BBC Sport tells the story of how Johan Cruyff and the Netherlands’ Total Football captivated the world in 1974 in the fourth installment of our World Cup icons series.
The summer went by in a haze of orange light. One of the floppy-haired Dutchmen who cavort their way into the hearts and minds of the adoring public while unleashing their revolutionary football style on the world. It was the summer of Johan Cruyff. It almost was, at least.
Cruyff’s ground-hopping through West Germany in 1974 was more like a dance than a duel. His every leather stroke was compelling, and his balletic movements were steeped in vision and anticipation.
When you hear his name, you’re transported to Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion on June 19, the 24th minute, when Cruyff made an unforgettable turn that fooled Sweden’s Jan Olsson and became part of football legend.
Cruyff wrote in his autobiography, My Turn, “The turn was not something I’d ever done in training or practice.” I had the idea in a flash because it was the best solution for my situation at that very moment.
However, that skill, the creative, unique moment of brilliance for which he is most remembered, was a beautiful contradiction.
Cruyff was the face of Total Football, a style of play in which all 11 players have a collective, almost telepathic understanding of space and movement, and he was also the only star who could break the mold. Total Football is a style of play that helps players succeed.
Cruyff was the essence of a team that captivated the imagination with football that was as vivid and dazzling as their orange shirts, including impressing a captivated future Arsenal manager.
Arsene Wenger said, “I discovered completely new football” at the Cruyff Legacy Summit. Holland already did this in 1974, when we talk about pressing, transition, and winning the ball back quickly.
“Tactically, they were miles ahead of us. They were unwilling to give in to their ideas because they had faith in their conception of the game: We view the game that way, and football must be played that way.'”
It started with Ajax, a club located just five minutes from Cruyff’s Amsterdam childhood home. Jopie’ joined when he was 10 years old, his mother got a job there as a cleaner after his father died, and Ajax helped him leave school at 15 by offering him a “special” youth contract by pretending to be his age.
Cruyff became an integral part of a team that would go on to dominate European football during a boom for Dutch clubs under the direction of the great Rinus Michels.
Michels developed a style of football that helped Ajax win their first European Cup in 1971. After he left for Barcelona later that year, Michels watched as the team he built won three consecutive continental titles. Michels was himself influenced by Hungary’s Magical Magyars in the 1950s.
Ruud Krol, a former Netherlands and Ajax defender, stated to Uefa, “Michels made us run less and take over each other’s positions, which was revolutionary.”
“For the first time, a completely different perspective on football existed. Football spread worldwide in its entirety. For nearly 40 years, it was the only real change. He shocked everyone.”
Cruyff was an Ajax star and an idol for young people in the Netherlands in 1973, when social and cultural shifts were taking place. He was about to win his second Ballon d’Or.
Young people appreciated his exceptional talent and related to his practical approach. He was unintentionally cool because, as a teenager, he used to stub out cigarettes on the soles of his boots. However, he could also be rude, demanding, and rebellious.
In David Winner’s book Brilliant Orange, teammate Johnny Rep recalled, “He said you must do this in a game or you must do that.” I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut.”
Cruyff wore the Ajax armband, but the team elected Piet Keizer to be captain during a summer training camp. It was Cruyff’s final straw in Amsterdam, and he described it as a “form of jealousy I had never before experienced.” Cruyff was furious and felt let down.
For a then-world-record sum of £922,000, he left Ajax to join Michels in Barcelona, where he helped the Catalan team win their first La Liga title in 14 years.
Short presentational grey line Cruyff had issues with some of his former coworkers during the international camps that followed. He thought they were complaining about him not traveling with the team or for arriving late from Spain. However, by the time they got together to get ready for a tournament that would alter many of their lives, those feelings had subsided.
Since their last appearance at the European Championships and World Cup finals before World War II, the Netherlands had never qualified for a major tournament.
They almost failed to qualify for the 1974 tournament, relying on a contentious offside decision in their final match against Belgium to advance; Despite replays showing that a number of Dutch defenders were playing on Jan Verheyen, the Belgian’s goal in the 89th minute was disallowed.
