Johan Cruyff is considered one of the most influential and iconic figures in football history. The Dutch legend is praised as one of the greatest players ever to play the sport and also as one of the best managers of all time. He has changed the fortunes and laid the foundations for the recent success of Barcelona and Ajax. He is among a small group of people who have been successful both as a player and a manager. Let’s have a look at what makes Cruyff memorable.

“If you look at the greatest players in history, most of them couldn’t coach. If you look at the greatest coaches in history, most of them were not great players. Johan Cruyff did both – and in such an exhilarating style.”

– Johan Neeskens (Dutch football manager and former midfielder)


During his playing career, Johan Cruyff won Ballon d’Or three times, in 1971,1973 and 1974. He was the first Dutch player to win the Ballon d’Or. He won the golden ball at the 1974 FIFA World Cup where he led the Netherland to the finals being the best player in the tournament. He also won the European footballer of the year in 1974. He started his playing career at Ajax and retired at Feyenoord. He joined Barcelona in 1973 for a world record transfer fee of $2 Million. He has won 9 Eredivisie titles, 8 with Ajax and 1 with Feyenoord. He has also won three European cups and 1 intercontinental cup with Ajax. He has also won a La Liga and Copa del Rey with Barcelona. 

During his managerial tenure, He won 4 La Liga titles, 1 Champions league, 1 UEFA Super cup and 1 Copa del Rey with Barcelona. He also won 2 domestic cups with Ajax.


Throughout his career, Cruyff was associated with the playing technique of “Total Football”. He learned and played this tactical set-up as a player under Rinus Michels. Total Football is a tactical system where a player out of his position is replaced by another player of his team, thus allowing the team to maintain its formation and organizational structure. The team has to press high up the pitch when out of possession to make it difficult for the opposition team to pass their way through to their half. It is a possession-based approach with one-touch and quick passing.

In this flexible system, no outfield player has a fixed position. All the positions can be interchanged between the attackers, midfielders and defenders. The players in this system have to be technically sound and intelligent. The players should be comfortable in more than one position and should have the adaptability to quickly switch positions depending on the situation in the game.

 The Netherlands football team and Ajax are generally acknowledged for creating this system during the 1970s.

{Netherlands “TOTAL FOOTBALL” XI (1974)}

“I loved the Dutch in the ’70s, they excited me and Cruyff was the best. He was my childhood hero; I had a poster of him on my bedroom wall. He was a creator. He was at the heart of a revolution with his football. Ajax changed football and he was the leader of it all. If he wanted, he could be the best player in any position on the pitch.”

— Eric Cantona, FourFourTwo, April 2006


Johan Cruyff’s ambition was to play a fluid and progressive brand of football. His managerial approach was based on the tactical system of “Total Football”. He is an Ajax and Barcelona club legend. He was an attacking midfielder and forward, which changed throughout the match because of the tactical setup. He is considered a pioneer of “False 9”.

His football philosophy helped to set the bedrock for the success of Ajax in the 1990s. When he took over Barcelona in 1988, they had only won two league titles in 28 years. Whereas in the last 33 years, they have won 16 La Liga titles and 5 Champions Leagues.

Cruyff’s playing style and football philosophy have influenced many managers and players. Barcelona (Under Pep Guardiola) and the Spanish national team of the late 2000s and early 2010s developed the roots of playing style known as Tiki-taka on the theory of Total Football and the coaching philosophy of Johan Cruyff.

Ajax and Barcelona have developed youth academies based on Cruyff’s coaching methods. These two youth academies have played a significant role in their clubs’ success in recent years. The young players in these academies are taught the football philosophy of Cruyff and are made familiar with the tactical system from an early age. Over the past few years, the academy has produced several world-class players who have helped their team to win titles. La Masia’s coaching system is considered the primary bastion of the Cruyffian (Barçajax) school of football.

In 2017, The Amsterdam Arena was renamed Johan Cruyff Arena. It was a tribute to Cruyff by the Ajax and the Netherland national football team.


The Cruyff Turn is a tricky football dribble named after Johan Cruyff. This skill was performed by Cruyff at the 1974 World Cup against Sweden in the group stage. Cruyff had control of the ball in an attacking area but was facing his own goal and marked by a defender, Cruyff feigned a pass before dragging the ball behind his standing leg, turning 180 degrees and accelerating away from the defender. The Cruyff is one of the most used skill moves in modern football because of its unpredictability and efficiency.

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