March 27, 2016


Johan Cruyff: father of modern game who also shaped Dutch culture (David Winner, 25 March 2016, The Guardian)

Cruyff and Michels together re-imagined the game as a highly skilled, swirling spatial contest: whoever managed and controlled limited space on the field would win. In this, they were unconsciously drawing on wider Dutch culture. For centuries the people of the Netherlands had been finding clever ways to think about, exploit and control space in their crowded, sea-threatened land. The sensibility is apparent in the paintings of Vermeer, Saenredam and Mondrian. It is present in Dutch architecture and land management, too. It was a small step to make it part of football.

Total Football swept Ajax to three successive European Cups between 1971-73, and enabled Holland to dazzle and delight the world at the 1974 World Cup. More lastingly, as Dennis Bergkamp once remarked, Cruyff's personality and ideas shaped the entire Dutch football culture.

And without Cruyff the philosophy would have died in the early 1980s, a time when most total footballers had retired and defensive football had become fashionable even in the Netherlands.

At Ajax Cruyff reinstated total principles, then added a few flourishes of his own. Over time his ideas became the new orthodoxy in the Netherlands. He reorganised the Ajax youth system to educate players to play his style, then repeated the trick with a bigger budget at Barcelona. We take it for granted that Spain is the land of elegant, thoughtful creative football. It was Cruyff who made it that way.

Cruyff was argumentative, arrogant, dominating and brilliant. He prized creativity over negativity, beauty, originality and attack over boring defending. Several generations of players therefore developed the same characteristics.

Mr. Winner's book, Brilliant Orange, is a terrific analysis of how Dutch culture and environment created Total Football which then fed back into the society.

Posted by at March 27, 2016 7:44 AM