BY STEVE MITCHELL
The great Dutch footballing superstar of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s Johan Cruyff, has heavily criticised his former club Ajax and the country’s top-flight football league, the Eredivisie, over its current coaching strategies.
In a frank interview last week, the three-time World Player of the Year stated that the coaching staff at the Dutch giants were “ignoring the basic principles” after the club was eliminated from the Champions League qualifying rounds by Austrian side Rapid Vienna.
Growing up inside the Ajax youth academy in the late 1950’s, Cruyff exploded onto the scene during the mid-1960’s before going onto become the greatest player of his generation throughout the early 1970’s under the watchful eye of master tactician Rinus Michels. Four back-to-back league titles from 1966-70 was followed by a famous European Cup Final win at Wembley in 1971 against Panathinaikos before Michels departed for Barcelona. Cruyff’s Ajax team retained European football’s greatest prize for two more seasons before he re-joined his mentor in Cataluña.
Speaking about Michels’ philosophy this week Cruyff, now 68, explained that; “He was able to look at football in a simple way” adding that; “he taught me things like if you’re not a good header of the ball then don’t try to win headers, or try to sprint past someone who is faster than you. In other words, when you are not as strong as someone in certain aspects you need to be smarter.”
In a successful managerial career where he built the “dream team” at Barcelona in the mid 1990’s, Cruyff explained that he used these basic principles in exactly the same way; “I took what Michels taught me and added my own ideas for example, I always believed a friendly match to be much more useful than a training session. At Barcelona I let our goalkeeper, Andoni Zubizaretta, play as an outfield player to improve his ball skills.”
Having just seen his beloved Ajax eliminated from the Champions League before the end of August Cruyff stated that; “At the moment Ajax are ignoring these basic principles,” before going onto explain that; “This is not an attack on coach Frank de Boer, he is just the last piece in the chain, there are many people involved.”
Now Cruyff has seen enough and on his recommendation, Ajax have brought in former player Tscheu La Ling in an advisory role to try to get to the bottom of what is wrong at the country’s biggest club and with the football coaching system in general in the Netherlands. Cruyff clearly has his own ideas stating that; “Just look at Dutch clubs in Europe, it was clear to see how little the ball was played to the forward moving player, this is a basic positional tactic. Here is a player where you do not play the ball to his feet but play it a few meters ahead of him. This rarely happens now in Dutch football and it is a big problem.”
Cruyff clearly still cares passionately for the game. In a trophy laden career both as a player and coach, he cites Michels as the single most important influence on his life, a man who tried to make the beautiful game as simple as possible to understand. Its over 40 years ago that Dutch football ruled the world and whilst Cruyff is all too aware that it would be foolish to predict that it can ever return to the glory years of the 1970’s, going back to the basics that made it great in the first place would be a good place to start.
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