If Holland were the team that gave the world ‘Total Football’, then Johan Cruyff was the Total Footballer. Cruyff came to dominate European and World football in the 1970s and was seen by many as the natural successor to Pele. He played in three winning European Cup teams with Ajax of Amsterdan and was three times European Footballer of the Year. At their peak, the Holland side, of which he was captain, were the most exciting and talented team in international football, yet, strangely, they never won a major trophy. In 1999 Cruyff was named European Footballer of the Century ahead of Franz Beckenbauer and Alfredo di Stefano.
Cruyff was born close to the Ajax ground in Amsterdam in April 1947. His mother worked as a cleaner at the club and it was she who persuaded the coaches to admit her son to the Ajax youth scheme at the age of 12. Cruyff made his senior debut for Ajax when he was 17. Two years later he was playing for Holland. Cruyff was a powerful, long-striding runner who had wonderful balance, deadly speed and breathtaking ball control. But his greatest quality was vision. It sometimes seemed as if he was able to control a match from one end of the field to the other.
In 1973 Cruyff left Ajax to join Barcelona for a then world record transfer fee of 75 million pesetas (£922,000). When Cruyff arrived, Barcelona were struggling. The effect of his influence was extraordinary and they finished as Spanish Champions. The World Cup of 1974 in West Germany saw the Holland team, led by Cruyff, at the height of their majestic powers. They reached the World Cup Final, but lost to West Germany, only the second time the Dutch had been beaten in 24 matches. It was also the first and only time that Cruyff was to appear in the World Cup Finals. In total, Cruyff played 48 games for Holland and scored a record 33 goals.
Cruyff also played for Los Angeles Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, Levante, a minor Spanish club, Ajax again and Feyenoord of Rotterdam, before he was hired as coach of Ajax. He won the 1987 European Cup Winners' Cup, before moving back to Barcelona where in 1992 he brought to Spain the greatest prize, the European Cup. By 1994 Barcelona had won four successive Spanish Championships, but the strain was beginning to tell. Cruyff had undergone surgery after suffering a heart attack and in 1996 he left Barcelona.
In recent years, Cruyff has spent considerable time helping to develop sports-based projects for underprivileged children around the world. Cruyff sees many similarities between sport and society as a whole. In 1997 he founded the Johan Cruyff Foundation. Projects funded by the Foundation must have as a primary objective the enhancement of the mental and physical well-being of children by means of sports, physical exercise, games and recreational activities. Preference is given to projects for underprivileged and handicapped children.