He would have turned 75 on Monday, April 25. The star of this fifth issue of the Hall of Fame podcast is former Dutch football player Johan Cruyff. Died in March 2016, he left an indelible mark on the history of football and Ajax. With well-known coaches, the Flying Dutchman revolutionized football in the 1970s.
In 1970, Ajax had won just four of the last five Dutch league titles. But the European Cup is still far from the Amsterdam club. Rinus Michels then tries a tactical revolution. No more 4-2-4, make way for the innovative 4-3-3, which we’ll call total football. Rinas Michels was desperate to win the European Cup. The final was reached in 1969, but it was Dutch rival Feyenoord who won for the first time the following year.
“Rinus Michels was a flash of genius, of clarity, of telling himself that there was only one tactical change to be made in his team, which usually practices 4-2-4 inspired by Brazil 58,” says Cherif Gemour says Johan Cruyff, Pop Genius and Autocrat, He understood that he had to cut his team in two. It was the final touch to the final draw of what we were going to call total football.”
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The 70–71 season would mark the history of football. A tornado is blowing over Europe, which will sweep away everything in its path. Ajax torpedoed all their opponents to reach the final against Panathinaikos. The red and white jersey on the shoulders, the young face, the hair in the air, are visible in front of the formation of the great phrenic puscus. The Dutch championship is lost to rivals, the team exhausted, but Ajax won 2–0 with a goal from Cruyff. The Flying Dutchman is now a star in Europe and wins the first of his three Ballon d’Ors in the same year. The most important figure in his country, Johann Cruyff portrays his arrogant rebellious figure: “I make very few mistakes because I have too much trouble making mistakes,” he dares to say.
1971–1974, the first golden age
“He was also heavily ridiculed by comedians of the time, as were politicians and the greats of his time, notes Cherif Gamer. He appeared prominently on television.” His influence grew on and off the pitch as Ajax’s first golden era began. Rinas Michels left for FC Barcelona, it was Stefan Kovacs who took over the reins of the team in 1972. The championship was only a formality. Ajax scored 120 goals in 34 league matches, the season was a masterpiece, culminating with another victory in the European Cup for the champion clubs. Ajax made short work of Inter Milan, losing 2–0 with a brace from Cruyff.
In 1973, Ajax played a final before the hour against Bayern Munich, whose backbone represented half of the German team that won the Euro in 1972. Kaiser Franz Beckenbauer confronts the Prince of Amsterdam. “It’s a reference match that we still talk about today, Cherif backs Gamemore. Everything becomes clear when we see Ajax scoring first, then second, third and finally fourth. One Revolution. The TV screen isn’t that big. Understand the range of the revolution. We see aim, speed, a sliding system. We don’t understand that well, Libero goes to No. 10, and No. 10 passes Libero.”
Ajax would go on to lose 2–1 without Cruyff in the second leg, injured, but would go on to the semi-finals where they dominate Glasgow Rangers. The Dutch club would quietly dominate Juve in the final, claiming a third consecutive European title, the eventual European success for one of the greatest teams in history. But also the beginning of Cruyff’s end in Ajax. There has been resentment in the locker room over the years. Players no longer rely on Cruyff to protect the interests of the group. The Flying Dutchman is paying the price for his arrogance. Attracted by the sirens of Barca, he will follow in the footsteps of Rinus Michels in Catalonia, where a new chapter will open in his legend.