing a League and Cup double. Johan Cruyff ended the season as The Eredivisie's top scorer, recording 33 goals.

He won the Dutch Player of the Year award that same season at just 20 years of age.

Ajax continued to dominate, inspired by the total football of their new great. They won their third successive League crown, and was once again voted Dutch Player of the Year.

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The following year was his first trophy-less season since his debut year at Ajax, but a ray of light was that they reached the final of the European Cup, only to fall to AC Milan.

The year after, however, Cruyff and Ajax were back to winning ways, securing another League and Cup double. It the very next season that Cruyff scored a superb six goals in a single match, inspiring his team to an 8-1 win.

He was starting to really establish himself as one of the best in the world. He inspired Ajax to yet another Cup win, and guided them to European Cup success. On top of this he was awarded the Ballon d'Or, or the European Player of the Year award. It was Cruyff's most successful year in football so far.

Little did he know that the very next season was to be even better.

In 1972, Ajax were unstoppable. Not only did they win another League and Cup double, but they also won the Intercontinental Cup, the European Super Cup and even successfully defended the European Cup.

Cruyff scored in the Cup final, twice in the European Cup final and was once again the League's top scorer. The Total Football of Ajax and Cruyff were the talk of Europe.

The success continued in 1973 when he led Ajax to another League trophy, a second successive European Super Cup, and a historic third successive European Cup. He was once again voted European Player of the Year, only the second player to have won it twice.

Cruyff had now been at Ajax for seven years, and had become their star player and their talisman. Much to the dismay of Ajax fans, Cruyff moved on to Barcelona in the summer of 1973.

In his first season at the Catalan giants he helped them to their first La Liga title in almost 15 years, and was named European Player of the Year for the second successive time, and a record third time overall.

He had cemented his place as the best player in the world going into the 1974 World Cup. Many people were eagerly anticipating the Total Football of the Dutch at a World Cup. Everyone wanted to see how they did. And they didn't disappoint.

They brushed off the world's best like Argentina and Brazil with apparent ease and progressed to the final to face West Germany.

He was involved in controversy leading up to the match, but that didn't seem to affect Holland's preparations, as they dominated in the first half. However, West Germany came back and won 2-1. Cruyff's dream of winning a World Cup was over.

However, he left the world with memories of his class. His tricks such as what is now known as "The Cruyff Turn" dazzled the millions watching. In 1977 Cruyff retired from international football ahead of the 1978 World Cup. He had played 48 times for the Netherlands, scoring 33 goals, and would later be voted as the best player in their history.

He stayed at Barcelona for the next five years, continuously putting in good displays, but he could only add a Copa del Rey trophy to his La Liga title.

Following stints in America and Levante, Cruyff returned to Ajax and, despite his ageing years, inspired them to two more League titles and another Cup success.

When he wasn't offered a contract renewal at Ajax he signed for arch-rivals Feyenoord, and was once again an inspiration. He led them to a League and Cup double, despite being 36 years old.

He later became a successful coach, winning the European Cup again, becoming one of a small handful to have won it as both player and manager.

However, it was his mesmerizing time as a player that he will be remembered for. His speed, skill, finishing and just all-round ability couldn't be matched.

In 1999 Johan Cruyff was voted the European Player of the Century, and came second in the World Player of the Century poll. He truly was a great the likes of which we may never see again. This has been a tribute to Johan Cruyff.

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.

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