Travelling around Europe about six years ago as a devastatingly awkward 18 or 19yr old, I enjoyed people everywhere saying, “Ah! Holland. Cruyff!”
Over the years this turned into, “Ah, Holland. Van Basten, Gullit!”
Somehow it never became, “Ah, Holland. Van de Kerkhof!”
For me, the Boy from Watergraafsmeer will remain the best ever, no contest. At least his style was the most beautiful and graceful of those gracing that mini-Pantheon that, for me, includes Pele, Maradona (grudgingly), Messi.
I was doubtful about Messi until – invited to the NouCamp by OPPO ANZ managing director Michael Tran, i saw him wake up halfway through the first half of a regional derby (Messi, not Tran) and decide to get the night’s work over and done with quickly.
Like flicking a switch, he scored three goals within six or seven minutes and then went back to sleep again until the full time whistle raised him from his slumber).
From the game’s home country i could only allow perhaps a tentative amalgam of Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and who was the chap from Newcastle-way who sadly ended up a victim to the demon drink? It will come to me.
But Cruyff. If you have to be arrogant, at least ensure that – just like you yourself have no doubts whatsoever as to your own brilliance – it’s also plain to see for those lesser mortals all around you.
I loved his seemingly lazy, almost sauntering languid way of passing.. his strangely drawn out way of striding, the condescending way he sometimes just stopped for a while, his foot on the ball… until it pleased His Johanness to continue again.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it Baby!
Being a genius also meant he was a bit of a git. Always getting into trouble, always leaving a trail of conflict and arguments in his glorious wake.
Around Barcelona his name is still revered, and rightly so.
I loved how he was once so fed up with the powers that were in Amsterdam, that he threatened to leave his native Ajax and join arch rival Feijenoord.
“And I’ll bloody well make sure they’ll be Dutch League Champions that following year too!” he added.
The rest is history. And yes, the mastery, the trickery, the skills and confidence to dominate the entire game. I also loved how he hardly ever wanted to deploy the Italian/Portuguese/Argentinian specialty – that annoying soccer thing my fellow Rugby Union fans and I absolutely abhor – of dropping dead the second you think a penalty or free kick might be available.
Instead, he seemed to think, ‘Why the hell should i let you, a lumpen piece of defender’s meat, stop me in my tracks? I’d much rather finish this great move I had in mind. So you just go and fall over instead while I keep going, okay Goofy?’
I admit I cannot but admire such commitment to one’s artistry.