Cruyff, who died from lung cancer aged 68 on Thursday, was a balletic, dazzlingly elegant player who came to embody the brilliant Ajax and Holland teams of the mid-1970s. Together with visionary coach Rinus Michels, he popularised the concept of ‘Total Football’ — a fluid playing system based on aggressive pressing, swarming attacks and positional interchanging that seemed to depend on an almost telepathic understanding between players. Cruyff, given licence to roam from his nominal position as centre-forward, was the on-pitch conductor, calculating angles, cajoling his team-mates into position and launching vertiginous dribbles into opposition territory with the ball at his feet.
My piece for AFP on Johann Cruyff’s role as a style icon and football innovator can be read here.
“On July 16, the day of the game, Rio newspaper O Mundo carried the headline “THESE ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS!” alongside a picture of the team, and an estimated 200,000 fans streamed into the giant concrete arena in anticipation of Brazil’s coronation. Opponents Uruguay, narrow victors over Sweden in their previous game, were offered up as the sacrificial victims and they seemed destined to fulfil that role when Friaça put Brazil ahead early in the second half. Juan Alberto Schiaffino equalised, but Brazil remained on course for the trophy until Uruguay winger Alcides Ghiggia surprised goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa with a low shot in the 79th minute that stunned the stadium. “Only three people have ever silenced 200,000 people at the Maracanã with a single gesture,” Ghiggia once said. “Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II, and I.””
I’ve written a piece for AFP on the Maracanazo, and you can read it here.