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The Top 10 Greatest Footballers of all time No. 9 – Johan Cruyff

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Football has seen many great players over the years, many of which were, and continue, to be household names around the globe. The game has changed drastically, but the talent of the players has not, and many of the players who are commonly regarded as some of the best of all time plied their trade well-before the game turned into the mega-business it now is. Every sport has their all-time legends and contemporary stars, and none more so than football, and comparing players of different generations is an impossible task.

Here at The Sports Lowdown, we attempt to do just that. In our top 1o countdown, our specialist team of football writers will formulate a list of the greatest players of all time in reverse order, commencing at 8am on Monday and finishing at 6pm that same day.

Pele? Maradona? Messi? Zidane? Keep a watchful eye on proceedings at The Sports Lowdown to find out who we have picked as our top 10 players of all time, and as usual we would love to hear your views, so any comments would be greatly appreciated!

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Number 9 – Johan Cruyff

Born near the Ajax club stadium, Cruyff joined the Dutch side at the tender age of 10 before making his way up the ranks and making his first team debut in 1964. At that time, the strategy of ‘Total Football’ was being preached to the players by manager Rinus Michels. With this style of play, all players contributed to all areas of the pitch with everyone rotating and switching positions apart from the goalkeeper. It was this method and style which suited Cruyff’s versatility and his ability to orchestrate the midfield and attack.

In his first season with the club, he managed to score four times with Ajax finishing in 13th position. It was the following season in which Cruyff really started making a name for himself after establishing himself in Michel’s side. He went on to score 25 goals in 23 appearances in all competitions for the Dutch side helping them lift their first league title since 1960.

Cruyff would then go on to have phenomenal success in the 1966-67 season leading the goalscorer charts for the Eredivisie netting 33 times and in doing so helping retain the league title. He also helped Ajax lift the KNVB Cup giving him his first double of his career. Ajax would again come out on top the following season retaining the league title with Cruyff being named Dutch Footballer of the Year.

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1969 saw Ajax reach the finals of the European Cup where they would feature against AC Milan. This was the first time a Dutch side had reached the finals as well as marking Cruyff’s first appearance in such a game. The Italians however would run out 4-1 winners at the Bernabéu.

Cruyff didn’t have to wait long for another opportunity at the European Cup when in 1971 they beat Greek side Panathinaikos. He was once again awarded the Dutch Footballer of the Year Award as well as becoming the European Footballer of the Year. He would also become the recipient of the Balon d’Or that year becoming the first Dutch national and first Ajax player to do so. Ajax retained the title the following year against Inter Milan in a match which saw Cruyff score twice in the second half allowing them to become champions of Europe for a second season running. The celebrations didn’t stop there when in 1973 they again retained their European title as well as the Eredivisie with Cruyff picking up the Balon d’Or for the second time in his career.

Ajax would go on to lift six Eredivsie championships, four KNVB Cups, three European Cups and two UEFA Super Cups between 1966 and 1973 cementing the side as one of the greats in Europe.

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Despite signing a seven-year contract in 1971, Cruyff would see a change in scenery by signing for Spanish  giants Barcelona in 1973 for a fee of $2 million which was then a world record transfer fee. He would go on to help his side clinch their first La Liga title in 15 years scoring 16 times along the way. The summer of 1974 would see Cruyff become the first ever player to pick up the Balon d’Or three times. He would also lead his national side to the World Cup final where they would ultimately lose against the hosts, West Germany 2-1. Cruyff however, was named the player of the tournament for his exceptional performances through out the competition. This would be his first and last World Cup as a player with Cruyff scoring 33 goals from his 48 international appearances before retiring in 1977.

Cruyff would lift the Copa Del Rey in 1978 which would mark his final trophy for Barcelona before moving to the United States to play for the Los Angeles Aztecs. He spent one season with the club before making his switch to the Washington Diplomats playing the whole season for them in 1980. His time in the States was short lived as he signed for Levante where he made 10 appearances scoring twice.

He would return to his homeland to play for Ajax and helped them win the league title in 1982 and did the double again in 1983 by winning the KNVB Cup. After not being offered a new contract, Cruyff would sign for rivals Feyenoord helping them to a league and cup double before officially announcing his retirement at the end of the season.

As a coach, Cruyff experienced similar success like he did as a player. He was manager of Ajax for two seasons in which he won back-to-back KNVB Cup titles in 1986 and 1987. The following year he joined Barcelona and led them to four consecutive league titles in 1991, 92, 93 and 94. During his eight year tenure with the club, he would also guide them to a Copa Del Rey win, three Spanish Super Cups and a European club.

Cruyff’s status in world football will be one which will always be greatly admired no matter which team you support. After all, how can we forget the infamous ‘Cruyff turn’ which would leave defenders bewildered or even his famous ‘phantom goal’ which had people awe-struck. He is also responsible for building Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ where he mixed Spanish players with players from overseas. This saw the likes of Josep Guardiola really blossom into a world class player.

It’s sad to know that Cruyff could’ve potentially been a World Cup winner had he decided to play in the following tournament but this is something he opted out of due to personal reasons. He will always be regarded as one of Europe’s finest footballers and his coaching techniques are still being used today by current managers across the world. This proves just how influential Cruyff really was and that he was always going to leave a lasting impact on world football.

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Ajax Ballon D'or Barcelona european championships johan cruyff knvb Netherlands World Cup

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