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.