Johan Cruyff, forever in Barcelona
To say that Johan Cruyff changed soccer may seem bold. To say that he changed Barcelona is a fact. Sorry, but it is simply a fact.
"The ease with which he conveyed ideas made him special. Every day was a learning experience. A masterclass," explained current Red Bull Salzburg coach, Oscar Garcia, who came through Barcelona's academy under Cruyff and is one of the current crop of coaches who symbolize the philosophy that Cruyff instilled in Barcelona.
Cruyff the soccer player was signed by one president in 1973 to help end Barcelona's league title drought while Cruyff the coach was appointed by another president to save his skin when everyone was calling for his resignation. But over and above both Agusti Montal, the former, and Josep Lluis Nunez, the latter, it was the overwhelming image and personality of the Flying Dutchman that transcended everything imaginable around the Camp Nou.
Without Cruyff there would have been no Guardiola, because it was Cruyff who plucked the skinny young unknown Guardiola from Barcelona's B-team, where he wasn't even a starter at the time. Without Cruyff there would have been no "rondo," because it was him who made it an integral part of Barca's identity. Without him, this magnificent and spectacular Barcelona that is the envy of world soccer would probably not exist.
Everyone who crossed paths with the soccer player, coach, pundit and philosopher has their own personal anecdote. When journalists could get close to the dressing room, the coach of Barcelona's famous Dream Team knew how to manage everything with a firm, invisible hand.
Cruyff made us all believe that Barca were the best and, what's more, he was able to transmit that feeling outside the Camp Nou, far from Barcelona, and drive it into the heart of Real Madrid, who let two consecutive league titles slip from their grasp following last-day defeats in Tenerife in 1991-92 and 1992-92. And Cruyff's luck was such that, unfathomably, he repeated the trick for a third straight year in 1993-94 thanks to Miroslav Djukic's last-minute penalty miss for Deportivo.
These extraordinary scenes fade with the passage of time but the memories live on forever and come flooding back in these times of grief. A grief that came as no surprise as it had been known for some weeks that his health was deteriorating.
When a joint presentation between Cruyff's foundation and FC Barcelona was canceled two weeks ago, suspicion gave way to concern as it was clear that the end was nigh. Cruyff sadly passed away on Mar. 24 after losing his fight with cancer, a disease he had been battling since October.
A rebel with a cause and a unique character, Cruyff transformed Barcelona's sense of victimhood into boldness. The coach who was brought in to save a president ended up completing a much greater task: he saved Barca from itself.
"If you don't believe, what are you doing here?" he let rip at a doubting journalist during one of those incredible league title triumphs. Cruyff's footballing knowledge was matched only by his way with words and it was almost impossible to get the better of him in a verbal sparring match.
Cruyff has left us in body but his spirit will never leave Barcelona. Soccer in general, and the Spanish national team in particular, owe Cruyff a debt of gratitude and his legend will live on forever around the Camp Nou.