Johan Cruyff is the man who made Ajax and Barcelona play the spectacular football we see today. He revolutionized Rinus Michels' "Total Football" philosophy and took it to a whole new level.
Dutch football rose from near obscurity and went on to produce some of the greatest players to grace the game during Cruyff's time as a player and subsequently a manager. The world-famous Ajax Youth Academy and La Masia have based their coaching methods on Cruyff's approach and have been fairly succesful in the long run.
A three-time Ballon d'Or winner, the No.14 was voted European Player of the Century and came second only to Pele in the World Player of the Century poll in 1999. He is considered to be among the most influential figures in football history and has had profound influence on greats like Guardiola, Rijkaard and Xavi.
Cruyff joined the Ajax youth system on his 10th birthday and made a name for himself there. In just 240 matches, he amassed 190 goals winning eight Eridivisie and three European Cups. He would later return for a short stint before retiring, a touch which his compatriots really appreciated.
In the summer of 1973, the Flying Dutch joined Barcelona for a world-record breaking fee. In his first season he helped the team to a 5-0 win over archrivals Real Madrid, convincingly winning the league as a result. With Cruyff in the team, Barca looked energised and confident, in what was truly a breath of fresh air into a team that had been in Real Madrid's shadow for far too long.
After his retirement, Cruyff coached a young Ajax side to a European Cup victory in 1987. A generation of talented Dutch footballers played under him at this point and this philosophy would later help them win the Champions league in 1995. Players like Marco Van Basten (who would go on to win three Ballon d'Or, like his mentor), Frank Rijkaard, Danny Blind and Dennis Bergkamp formed his core group of players which Cruyff utilised for his Total Football.
And then came the "Dream Team".
Zubizarreta, Guardiola, Koeman, Stoichkov, Laudrup, Nadal, Hagi and Romario were some of the world class stars to have played under Cruyff and were able to win 11 titles in all including four La Liga titles in a row during his reign. Koeman's freekick in 1992 final against Sampdoria brought the club its first European Cup. And Cruyff's dream of winning a European Cup with Barca was thus completed as a manager.
Guardiola, who served as the captain of Cruyff's Barca was so inspired by his mentor, went one step further to teach Barca the "tiki taka" brand of football winning 16 titles in just four years. He was quoted as saying: "Cruyff built the cathedral, our job is to maintain and renovate it".
For all his contributions, Cruyff was made honorary president of Barca in 2010 of which he was later stripped by future president Sandro Rossell with whom he shared a strained relationship. A sad moment, considering the indisputable influence the Dutch has had in the club's recent success.
The entire footballing community was plunged into gloom when news broke out of Cruyff's diagnosis with lung cancer. Support poured in from all quarters of the globe. Cruyff took to his column in De Telegraaf to thank everyone and give updates on his treatment. As it couldn't be any different, the No.14 explained that thinking and talking about football helps him take his mind off from the illness.
The people of Catalonia consider Cruyff as one of their own. Cruyff brought in a new ray of hope at the end of Franco's reign. His revolutionary footballing mind turned Barca into a superpower in world football: Simple, beautiful and exquisite.
Get well soon, Johan!