It’s very sad to hear the news that Netherlands icon Johan Cruyff is battling a terrible illness.
I remember when I was a kid and I first came across some TV clips of the famous Dutch number 14. I watched to see if I could steal any of his moves, and I began practicing the famous Cruyff turn – where you cut the ball back behind your standing leg. (I ended up knowing that trick so well that it lead to the winning free kick in the FA Cup Final with Chelsea, when I got the better of Ugo Egiogu.)
I was very impressed with the way Ajax was training at that time, and I couldn’t believe how big all the other players looked in comparison to this slight man. But Johan had such amazing technique and ability, he made it look so easy.
The influence he has had on the Ajax system is incredible – that same football philosophy he brought to Barcelona: “The more you keep the ball the less chance the opponent has to score.”
At the time I had no idea I would be training at that same place years later, with the also-influential Louis Van Gaal.
We had a kit man called Sjaak Wolf who would always make the dressing room a happy place for us kids, especially when he told us stories about Cruyff. He told us that he would tell Cruyff what type of boots he should wear, and then he would tell us the same thing. I thought if Cruyff used to listen to Sjaak, then I’ll definitely listen to him too.
In fact, I played my whole career on those same kind of studs. And I guess Sjaak was right, because I never had a problem with slippery turf.
I wish Johan all the best with the battle that lies ahead.