Tributes pour in for Dutch master Johan Cruyff

Dutch great Johan Cruyff has died aged 68 after a battle with cancer.
Dutch great Johan Cruyff has died aged 68 after a battle with cancer.

Johan Cruyff will be remembered as a visionary and an inspiration following his death at the age of 68.

An incredible player and game-changing manager, the former Holland forward was diagnosed with lung cancer last October - a disease he had been confident of beating just six weeks ago.

However, arguably European football’s finest player of all time succumbed to the disease on Thursday, surrounded by his family in Barcelona - a city where Cruyff did so much of his wonderful work.

A three-time Ballon d’Or winner, the forward helped Ajax to eight Dutch titles and three successive European Cups before following manager Rinus Michels to the Nou Camp and winning the Primera Division in his first season.

Cruyff became synonymous with ‘Total Football’ and returned to Holland to finish his playing days, with the sought-after football thinker again swapping Amsterdam for Catalonia after retirement.

He led Barca to four league titles and their first ever European Cup in 1992 - a period in which he underwent major heart surgery, which prompted him to stop smoking.

Cruyff was sacked in 1996 but remained influential at the Nou Camp for the rest of his life, with son Jordi playing at the club for a time.

Barcelona posted on Instagram: “We’ll always love you, Johan. Rest in peace.”

In a fuller statement on their website, the Spanish club added: “FC Barcelona would like to express its pain and sorrow at the passing away of Johan Cruyff (Amsterdam, 25/04/1947 - Barcelona, 24/03/2016), who was both an FC Barcelona player and a coach and who will forever be a legend at the club.

“FC Barcelona wishes to send its most heartfelt sympathy to Johan Cruyff’s family at such a painful moment, a sentiment which the club members, fans and the whole world of football and sport will share. Rest in peace. Thank you Johan.”

Ronald Koeman scored the free-kick that brought that European Cup success against Sampdoria at Wembley and was “deeply saddened” by the death of his “best coach and good friend”.

Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Luis Suarez were among the current Barca crop to pay their respects, with Gerard Pique expressing his thanks to Cruyff and saying “the legacy you leave is eternal”.

Ajax players past and present also conveyed their sadness following the sudden passing of the club’s greatest ever player.

“Johan meant so much to our club,” former goalkeeper and now Ajax director Edwin van der Sar said. “He brought many successes to Ajax.

“Even after his career as a player ended, Johan remained closely involved with the club. He always wanted the best for Ajax, the best for football. From the youth players to the first team.”

Former Ajax and Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal did not always see eye to eye with Cruyff, but the Manchester United boss was clearly touched by Thursday’s news.

“It is a very sad day for the footballing world, to lose one of the true legends of the game,” he said on www.manutd.com. “My thoughts are with Johan’s family at this difficult time.”

The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) said the “whole of football” is going to miss the man who gave us the ‘Cruyff Turn’.

The forward’s exquisite swerve past bamboozled Sweden defender Jan Olsson at the 1974 World Cup remains one of football’s most endearing images.

The Dutch lit up that tournament but West Germany pipped Cruyff’s side to victory, with their captain Franz Beckenbauer quick to pay his respect.

“I am shocked,” he posted on Twitter. “Johan #Cruyff is dead. He was not only a very good friend but also a brother to me.”

The Dutch master is survived by his wife, Danny, and their three children, Chantal, Susila and Jordi.