The legacy left by Johan Cruyff in soccer

Cruyff is the father of modern football.” Lately it is often heard that Cruyff influenced greatly the style of football being played today, especially the football of Barcelona and the Spanish National Team in recent times. But why? ¿How did he influnce it?

johan cruyff playing soccer

How did Cruyff influence modern football?

To start examining it, we must go back to his playing days – the 1970s especially – a time when most teams played with permanent positions, for which reason man-to-man marking made a lot of sense.

In the late 60s, a then-unknown team in European football, Ajax, starts to pop up in continental competitions and ends up winning three European Cups in a row, thus revolutionizing the way to conceive the game. A lot of passing to create attacks, players exchanging positions – with the subsequent confusion for individual markers –, pressing… It was a very difficult system to interpret correctly and it required players of great tactical intelligence. And the most intelligent of all was Johan Cruyff.

Although it is understood that the father of this system was Rinus Michels – later succeeded at Ajax by Ștefan Kovacs with great success – it was usual to see Johan Cruyff direct the team from the pitch, pointing the way to his teammates. Cruyff’s starting position was usually centre forward, but he would usually play anywhere but. Instead, he would “empty” that position so that other teammates would fill it arriving by surprise, thus bewildering the defense. That movement is something Cruyff tried – and to a great extent achieved – to reproduce as a manager of Barcelona in the figure of Michael Laudrup.

Having grown up watching the Dream Team play, the first times I saw Cruyff play, his behaviour on the pitch reminded me of that of the Dane when playing under him. It should be the other way around, but that’s what you get when you watch football anachronically and you discover the history that preceded you in scrambled bits.

To observe all of the above, it is highly advisable to watch the matches we have with Cruyff at Ajax and in the 1974 World Cup. Reading the tactical analysis by busi1325 (@busi1325 on Twitter) of many of those individual matches is a great start.

From his time at Barcelona, fewer games have been preserved, but in addition to the famouse R. Madrid 0 – Barcelona 5, the matches against Valencia, or Feyenoord are also a good example of Cruyff’s playing style, which was the cornerstone of the concept of total football. Worthy of particular mention is the 1978 Cup final, the last game of Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, where he plays the whole 2nd half as a sweeper! Although he had already done it occasionally in some of the matches we have on footballia.net, in this one he does it permanently.

How about it? Do you agree with this memory of one of the greats?


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