Fandi tells of his unique bond with the late Johan Cruyff

Late Netherlands icon shared his wisdom in shaping young import

Johan Cruyff, who died yesterday, will forever be enshrined in world footballing history for his feats with Barcelona, Ajax and the Netherlands national team as both player and coach.

But, unknown to many, he also left an indelible mark on Singapore's greatest footballer.

In 1982, Fandi Ahmad arrived in the Netherlands as a scrawny 20-year-old for a trial with Ajax, on the recommendation of Dutch scout Jaap Reinders, who introduced Cruyff to Fandi.

Recalling their first meeting, the Singapore assistant coach said yesterday: "When he came into the room, he gave me his Cruyff-brand apparel and boots. I was really shocked, as he was my idol at that time.

"I played with him during pre-season for about six weeks. He didn't want me to go back to Singapore, but I was very young and my grandmother wanted me to come back.

"I had gone to Holland on his invitation. But I was only an inexperienced 20-year-old who could not recognise the opportunities that were opening up for me. I had nobody to advise me either, so I rejected a three-year contract with Ajax."

A 1974 photo showing the late Dutch forward Johan Cruyff controlling the ball under pressure from a West German player during the World Cup final in Munich which was won by the host nation.
A 1974 photo showing the late Dutch forward Johan Cruyff controlling the ball under pressure from a West German player during the World Cup final in Munich which was won by the host nation. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The Dutch legend, who was in his second stint at Ajax when Fandi met him, also imparted wisdom to the wide-eyed Singaporean.

The advice obviously helped, as Fandi blossomed into one of the best footballers in the region.

Said the former Singapore captain: "He taught me a lot. He said: 'You must always be confident'. During one of the games I played, there was a penalty. I didn't want to take it but he said: 'You better take it now.' I took it and I scored. He gave me that confidence.

"In fact, all the players liked him. When he was around, he gave so much confidence to everyone, especially the younger ones.

"I am honoured to have had a chance to play with Cruyff, especially with him guiding me.

"He's very special to me."

Tributes poured in from around the world for Cruyff after the 68-year-old lost his battle against lung cancer yesterday.

Michel Platini, the suspended Uefa president who, like Cruyff, was a three-time winner of the European player of the year award, said: "Cruyff was the best player of all time. I've lost a friend, the world has lost a great man. I admired him, he was the best player of all time."

Immersed in Rinus Michels' Total Football philosophy of the 1970s, Cruyff revolutionised the game as a player and coach and is widely regarded as one of the most influential men in the beautiful game.

'HE'S VERY SPECIAL TO ME'

When he came into the room, he gave me his Cruyff brand of apparel and boots... I played with him during pre-season for about six weeks... He didn't want me to go back to Singapore, but I was very young and my grandmother wanted me to come back.

FANDI AHMAD, Singapore legend, recalling his first meeting with his idol.

"He was certainly the best footballer Europe has produced," said Germany's Franz Beckenbauer.

Former Manchester United star Eric Cantona said: "I loved the Dutch in the 1970s, they excited me and Cruyff was the best. He was at the heart of a revolution with his football. Ajax changed football and he was the leader of it all. If he wanted, he could (have been) the best player in any position on the pitch."

Current Bayern Munich manager and former Barcelona managaer Pep Guardiola said : "Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore or improve it".

Cruyff leaves behind a wife, Danny, two daughters, Chantal and Susila, and a son, Jordi, who played for Barcelona and Manchester United as well as Holland and is currently Maccabi Tel Aviv sports director.

With Holland facing England in a friendly international at Wembley on Tuesday night, tributes are sure to be made to one of the true greats of the game.

  • With additional reporting from The Times, London
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'Fandi tells of his unique Cruyff bond'. Print Edition | Subscribe