• History

Legendary Managers: Johan Cruyff, Total Football’s pioneer

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It’s time to talk in detail about the managerial life of Johan Cruyff as part of our Legendary Managers series, the Total Football pioneer.

As part of our Legendary Managers series, it’s finally time to talk about the figure of Johan Cruyff.

Apart from Sir Alex Ferguson, there probably hasn’t been a more influential figure in world football than the Dutch coach.

Even during his time as a player, everybody could already see the capabilities he had to possibly coach as a professional when he retired from the sport.

When he played this beautiful sport, Cruyff had legendary Rinus Michels as his mentor and he improved the concepts he learned from that school of football.

The world-famous ‘Total Football’ school became renowned for being revolutionary, Cruyff won three consecutive European Cups and reached a World Cup final with that same system.

But according to the Dutchman himself, this method required players who treated the ball way better than any of the squads he represented ever did.

When he became a Barcelona player, Johan had an epiphany after he realized that Spain was the ideal place for his concepts to evolve.

He learned from the Catalan school of football, took notes and vowed to return as a manager someday.

However, his very first stop would be at AFC Ajax and he implemented his system in his childhood club first.

Amongst the many characteristics from his own compatriots, Cruyff never really found that similar way to treat the ball in any of his players from that Ajax squad.

Johan’s legacy extended to two clubs.

During his first three years as a professional manager, Johan Cruyff decided to start trying out his new ideas that attempted to merge with the ‘Total Football’ core concept that Rinus Michels taught him all those years back.

He helped the club win three titles during that time, but he knew that he needed the Catalan bloodline to improve his ideas.

The plan was to keep the same motivation of using all the players for both attack and defense, but also include a better treatment of the ball while he did that.

Apply high pressure on the rival starting with the strikers, and eventually prevent them from even smelling the ball through a prolonged series of passing between all the players.

This concept started working properly after two years, Cruyff knew that the only way to do this would be to hone players from the academy and make them understand his ideas from an early age.

After he realized that his ideas worked better with the Catalan players, Johan decided to implement this manual inside every single category of the club.

And thus, Johan became the biggest influence of both the Ajax and the FC Barcelona academies.

There aren’t many football managers who can say they are idols of two historic clubs, Johan did it through his willingness to evolve his concepts and that never-ending thirst for knowledge.

Johan Cruyff’s most advanced pupil.

Perhaps the most incredible aspect of Johan Cruyff’s legacy is the way in which his ideas have evolved over time, there are many students from his school of football throughout the years.

However, there is one pupil who also evolved the ideas from his master and transformed them into the modern representation of what Cruyff envisioned all those years ago.

One could easily say that Johan didn’t get as far as he wanted with his ideas because football was still at an early stage in Catalonia, but his most advanced student accomplished what he couldn’t due to lack of time.

Pep Guardiola was the answer to what Cruyff had been looking for during his time as a professional manager, he was the one who executed his ideas to perfection.

It’s great to know that the legendary Dutch manager was able to see them fully-fledged before he passed away, the Guardiola era in Barcelona was a love letter to Johan from his best pupil.

The way in which the Catalan manager evolved the ideas was very straight-forward, it was by simply prolonging the game to advanced full-backs on the wings.

Another core idea that got improved from Cruyff was the inclusion of a ‘False Forward’, but Guardiola could do this only because he had a unique player such as Leo Messi on his side.

Cruyff’s legacy will live on forever in not just one club, but two.

What’s the biggest aspect of Johan Cruyff’s legacy that will remain in football forever? Please share your opinion in the comment section down below.

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