He won the Ballon d’Or three times, in 1971, 1973 and 1974, a record jointly held with French playmaker Michel Platini and Dutch compatriot Marco van Basten.
At club level, Cruyff started his career at Ajax where he won eight Eredivisie titles and three European Cups.
In 1973 he moved to FC Barcelona for a world record transfer fee, winning La Liga in his first season and was named European Footballer of the Year.
After retiring from playing in 1984, Cruyff became highly successful as manager of Ajax and later FC Barcelona; he remains an influential advisor to both clubs.
His son Jordi has also gone on to play football professionally. Considered as one of the most influential figures in football history, Cruyff’s style of play and his football philosophy has had considerable influence on many notable managers and players such as Frank Rijkaard, Josep Guardiola, Michael Laudrup, Arsène Wenger, Eric Cantona and Xavi.
Ajax and Barcelona are among the clubs that have developed their youth academies on Cruyff’s coaching methods.
His coaching philosophy helped lay the foundations for the revival of Ajax’s international successes in the 1990s.
Cruyff was known for his technical ability, speed, acceleration, dribbling and vision, possessing an awareness of his team-mates’ positions as an attack unfolded.
In 1997, Dutch journalist Hubert Smeets wrote: “Cruyff was the first player who understood that he was an artist, and the first who was able and willing to collectivise the art of sports”.
Sports writer David Miller believed Cruyff superior to any previous player in his ability to extract the most from others.
He dubbed him “Pythagoras in boots” for the complexity and precision of his passes and wrote: “Few have been able to exact, both physically and mentally, such mesmeric control on a match from one penalty area to another.”
According to England’s 1966 World Cup winning striker Bobby Charlton, “He [Cruyff] was pretty intelligent, too! A real football brain.
He had superb control, he was inventive and he could perform magic with a ball to get himself out of trouble instinctively.
He got a lot of goals, and although he was so skilful, he didn’t show off – he played to the strengths of the players around him.
This side would really keep hold of the ball.”
On 20 February 2008, in the wake of a major research on the ten-year-mismanagement, it was announced that Cruyff would be the new technical director at his boyhood club Ajax—this would be his fourth stint at the Amsterdam club.
However, Cruyff announced in March that he is pulling out of his planned return to Ajax because of “professional difference of opinion” between him and Ajax’s new manager, Marco van Basten.
Van Basten said that Cruyff’s plans were “going too fast”, because he was “not so dissatisfied with how things are going now”.
His son Jordi has played for teams such as Barcelona (while father Johan was manager), Manchester United, Alavés and Espanyol.
Interestingly, the younger Cruyff sports “Jordi” on his shirt to distinguish himself from his famous father, which also reflects the common Spanish practice of referring to players by given names alone or by nicknames.