Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff Born in Amsterdam on April 25, 1947, Johann Cruyff was arguably the greatest-ever European player and certainly one of the most influential figures in association football history. Under the auspices of Ajax and Netherlands manager Marinus ‘Rinus’ Michels, Cruyff was a pioneer of ‘totaalvoetbal’ or, in English, ‘total’ football’, which was based on the theory that outfield players could play, interchangeably, in any position. As Dutch teammate Arend ‘Arie’ Haan put it, ‘In the Holland team, when you are 60 metres from the ball, you are playing.’

Nominally an attacking midfielder, or forward, Cruyff made his debut for the Ajax first team in 1964, at the age of 17. He would subsequently inspire his hometown club to six Eredivisie titles and three consecutive European Cup wins, in 1971, 1972 and 1973, before being transferred to Barcelona for ƒ6 million, which was, at the time, a world record. Cruyff won the Ballon d’Or three times, in 1971, 1973 and 1974 and, in the latter year, captained the Netherlands to the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany; the Netherlands lost 2-1 to the hosts, but Cruyff nevertheless collected the Golden Ball award for the outstanding player of the tournament.

Indeed, it was during that same tournament – in fact, during an otherwise unremarkable 0-0 draw with Sweden in the group stages – that he executed what would become known as the ‘Cruyff Turn’ for the first time. Facing Swedish defender Jan Olsson on the edge of the penalty area, Cruyff shaped as if to cross with his right foot but, instead, dragged the ball behind his standing foot, completely wrong-footing his hapless opponent, and raced away in the opposite direction. The signature move became instantly world famous.

Johan Cruyff Player Highlights

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Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali ‘I am the greatest!” or so proclaimed Muhammad Ali – at the time, still known by his birth name, Cassius Clay – in February, 1964, shortly before becoming world heavyweight champion for the first time. On February 25, 1964, in his first meeting with Sonny Liston in Miami, Florida, Clay scored a shock technical knockout when the ‘big, ugly bear’, as he repeatedly called his opponent, failed to answer the bell for the seventh round. The pair met again in Lewiston, Maine on May 25, 1965, by which time Clay had joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali; Ali won again, by first-round knockout.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 1942, Ali was blessed not only with unprecedented boxing skills, but also extraordinary self-belief, which led to him being dubbed ‘The Louisville Lip’ by the press. On April 28, 1967, as the Vietnam War escalated, Ali refused to be inducted into the US Army on religious grounds, was stripped of his heavyweight title and had his boxing licence revoked.

That decision was reversed by the US Supreme Court in 1971; Ali would go on to win two more world heavyweight titles, against George Foreman in the legendary ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo on October 30, 1974 and against Leon Spinks in New Orleans, Louisiana on September 15, 1978. Ali also fought Joe Frazier three times, culminating in the so-called ‘Thrilla in Manila’ – widely regarded as the best fight of all time – in the then capital of the Phillipines, Quezon City, on October 1, 1975; Ali won by technical knockout after 14 rounds.

Whether or not Ali was, in fact, the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, or merely one of the greatest, is open to debate. However, he remains the only three-time champion of the heavyweight division and few would argue that he was one of the most popular, influential and charismatic figures of the twentieth century.

Top 10 Muhammad Ali Best Knockouts

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