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How Barcelona, Catalunya and Spain reacted to the death of Johan Cruyff

BARCELONA, Spain -- The streets are very quiet on Good Friday, with shops closed and many of the city's residents out of town.

There are several high-profile youth tournaments taking place in Spain involving Barcelona teams and all have been preceded by silence in respect of Johan Cruyff. It was the same before international games around the world, including Spain's friendly in Italy, on Thursday.

Newspapers are not normally published on Good Friday, though the Catalan daily Sport managed a special edition at short notice, which is dedicated entirely to Cruyff and features him on the cover in the style of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. Barca have placed a memorial message in the newspaper, under the club's badge.

"Johan Cruyff. Player, coach and legend of Futbol Club Barcelona," it reads. "The president and the directors, in the name of all the members of Barcelona, express their sincere condolences and are united in the pain of the family."

Expect Spanish newspapers to lead with Cruyff's passing when business returns to normal on Saturday. One Catalan daily, ARA, has already released its Saturday front cover which shows Cruyff in a Barca shirt at Camp Nou soon after signing for the club in 1973.

In Madrid, Marca published a Friday edition which is not widely available in Barcelona. A drawing of Cruyff fills the cover with the words: "The Genius that reinvented football." Generous words from a Real Madrid-leaning publication, whose readers were often on the receiving end of Cruyff's excellence.

AS, another newspaper in the capital, had Cruyff filling most of the front page. "He was a great inspiration," it reads.

When the news of Cruyff's death was announced via a tweet in three languages from his official Twitter account on Thursday, it quickly dominated headlines on radio, television and the internet.

On the street, the Cruyff flagship fashion shop closed in Barcelona. "Closed for Johan Cruyff's death" read a sign on the door, written in English. On the floor outside, people started to lay flowers.

At Camp Nou, the Barcelona and Catalan flags flew at half-mast in the sun above the stadium.

A memorial space at Barcelona's ground will open on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. local time and thousands of fans are expected to file past and pay their respects.

The club had announced Cruyff's death on their website with the message: "FC Barcelona would like to express its pain and sorrow at the passing away of Johan Cruyff (Amsterdam, 25/04/1947 - Barcelona, 24/03/2016), who was both an FC Barcelona player and a coach and who will forever be a legend at the Club.

"FC Barcelona wishes to send its most heartfelt sympathy to Johan Cruyff's family at such a painful moment, a sentiment which the Club members, fans and the whole world of football and sport will share."

The club's eight current and previous presidents, some of whom enjoyed better relations with Cruyff than others, all put their names to an open letter of condolence. Josep Maria Bartomeu, Sandro Rosell, Joan Laporta, Enric Reyna, Joan Gaspart, Josep Lluis Nunez, Raimon Carrasco and Agusti Montal praised Cruyff's influence on the club where he was a hero as a player and a coach.

"The arrival of Cruyff changed the history of Barcelona," it reads. "He contributed by changing everything in a decisive manner with his mentality. We are thankful for his work as a player and a coach, for the titles he achieved. But above all, we are thankful for the intangibles that are still alive today and which will endure for the future, for they are worth more than those titles.

"With Cruyff we began to play differently, breaking new ground, innovating. With him, both as a player and a coach, we established our own style on the field, what is traditionally known as 'total football', the Barca style everyone admires."

Cruyff remains a hugely influential figure in Barcelona, the city he made his home for most of the last 42 years of his life, the city where he raised his family, the city where he gave his son a Catalan name when they were outlawed under the dictatorship of General Franco. Even though he stepped down as the club's coach 20 years ago, he remained hugely powerful and was courted by prospective presidents. Cruyff was a man with power even when he didn't have a position.

Pep Guardiola, arguably his greatest graduate, spoke to Spanish radio station RAC1 on Thursday night.

"Johan's legacy isn't trophies, but the change he brought," Guardiola said. "He's so big that he changed four teams: Barca, Ajax, Netherlands and Spain."

Cruyff was in charge of the Catalonia team between 2009-13 and remains their best-ever coach. Reactions in the region came from the great and the good.

"There are only three [at Barca] comparable to him: [Josep] Samitier, [Laszlo] Kubala and Leo Messi," wrote former president Montal, who is also an economist and businessman.

Ronald Koeman, the man who scored the goal that won Barcelona's first European Cup in 1992, also wrote in Sport, describing how "Johan was the man who changed my destiny."

Barcelona were not the only Spanish side for which Cruyff played, as he turned out for Levante in 1981. The club's Twitter account is full of accounts of the time that he played in Valencia.

Many of Barca's current players, who are still expected to play in the Cruyff-inspired way, posted messages of their own: "Today we've lost another legend of football," wrote Messi on his Facebook page.

It's expected that Barcelona and their fans will pay a huge tribute to Cruyff before their next game, against Real Madrid on Apr. 2.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.


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