After two decades of playing, Johan Cruijff remained active in the football world. The greatest Ajacied in club history, and pure football lover was presented as Ajax’s technical director in 1985.
For a long time, the KNVB stood by the position that without the important coaching diploma, Cruijff would not be able to hold any coaching function. No exception would be made for the best football player that the Netherlands had ever seen. The former number fourteen, however, defiantly went on to lead Ajax 1’s trainings and matches. After some manoeuvring, the football association relented and Cruijff received his A- diploma from the KNVB in 1987 as a gift.
The summit of Cruijff’s time as Ajax coach was reached during that same period. On May 13, 1987, Ajax won the Europa Cup II finals (the European cup for cup winners), defeating Lokomotive Leipzig: 1-0. It was the apple of Cruijff’s eye, top striker Marco van Basten, who put the score on the Greek board. Ajax had returned briefly to the highest European stage. Cruijff and his Ajacieds, formed by the coach’s learning process, were celebrated in the fully packed Leidse Square in the city. The next season didn’t go quite as well for the club or the iconic former player and coach. On January 4, 1988, Cruijff and Ajax parted ways after difficult contract negotiations.
Coach in Barcelona
The break with his first love, Ajax, paved his way to FC Barcelona, Cruijff’s other great love. The coach-less club signed Cruijff on July 1, 1988, as the head coach for Catalonia’s pride. With dominant and very attacking football, the coach introduced Total Football to the highest Spanish division. Success soon followed: from 1991 to 1994, Cruijff won four Spanish national titles in a row with Barcelona. Outside of Spain, Barça also experienced great success under Cruijff’s leadership. A late goal by Ronald Koeman gave Barcelona the Europa Cup I in 1992. Sampdoria was defeated at Wembley. For the first time in history, a European prize adorned FC Barcelona’s trophy case.
During his time in Barcelona, Cruijff had agreed with the Spanish club that he would be allowed to arrange a friendly match. In April 1999, Johan Cruijff organized a benefit match between former Ajax players and FC Barcelona. The two clubs that had had such a great impact on Cruijff’s life met. The game was part of the anniversary of 30 years of Ajax history in Europe. Many of Ajax’s European cup winners, such as Ruud Krol, Piet Keizer and Stefan Pettersson put on their black boots one more time for this match.
Advisor with Ajax
After ending his career as a coach, Cruijff saw an increasing gap between Ajax and the big European teams. The Ajax icon decided to take action. In 2011, Cruijff presented a plan to bring Ajax back among the top European teams. In the Amsterdam team’s youth academy, more focus needed to be placed on individual development. Cruijff explained the relationships in top football this way: “Whoever isn’t strong has to be smart. If you develop the best players, you will automatically be in the top.” Under new head coach Frank de Boer, Ajax won the national championship four times during this velvet revolution. After some disagreements in the club in 2015, Cruijff felt that there was insufficient support and faith in the ‘Cruijff plan’. The eternal number 14 put an end to his role as an advisor to Ajax.
Minute 14: Applause for Number 14
After having previously suffered from heart problems, 68 year-old Cruijff was diagnosed with lung cancer. The determined Cruijff was not to be deterred and had faith in a good outcome. “Right now, I feel like I’m 2-0 ahead in the first half. But the game’s not over. But I know that I’m going to win this”, said an optimistic Cruijff at the start of 2016. During the weekend of October 25, 2015, all of the Netherlands stood still upon hearing of Crujiff’s battle with this disease. Every Eredivisie match was marked by overwhelming applause in the fourteenth minute, in honour of the greatest Dutch football player of all time.