23 | APR 2019
28 SEP | 2015
Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Johan Cruyff in first person: revolution, rebelliousness, football and pigs
The Dutch legend on his career as a footballer and manager and some of the most controversial decisions he's taken.

is choice was precise: Barcelona. More than 40 years ago, in the summer of 1973, Hendrik Johannes Cruijff rejected a Real Madrid move, despite they have already agreed terms with Ajax, and chose Catalonia. His decision changed the history and philosophy of the blaugranas. We met him at Barcelona, during the Open Day of his own Foundation. And when Johan talks, he offers some trademark quotes: "The core of Michel's Ajax was the collective, we wanted to change things and have fun". "Why Catalonia? It was a reason against the dictatorship". "I've never wanted to coach, but I'd lost all [...]

International football weekly supplement published in La Gazzetta dello Sport.
[...] breeding pigs". This is the full transcript of the interview published in La Gazzetta dello Sport's excellent weekly supplement, Extra Time.

-You were always a rebel.
-My concept of freedom? Always tell what I'm thinking. The first claim was when I was promoted to the Ajax professional squad from the academy, but they wanted to keep paying me as if I was a youngster. However, the most important thing is not money, but the self-esteem. 

Johan Cruyff, Ajax.

-At Ajax you experienced total football.
-It was an invention of Rinus Michels. Este estilo de juego me sublimó. Tenía libertad y jugadores de primer nivel que me rodeaban. Esta fue la base de Rinus, el colectivo. Éramos un poco inconscientes, queríamos cambiar las cosas, proponer algo nuevo. Pero para nosotros ra natural, nos divertíamos. Michels encuadró el talento y nos hizo profesionales. Hasta entonces todos tenían un segundo trabajo, yo recién fui el segundo del equipo en tener un contrato profesional. 

-Ajax were something revolutionary, say, like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
-Yes, it was a very particular moment of society, in music... There were The Beatles, George Best, long hair... Until then, only short hair had been the trend. It was also a post-war period, people needed to breathe, to share new experiencies, a blow of freedom. We had no fear on the pitch, we wanted to change, to try new things, and to make mistakes. Our goal was to produce football show, that's why we were so focused in attacking. And to accomplish that you must have players technically capable. Besides, you also need synergy between your footballers, as we needed to interchange positions on the pitch: full-backs had to cover their zone, but they also knew had to become wingers, and vice-versa, because in case the full-backs lost the ball, the wingers were the ones that had to cover them in defence, and in order to do so, they needed to show the skills of a defender, not of a winger in the back. 

-Why all this happened in Holland?
-Because that's our mentality. We're a very small country but it didn't prevent us to travel and conquer the world. The first landing in New York was Dutch. We arrived in Indonesia, Ghana, South Africa... We are explorers and conquerers, we are not afraid of the unknown, or to the need to invent. If you fail, you fail, no problem, but at least you tried. You should have no fear to mistake, it's part of life.

Johan Cruyff & Rinus Michels.

-It's curious that with that mentality, 
in 1973 you decided to leave Holland and move to Spain, under a dictatorship.
-Yes, Franco was still there. But Catalonia, like the Basque Country, were always regions contrary to the central power. And Barça had  Rinus Michels on the bench, and before Vic Buckingham, a dear friend, had also been there. And the board member Armand Caraben, who convinced me to sign, was married to a Dutch woman. 

-What episode do you remember about the Franco regime?
-My son was born in Amsterdam in February 1974 and I named him Jordi, patron saint of Catalonia. But in the Civil Registry of Spain they refused to process that name. "His name is Jorge, you can't register a Jordi", they told me. So I answered: "But he's been already been registered as Jordi in Holland, so if you don't register here properly is not my problem, because Jordi is already written in his ID, if you know how to copy a name, go ahead, if not, make up another name...". Conclussion? My son was the first Jordi registered in Catalonia (in that period). This is just to say that I'm that way, I'm associated to concepts such as 'freedom' or 'rebellion' but I have never looked for them, I only did things my way. 

-And you didn't want to become a football coach.
-It's true. People in football live a different reality. You don't have any problems, there's someone who thinks about your clothing, about your house, your wages are always excellent... but when you retire there's a feeling of emptiness. You feel lost. When I was 36 I've made terrible investments... ¡pig breeding! I still cannot believe it. But it was a bankruptcy that made me leave the privilege bubble and there I took conscience of reality. And I told myself: leave the pigs, your world is football... and I started coaching. 

-After 20 years as a footballer, is coaching easier?
-Yes, in my case, my experience as a blaugrana player was always victorious, and that helped me a lot when I was appointed. I knew the club's mentality, and to know the singularities of an institution is fundamental. The first thing I did as a coach was to sign 4 Basque players: Valverde, Begiristain, Bakero and López Rekarte. Basques are brave, have no fear of anything. I needed that kind of people, because I could promise them hell. By mixing Catalans and Basques, I've created a mentality, an alchemy absolutely different to the existing one..

-But did you know the Basques?
-After 5 years as a player, I'd played against them, I'd seen them, we'd argued... I already knew about their mentality. It's like psychology mixed with antrophology, but it's part of the manager's job. I not only bought good players, but players that were capable of responding under certain needs. 

-Like Michael Laudrup in 1989?
-Yes, the Danish have a puzzling ability to learn a language in 3 months. They adapt quickly. The same happened with Stoichkov, I went to Bulgaria when nobody knew about him. Romario had been for 5 years at PSV. Guardiola was about to leave the club because nobody believed in him. With Sergi and Ferrer, people didn't see their talents but only cared about their height...

-How did you impose your ideas?
-You needed to press looking for quality, talent and technique, which is the key for making a difference, not the physique. Look at the Spanish national teams... Before they ever win something, it was said that they were built with small-sized players. But if you have short people, it's not good to defend, so you must go forward and attack, otherwise, you'll have more chances of losing. And if these little guys are quick, and talented, and smart... my Barcelona knew how to control the ball, occupy spaces and win. Even the goalkeeper knew that he had to play football, a concept that nowadays is widespread. And yet people would tell me: "But our players suffer in corner kicks".  And it was true, that's why we didn't need to concede any. And that's why we played with a high pressing, pass to feet and not the ball in the air. Football is played with your feet, but it's the head that commands.

-What did football mean to you?
-When I was training, and when I was playing, I only wanted to have fun, and then win. But sometimes I would lose. And so? It was no catastrophe. Holland played three World Cups and lost them. But how many countries accomplished such a thing? It's true, it could have been better, but in the 1974 World Cup, people would look at us as moral winners. And that's the most beautiful compliment you can get in football. Look at the kids, they don't want to win, they just want to have fun. Losing is part of the game, and you need to accept it. 

Por Cherif Ghemmour y Javier Prieto-Santos
Extra Time, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Tuesday, September 1st, 2015, all rights reserved.