Johan Cruyff, one of the greatest footballers of all time, was presented with the coveted Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award. An emotional Cruyff, who was both player and coach with FC Barcelona, said: “This is one of the greatest honours in my life.”
Cruyff, the Dutch Master, dominated European and World football in the 1970s and was seen by many as the natural successor to Pelé. He played in three winning European Cup teams with Ajax of Amsterdam 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 – their style of play was dubbed ‘Total Football’ and Cruyff was the leading exponent.
In 1973 Cruyff left Ajax to join Barcelona for a then world record transfer fee of 75 million pesetas (US$1 million). When he arrived, Barcelona were struggling. The effect of his influence was extraordinary and they finished as Spanish Champions.
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 as coach 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 1999 Cruyff was named European Footballer of the Century ahead of Franz Beckenbauer and Alfredo di Stefano.
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.