For the championship games, Barcelona manager Michels took over for Czech manager Frantisek Fadrhonc. It turned out to be an excellent decision.
Most of the players on Michels’ team were from Feyenoord, which won the European Cup in 1970, and players from Ajax. However, FC Amsterdam goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed was unexpectedly called up. The owner of a cigar shop, who had won his only previous cap 12 years earlier and was selected primarily for his ability with the ball, was selected.
During a pre-tournament camp at the lush KNVB headquarters in Zeist, the rest of the team had the system drilled into them, while the Ajax contingent was well-versed in the coach’s pressing style and switching of positions. Michels wanted the extremely aggressive remodel known as Ajax 2.0.
They lost a friendly to a second-tier German team as they tried to get used to the strategy, and it took some time for them to get used to it. One week before the World Cup started, they beat Argentina 4-1, which lifted their spirits.
Cruyff, who had a significant impact on team selection, stated, “Total Football requires talented individuals acting in a disciplined group.” You need a boss like Michels to stop someone who complains or doesn’t pay attention from hindering the rest.
“Aside from the talent of the players, total football is mostly about distance and positioning. Everything fits together when the distances and formation are right.”
At the Niedersachsenstadion in Hannover, the Netherlands played Uruguay in their first World Cup match in 36 years. They wore orange shirts with the famous Adidas three stripes on the sleeves. Cruyff’s included, that is.
Despite a KNVB agreement with the manufacturer, he had already refused to wear Adidas boots while playing for the national team and was signed to Puma. After a disagreement between Cruyff, the brands, and Dutch football executives, it was decided at the World Cup that one of the stripes on his kit would be removed.
Cruyff wrote in his autobiography, “The KNVB had signed a contract with Adidas without telling the players.” Because the shirt belonged to them, they thought they didn’t have to. I told them, “But the head sticking out of it is mine.”
Later, in a column for the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, he wrote, “Those two stripes belong to me.” The dispute resurfaced 40 years later when Cruyff’s clothing company released a replica of his 1974 jersey.
Cruyff was roughed up by Uruguayans in Hannover, but he overcame them and carried the Netherlands forward in a move that led to Rep giving them the lead seven minutes later. Later, he added his second to complete an opening victory that showed the Netherlands’ potent combination of a smothering press and an attack that moves easily.
The Dutch played Sweden to a goalless draw four days later, a match that will be remembered for one of the greatest moments of brilliance in soccer history.
On the left side of the Swedish box, Cruyff received a diagonal ball. The game of cat and mouse continued once he had it under control after his initial touch nearly let him down. However, a right leg that appeared to be elastically wound it back in.
Cruyff wrapped his boot around the ball, dragged it through his legs, and was off toward the byline in an orange blur, leaving Sweden fullback Olsson floundering in no man’s land. The shaggy-haired Dutch skipper exaggeratedly shaped to knock the ball back down field with his right foot, luring Olsson to take the bait.
Cruyff wrote, “There are impulses that arise because your technical and tactical knowledge has become so great that your legs are able to immediately respond to what your head wants them to do.” even if it’s nothing more than a mental flash.
I’ve always used that kind of feint. I’ve only ever used them as the best way to solve a problem, never to make my opponent look stupid.
The ball vanished after Olsson was certain he would take it.
In 2016, he stated, “I do not understand how he did it.” Now, each time I view the video, I believe I have the ball. I’m sure I’ll take it, but he always catches me off guard.”
Cruyff’s moment of magic became the most recognizable image of that — and perhaps of any — World Cup, even though the move ultimately failed and the Netherlands were unable to make a breakthrough.
Short presentational grey line By the time the final group match against Bulgaria came around, the Netherlands were confident, and they won 4-1 against a team that included a number of players from CSKA Sofia, the team that ended Ajax’s three-year European Cup unbeaten streak earlier that season.
Johan Neeskens scored the Dutch goal after Cruyff won a penalty kick for dribbling into the box from the left as the attack’s focal point.