Most American soccer fans are hearing about Johan Cruyff for the first time today. The legendary Dutch soccer player and coach passed away Thursday morning after a battle with lung cancer. He was 68.
For those who don't know him, it's time for a brief history lesson on Cruyff.
Creator of 'Total Football'
Cruyff was the original centerpiece of 'Total Football,' the idea that any outfield player can shift into any position on the field. Cruyff not only paved the way for this as a soccer concept, but as a concept for all sports. His teams at Ajax, specifically in the late 60s and early 70s, used total football to become the sport's best team.
Ajax was the European Cup (now UEFA Champions League Final) runner-up in 1968-69, but the club rung off a three-peat in the early 1970s. During his 1964-1973 Ajax tenure, Cruyff also won eight Eredivisie (Netherlands league) titles and two Ballon d'Ors in 1971 and 1973. The Dutchman added a third Ballon d'Or in 1974 after moving to Barcelona.
On the international side, the Netherlands adopted Total Football and Cruyff led the nation to a runner-up finish in the 1974 World Cup. Without Cruyff in 1978, the country against used Total Football to reach second place.
— Johan Cruyff (@JohanCruyff) March 24, 2016
Cruyff Came to the U.S.
About three decades before David Beckham crossed the pond, Cruyff joined the Los Angeles Aztecs in 1979. He won the North American Soccer League MVP in his one season at the Rose Bowl.
The following season, he joined the Washington Diplomats. Cruyff missed most of the 1981 NASL season with an injury. He subsequently left the U.S. for a final tour of duty at Spanish club Levante, Ajax and Dutch side Feyenoord.
— AFC Ajax (English) (@AFCAjax_EN) March 24, 2016
He Became A Successful Manager
Cruyff retired in 1984 and returned to Ajax as manager in 1985. However, unlike his playing career, his prime in coaching happened after his move to Barcelona. A decade and change before Tiki-taka, Cruyff coached Total Football at Camp Nou. He won four straight La Liga titles from 1991 to 1994 and claimed a European Cup in 1992.
One of his pupils was a defensive midfielder named Pep Guardiola. Guardiola won two Champions League crowns as Barcelona manager in 2008-2012, and he currently manages Bayern Munich. Over a decade after his Barcelona departure in 1996, Cruyff returned to coaching with the Catalonia National Team. He served as manager from 2009-2013.
Cruyff was living in Barcelona at the time of his death.
There were a lot of them. Enjoy.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.