Johan Cruyff is nowadays known as the unofficial face of FC Barcelona. Heck, he is often the mouthpiece of FC Barcelona as well, thanks to his weekly column in El Periodico, a Catalan newspaper. Cruyff is often outspoken and bristly, not afraid to rip into anybody. And why not? He is basically a God in Barcelona, and when you look back at the impact he made there, it's easy to see why.
One Hendrik Johannes Cruijff was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands near the Ajax training ground. Naturally, he joined the Ajax academy as soon as he could walk (exaggerating for effect). He made his debut for the senior team at age 17, and started making headlines the very next season (1965-66), scoring 23 goals in 25 appearances.
Cruyff appeased Barcelona fans by stating that he chose Barcelona because he did not want to be associated with General Franco's Real Madrid. With him at the forefront, FC Barcelona won their first league title in 14 years and he was crowned European Footballer of the Year. Sadly though, despite 48 goals in 140 games, his tenure as a player fell well short of expectations in Barcelona. He did help them win the Copa Del Rey in 1978, his last season at the club. Cruyff then went on to play in Los Angeles, Washington, Levante, Ajax (2nd time) and Feyenoord to cap off his playing career.
After retirement, Cruyff followed mentor and the great Rinus Michels into managing, starting at Ajax in 1985. Adopting the Total Voetbal philosophy Michels had taught him (with a few tweaks from him), Ajax won the KNVB Cup twice and the Cup Winners Cup once before Cruyff moved on to, predictably, FC Barcelona.
It was as manager that Johan made his biggest mark, bringing players in such as a young Pep Guardiola, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and the like. Barcelona won 11 titles during his spell, including their very first European Cup in 1992, beating Sampdoria 1-0 at Wembley Stadium. To date, Cruyff is the most successful and longest tenured manager of FC Barcelona.
In terms of his international career, Cruyff shone brightest at the 1974 World Cup in which he helped Holland reach the final (they should've won). He was named Player of the Tournament, helping the Dutch dominate Argentina, East Germany and Brazil on their way to the final. Oddly, it was the only World Cup he played in because after the 1977 World Cup qualifiers, he retired from international football.
Pele, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Maradona. There can be no doubt that the Enigmatic Genius belongs among the biggest names in world football. And anyone who saw the man play (or manage) knows it too.