The Man Who Gave Us the Magic of La Masia – Johan Cruyff – Dies At Age 68

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Beloved Dutch attacker and FC Barcelona hero Johan Cruyff passed away this morning at age 68 after a battle with lung cancer. It’s hard to argue for anyone having a greater impact on world fútbol than the three-time Ballon d’Or winner. Not only was he an absolutely sublime player and coach, he’s the man whose training techniques at La Masia – Barça’s fabled youth academy – developed the likes of Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, and Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos.

Cruyff chose Barcelona in 1973 with the knowledge that he was joining a team that hadn’t won a league title in well over a decade. But that didn’t stop him; Cruyff led the way en route to the club’s first La Liga title in 13 years in his first season, winning his second and third Ballon d’Ors in 1973 and 1974. His dribbling mastery and finishing abilities were second to none.

Words can’t do Cruyff’s impact on the world’s game justice. While helming his former club from 1988 to 1996, he brought 11 cups to the Barcelona trophy cabinet, including four Liga titles, a European Cup, and a Copa del Rey. More importantly, he brought about style changes that continue to define Barça’s tiki-taka brilliance to this day.

“He got a blackboard and drew three defenders, four midfielders, two out-and-out wingers and a centre forward,” defensive midfield crack Eusébio recalled to FourFourTwo. “We looked at each other and said: ‘What the hell is this?!’ This was the era of 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. We couldn’t believe how many attackers were in the team, and how few defenders. He single-handedly introduced a new way of playing soccer in Spain.”

Thanks to Cruyff, the 3-4-3 was born. At its core: the predominance of possession that came to define Barcelona’s style for the likes of Pep Guardiola and others. “It’s a basic concept,” said Cruyff. “When you dominate the ball, you move well.”

It would be remiss of us to forget Pep’s memorable quote on Cruyff’s impact at this time: “Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore or improve it.”

It was Cruyff who – in the aftermath of El franquismo – saw Barcelona fans’ inclination to cheer on the hometown boys from the cantera; “Barça fans like seeing players from the cantera in the first team,” he stated. “It makes them feel that the coach somehow is more a part of Barcelona. I tried to produce a game that they could claim as Catalan.”

And he did just that, changing the spirit of the club and showing staunch support for the creation of La Masia, a proposal accepted by then-club president Josep Núñez.

Many years later, in 2012, Cruyff moved to Mexico for a brief nine-month stint as an advisor for Chivas de Guadalajara. Appointed club sport consultant by owner Jorge Vergara, Cruyff’s three-year contract turned into early termination when the team failed to improve in a timely manner.

Rest in peace, Johan Cruyff. Your legacy will live on.