Johan Cruyff succumbs to cancer aged 68

Johan Cruyff in full flow for Holland at the 1974 World Cup
Picture by PA 
PA reporter

DUTCH football great Johan Cruyff has died at the age of 68.

The former Ajax and Barcelona forward, who also managed both clubs, was diagnosed with lung cancer last October. He died of cancer, it was announced on Thursday.

A statement on his website said: "On March 24 2016 Johan Cruyff (68) died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard fought battle with cancer. It's with great sadness that we ask you to respect the family's privacy during their time of grief." 

Cruyff captained Holland at the 1974 World Cup, at the height of his playing career, and led the Dutch to the final. Despite winning Holland an early penalty, which Johan Neeskens converted, Cruyff and Holland were left disappointed as they lost 2-1 to West Germany.

At Ajax, he won seven league titles but, most notably, three consecutive European Cups from 1971-73. Cruyff's career at Ajax ran in parallel to manager Rinus Michels implementing the highly successful Total Football system. Michels went to Barcelona in 1971 and Cruyff followed two years later.

A prolific goalscorer and a great creator for others, Cruyff even had his own trick, famous to this day. The 'Cruyff turn' was perfected by its inventor, who finished his playing career in Holland with spells at Ajax and Feyenoord.

A sought-after football thinker, he managed Ajax from 1985-88 and then, just as in his playing career, Cruyff was lured away by Barcelona. At the Nou Camp, he won the European Cup in 1992 and four league titles, among a raft of trophies. During his time at the club, he underwent major heart surgery in 1991, which prompted him to stop smoking. He was sacked by Barcelona in 1995, but remained influential at the club for the rest of his life. 

Cruyff was also a three-time winner of the Ballon d'Or award, taking the award in 1971, '73 and '74. At the time, the award recognised the best player in Europe, rather than being a worldwide award as it is today. His son Jordi later played for Barcelona and Manchester United.

The death of Cruyff stunned football. The Dutch football association (KNVB) wrote on Twitter: "With great sadness we have learned of the death of Johan Cruyff. Words are not enough." The former Liverpool striker Ian Rush wrote: "Very saddened by the passing of Johan Cruyff - a dear friend, unbelievable player and a national hero!!" Ossie Ardiles, the former Argentina and Tottenham midfielder, added: "Johan Cruyff. Extraordinary player. One of the best ever. Had the privilege to play with him twice. RIP"

Clubs and players from across Europe paid their own tributes and Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos made his own fond tribute. While Barcelona and Real Madrid are fierce rivals on the pitch, Ramos said: "Goodbye to one of the all-time legends of football. Player and coach ahead of his time. RIP Johan Cruyff."

Manchester City's Yaya Toure wrote: "Shocked by the sad news about Johan Cruyff. RIP" Former United States international Alexi Lalas saluted the lasting impact made by Cruyff: "RIP Johan Cruyff. He made the beautiful game more beautiful," he wrote. 

Ajax and Barcelona shared a mutual grief. Ajax issued a short statement that read: "Johan Cruyff has died in Barcelona at the age of 68. The greatest Ajax player of all time had suffered with lung cancer since October last year.

"Ajax share in this great loss and wish the families much strength."

The initial reaction from Barcelona was succinct. Before the grand tributes that will follow, the club tweeted simply: "We will always love you, Johan. Rest in peace." 


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