Johan Cruijff

Full name: Hendrik Johannes Cruijff
Date of birth: 25/04/1947

Johan Cruijff was born in Amsterdam on the 25th of April 1947, and joined the famous Ajax youth programme only ten years later. He made his first team debut at the age of 17 in 1964 against GVAV. He started as he meant to go on, scoring Ajax’s only goal in their 3-1 defeat. This was the worst season in the club’s history – they finished 13th. Cruijff established himself as a favourite centre-forward in the first team, and the following season Ajax won the league, with Cruiff scoring an incredible 25 goals in 23 appearances, including three hat tricks. From then on, Cruijff became a living legend to Ajax fans.

The following seasons were even more successful – he scored 33 times and Ajax won both the league and the KNVB, the Netherlands equivalent of the FA Cup. He won the title of Dutch footballer of the year in the ’66, ’67, and ’69 seasons. The ’69 season saw Cruijff’s Ajax win another league and cup double. This season also saw Ajax reach the finals of the European cup, but they were defeated 4-1 by AC Milan. At the beginning of the season, Cruijff suffered a serious groin injury that was to recur at various intervals throughout his career. During his absence, Gerrie Muhren wore his number nine shirt. When Cruijff returned, he wore the number 14 shirt, and decided to stick with it for the rest of his career.

In those days, players were usually allotted a shirt numbered 1 to 11 depending on their starting position. It was highly unusual for a regular starter to wear the number 14. He also began wearing the number 14 during his international appearances. This became something of a trademark – there is a documentary about him entitled ‘Number 14’, and it is frequently referenced in biographies. 1971 was also an extraordinarily successful year for Cruijff’s Ajax, who defeated Panathinaikos 2-0 at Wembley. This season saw Cruijff named European player of the year for the first time. To dispel speculation that he would move clubs, he signed a seven-year contract at the end of that season. However, after winning two more European Cups in 1972 and 1973, he signed to Barcelona for six million guilder.

Always willing to express his political beliefs publicly, he made himself popular among Catalans by declaring that he could never play for Real Madrid because of its association with the Fascist leader General Franco. He helped Barcelona to their first ‘La Liga’ championship in 14 years in 1973/74, and was named European footballer of the year for good measure. During his tenure at Barcelona, Cruijff scored his most famous goal, known popularly as the ‘Phantom’ goal, because of its seemingly supernatural quality. Somehow, Cruijff managed to jump in the air with his back to goal, and use his heel to score past a beleaguered Atletico Madrid goalkeeper.

Like so many of Europe’s best known players of the 1970’s, Cruijff was lured to the United States to play exhibition matches for the New York Cosmos and eventually signed a lucrative contract with the Los Angeles Aztecs. After a season with the Aztecs, he switched coasts, and signed for a season with the Washington Diplomats. By this time the campaign to elevate the status of soccer in the eyes of US sports fans had more or less run its course, and Cruijff returned to the Netherlands in 1981.

A 34 year old Cruijff signed to Ajax but the club decided not to extend his contract after the end of the second season. This angered the Amsterdam-born Cruijff, who moved to arch rivals Feyenoord in protest. He helped the club to its first league and cup double in over a decade. At the end of the 83/84 season, after making 33 appearances and scoring 11 times for Feyenoord, Cruijff retired after 20 years as one of the most prolific strikers in the world.

Cruijff also enjoyed a distinguished career as an international, playing a central role in the famous 1974 Dutch team that came second place in the FIFA World Cup Finals, where he was named player of the tournament. They lost the final 2-1 to their West German hosts, after Cruijff coordinated one of the most famous pieces of attacking football in history, which ended with the Netherlands scoring a penalty. Although Cruijff helped the Netherlands to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, he refused to participate in the actual tournament as it was being held in Argentina, which was in the grip of a right-wing military junta, which had seized power during a coup two years ago. Without him, the Netherlands lost in the final again.

Cruijff is the embodiment of ‘total football’, a style of play developed by Ajax coach Rinus Michaels. The style arose in opposition to the physical aspect of the game prevalent at the time, emphasising the importance of technical skill and awareness. Cruijff and his Ajax team-mates were able swap positions at the drop of a hat – he was particularly fond of taking defenders unawares by moving out from his central position to the wings. He commented; "Total football is to do with your way of thinking, character – everything is involved. The Dutch team at that time was made up mostly from Ajax players. We could change position easily, and that’s total football… the first defender was the centre forward, which was me. We had a change of mentality on the field where we thought we could achieve anything."

Cruijff reprised his role as a football technician in managerial roles at Ajax and Barcelona. He led an all-star Barcelona team to victory against Sampdoria at the Wembley European Cup finals in 1992. He is Barcelona’s most successful manager to date; the club won 11 competitions under his stewardship. In 1999 he was named European footballer of the century, and is widely regarded as one of the top five players ever to of played the game.


Individual Honours

  • KNVB Lifetime Achievement Award: 2006
  • Laureus World Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement Award: 2006
  • Selected as the Golden Player of the Netherlands by KNVB: 2003
  • Dutch Supercup named after him (Johan Cruijff-schaal): 1996
  • Dutch Golden Shoe Winner: 1984
  • Dutch Sportsman of the Year: 1974
  • European Footballer of the Year: 1974, 1971


Player Statistics

Senior Club and National Team Statistics
Period Team Appearances (Goals)
1964-1973 Ajax 240 (190)
1973-1978 F.C. Barcelona 143 (48)
1979-1980 Los Angeles Aztecs 27 (16)
1980-1981 Washington Diplomats 32 (12)
1981 Levante 10 (2)
1981-1983 Ajax 36 (14)
1983-1984 Feyenoord 33 (11)
1966-1978 Netherlands 48 (33)