Dutch football great Johan Cruyff dies of cancer at 68

Cruyff, who was a heavy smoker, made his illness public in October last year. Just last month, the former Ajax, Barcelona and Netherlands star said he was "2-0 up" in his match with lung cancer.
Cruyff, who was a heavy smoker, made his illness public in October last year. Just last month, the former Ajax, Barcelona and Netherlands star said he was "2-0 up" in his match with lung cancer.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BARCELONA • Football legend Johan Cruyff has died of cancer at the age of 68.

The Dutchman, who on three occasions was voted the World Player of the Year, guided the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 1974 and as a manager, was in charge of Spanish club Barcelona for eight years.

"On March 24, 2016, Johan Cruyff died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard- fought battle with cancer. It's with great sadness that we ask you to respect the family's privacy during their time of grief," read a statement on the World of Johan Cruyff website.

Just last month, the former Ajax, Barcelona and Netherlands star, one of the main exponents, along with Rinus Michels, of the world- famous Total Football - the Dutch style of play in the 1970s that involved players constantly interchanging roles - said he was "2-0 up" in his match with lung cancer.

"With great sadness, we have learnt of the death of Johan Cruyff. Words are not enough," wrote the Dutch football federation on Twitter. Ajax issued a short statement that read: "The greatest Ajax player of all time had suffered with lung cancer since October last year. Ajax share in this great loss and wish the families much strength." Cruyff, who was a heavy smoker until undergoing heart surgery in 1991, made his illness public last October.

He was regarded as one of the game's greatest players. He led Ajax to three consecutive European Cups from 1971 to 1973, and was the linchpin for the Netherlands as they were beaten 2-1 in the final of the 1974 World Cup by West Germany.

During the tournament, his eponymous turn was first seen against Sweden and soon copied the world over. By then, he had joined Barcelona for a world-record fee. He went on to become a huge favourite at the Nou Camp, eventually coaching the Catalan club to a first European Cup triumph in 1992 as well as winning four successive La Liga titles between 1991 and 1994, having managed Ajax from 1985 to 1988.

Barcelona tweeted: "We will always love you, Johan. Rest in peace."

As a player, Cruyff scored 392 times in 520 games over a 19-year career but his influence reached far beyond creating goals, thanks to his qualities as a leader, thinker and speaker. As a coach, he had 242 victories in 387 matches, with 75 draws and 70 losses.

Singapore football icon Fandi Ahmad, who played with Cruyff while the Singaporean was on trial at Ajax in 1982, said: "After nearly 25 to 30 years, I met him in Johor when he was setting up his Johan Cruyff Institute in Johor four years ago. When he saw me, he came to me and hugged me in front of the Johor Crown Prince and called me 'Brownie'. The Crown Prince was surprised that we knew each other."

The current and five-time World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi, was among the first to pay tribute to Cruyff, writing on his Twitter account: "RIP Johan Cruyff. Your legacy will live on forever."

Dutch legend Ruud Gullit, who played with Cruyff at Feyenoord, said: "I'm perplexed, I thought he was getting better. Holland lost a face in the world. He put our football on the map. Furthermore, he's been extremely important for my career."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'Football great Cruyff dies of cancer at 68'. Print Edition | Subscribe