clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Genius Johan Cruyff: FC Barcelona’s Architect

You have probably heard the sad news already. Johan Cruyff, former FC Barcelona and Ajax player and manager, died today. A tribute.

Getty Images/Getty Images

Johan Cruyff is a man who you could argue is the greatest player of all time, only rivaled by the likes of Pele, Alfredo di Stéfano, and Diego Maradona.

And he was as successful as a coach. Cruyff took Ajax to unforeseen heights, winning the European cup three times alongside eight Eredivisie titles. He also won a league and a cup title with Barcelona and Feyenoord.

As brilliant a player he was, he was arguably just as good a manager. He won silverware with Ajax but also with Barcelona, creating the so-called "Dream Team" in the early 90s which won La Liga four times in a row. He also guided the Blaugrana to their first European Cup triumph in 1992.

But Barcelona fans are grateful to the man for more than just his direct contributions (which are phenomenal - only Pep Guardiola has won more silverware in the history of the club). His fingerprints on the team are visible to this day.

Cruyff is considered the maximum exponent of Total Football, a Dutch system which prized skillful players able to do it all. As Barcelona manager, Cruyff emphasized offensive play, skill, and the spectacle of good football.

These concepts are now synonymous with FC Barcelona, though they perhaps weren’t always. The modern, uber-successful, amazing Barcelona is the product of many people, but if any one man is its father, it certainly is Cruyff. Barça DNA is perhaps Cruyff DNA.

You can draw the family tree pretty easily. Pep Guardiola was a player during Cruyff’s run as FC Barcelona manager. Luis Enrique wasn’t, but he came the season after Cruyff’s last season and became another player schooled, albeit indirectly, in Cruyff’s concepts. Lucho’s transfer was a request of the Dutchman's, but the manager was let go before he could coach the midfielder.

The numbers speak for themselves. Before Cruyff, Barcelona won 42 trophies in 71 years, including 10 league titles, and no European Cups. After Cruyff, it's 44 trophies in 28 years, including 13 league titles and all 5 of the team's European Cup / Champions League trophies.*

And you can start looking at Spain’s transformation from perennial underachievers into World and European champions as Cryuff-tinged too, quite easily. Cruyff’s revitalization of La Masia, Barça's youth academy, led directly to the formations of the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the cornerstones of the Spanish success.

It also led to the formation of Lionel Messi, a cornerstone to Barcelona’s current success and a candidate to surpass even Cryuff himself in influence. He may have already done so as a player, at least.

And it’s not just Barcelona and not just Spain. Look at the "Dream Team" players and you see a multitude of coaches who have achieved varying levels of success all over the world.

Yes, there’s Pep Guardiola obviously. And also Ronald Koeman, who famously scored the only goal in Barcelona's first European Cup final win, 1-0 against Sampdoria. He won the Eredivisie twice with Ajax, once with PSV, and a Copa del Rey with Valencia. He’s currently Southampton’s manager. And then, we see Abelardo Fernández currently trying to help little Sporting Gijón stay up in La Liga.

Luis Enrique was a request of Cruyff’s before he was sacked, as was Paris Saint-Germain managar Laurent Blanc.

But there’s more.

There's Óscar García, a Barcelona youth coach who won the Israeli Premier League with Maccabi Tel Aviv and is currently on his way to winning the Austrian Bundesliga with Red Bull Salzburg. Sergi Barjuán, who manages Almeria. Gheorghe Hagi, who manages FC Viitorul in Romania. Guillermo Amor, who manages Adelaide United in Australia. José Mari Bakero, who found some success coaching in Poland. Albert Ferrer got Córdoba promoted recently. Julen Lopetegui, who recently managed Porto. The list goes on.

Results are mixed and obviously not all of them have the magic touch. But it seems teams around the world want to emulate Barcelona, and specifically, Cruyff’s Barcelona.

It’s surely only going to continue. The likes of Xavi or Carles Puyol, descended from Guardiola, will expand the Cruyff coaching tree. It really begins with Rinus Michels, who taught Cruyff, but there’s no doubt Cruyff is the man who took it to the next level.

Cruyff, in his later years, became a direct influence at the club as an adviser during Joan Laporta’s presidency. The Sandro Rosell / Josep Maria Bartomeu era brought separation between the club hierarchy and Cruyff, although his role as the elder statesman or even revered saint among the Barcelona faithful was never in doubt.

Cruyff stood up for Luis Enrique when the coach was struggling in his first year. But he criticized Lucho’s team even when they won 2-1 against Real Madrid last season. The man didn’t waver with popular opinion and had a long-term view that football fans by and large simply lack.

Now, more than ever, people will attempt to speak for him. But let’s be honest, no one could. He was an ideologue, perhaps, but also a visionary.

The mantle falls not on a single disciple, but on many. And not on dogma, but evolution. To say otherwise is deny the far reaches of his influence.

Today, let’s just be thankful that of all the times to be alive, we were alive at a time when Cruyff football ruled the world and the man himself was there to enjoy the fruit of his work. Rest in peace.

*Thanks to ‏@Jeremyvrn and @FCB_Datos on Twitter for help with these statistics.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Barca Blaugranes Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Barca news from Barca Blaugranes