His impudent befuddling of defenders with a swivel of the hips and inside back heel to himself took the breath away
I'm writing this column at Easter so you'll understand why I'm dedicating it to JC, who has had such a profound effect on my religion. What may come as a surprise to some, although not those who know I have a weekly TV chat show on Punt Avui TV, is that the religion I'm referring to is football and the initials JC refer to Johann Cruyff.
I won't try to match any of the tributes that have flooded the Internet and media since Cruyff's death, as I can't pretend to have known or even met the man myself. All I can do is offer some words as a fan of what he achieved and the way in which he achieved it. There was most certainly a time Before Cruyff (BC), when football may already have been beautiful – my generation had witnessed the TV images of Brazil in 1970, even if we'd only ever heard about the legendary 1950s Magyars – but only with Cruyff's Ajax and Holland did it become Total. Total Football, a term that brings chills to the spine of any football lover and which is at the root of the modern-day Barça philosophy, tracing a direct line from Cruyff's dream team to Guardiola's all-conquering tiki taka to Luis Enrique's contemporaneous equivalent, whatever we want to call it, via Spain's triumphant World Cup and Euro Championship-winning sides in 2010 and 2012. So much of it is down to him, one man.
The first time I heard of Cruyff was as an adjective – the Cruyff turn. What could it possibly mean, I pondered as a 6-year-old… and then I saw it. A move only Cruyff seemed capable of achieving, and even today I can't think of any other arch exponent, save perhaps Romario in his pomp. His impudent befuddling of defenders with a swivel of the hips and inside back heel to himself took the breath away. But Cruyff's footballing mind went far beyond individual brilliance, as his understanding of how teams use space on a football field and ability to articulate it meant that his disciples, not least a young Pep Guardiola, were able to benefit from his tutelage not just as players but later as managers.
As I grew older and learnt more about the man, I came to appreciate another of his very distinguishable traits. Cruyff was very much his own man; he spoke his mind and was therefore never far away from conflict, something I happily identified with, as I rarely find it easy to hold my own tongue. It was due to this characteristic that Cruyff's professional career was dotted with divisions, rifts and dismissals, but it never seemed to daunt him. He always stuck to his guns and in his later years would still appear in TV interviews unapologetically describing his various fallouts with ex-players and club presidents alike. And finally, but no less important, the Cruyff Foundation is dedicated to helping all kids have an active life, one more element of the wonderful legacy left behind by a true sporting great.