Goals… And The Stories Behind Them.
Johan Cruyff. Ajax’s greatest ever player and arguably the finest European footballer of all time. He had been the star man in Ajax’s 3 back-to-back European Cup wins from 1971 to 1973. Rinus Michels was the coach who gave the world Total Football but there is little doubt as to who the real driving force on the pitch was:
“Cruyff was a big influence, especially as he grew older and talked more and more about tactics with the other players.”
[Bobby Haarms, in David Winner's Brilliant Orange]
However, after the 3rd European triumph with Ajax, Cruyff was removed as captain in an unfortunate move instigated by new coach George Knobel. The players were asked to draw lots to decide the captain for the season – Piet Keizer was chosen ahead of Cruyff and the die was cast. The deposed skipper moved to Barcelona where he was to become a Catalan legend by helping the club to win La Liga for the first time in 24 years.
Cruyff’s international career was characterised by the glorious failure of the 1974 World Cup campaign where the Dutch threw away an early lead to lose to the hosts, their great rivals West Germany. Cruyff declined to play at the 1978 tournament and when he left Barcelona to head to America and play in the fledgling North American Soccer League his career appeared to be winding down. However, in 1981 Cruyff made his long-awaited return to Ajax – the prodigal son was back.
Cruyff may have been 34 years old by the time of his return to Ajax but it was a successful comeback. He scored on his return in December 1981 and helped the club reclaim the Eredivisie title that season. More was to come as Ajax won the league and cup double in the 1982-83 season – only the second time the club had achieved the feat since the great man had left a decade earlier. Incredibly, Ajax refused to extend Cruyff’s contract and thus, in the eyes of the man himself, were forcing him out of the club once again. Cruyff was piqued and when the chance came to join arch-rivals Feyenoord the stage was set for the old legend to prove his point…
At first, the plan to make his old club pay did not go to plan. The now 36 year old Cruyff’s return to Ajax was a disaster as Feyenoord were crushed 8-2.. a hat-trick from the teenage Marco van Basten with youngsters Jesper Olsen and Ronald Koeman also on the scoresheet seemed to send the message loud and clear: Cruyff’s time had passed. The old maestro, however, was to have the last laugh.
Despite that heavy defeat, Feyenoord edged ahead of Ajax and by the time of the return leg it was clear that the result could be decisive in the title race. By this stage, a young star had emerged at Feyenoord to rival Marco van Basten – the dreadlocked figure of Ruud Gullit. The young Gullit was to go on to score 25 goals that season, including 9 in Feyenoord’s successful run to win the KNVB Cup. Indeed, it was Gullit’s remarkable free-kick that opened the scoring in that crucial game between Feyenoord and Ajax - and he was to assist for the goal that made it 2-0… a goal that was to prove a cathartic moment for Holland’s most famous player…
Feyenoord had won a corner on the right-flank.. the kick was taken short for Gullit to whip in. There unmarked was Johan Cruyff to head towards goal, only for the ball to be parried… again Cruyff was first to react and the ball was belted home left-footed… seemingly laced with resentment.
De Klassikier was won 4-1 (you may spot Jan Molby bagging Ajax’s goal), Feyenoord went on to complete the double – the second in a row for Cruyff of course – and the legend was able to retire on a high that summer at the age of 37. He was to rejoin Ajax once again the following year, this time as coach. However, there can be no doubt he had proven his point that February day in 1984, with one swish of his left foot.