The Dutch club’s most famous son has come back, but will his famously huge ego get in the way of success?
Johan Cruyff’s name is synonymous with Ajax. After all, the Dutch club’s two most successful periods began with Cruyff at the centre - as a player between 1964 and 1973 and then as manager between 1985 and 1987.
After a 23-year hiatus, the Dutch genius has finally taken up a formal role at Ajax by joining the club’s new supervisory board. Cruyff will oversee the restructuring of the club’s famous youth system and he will be integral to any policymaking. The new board also includes former Ajax and Juventus pitbull, Edgar Davids.
The return of El Salvador, as Cruyff was nicknamed when he played for Barcelona, has got the fans excited, but it has also caused tensions. During the initial talks earlier this year, Cruyff employed a new agent, after which the tone of his long-running attacks on the Ajax board worsened. The situation reached a climax in March when the Ajax board resigned, furious at Cruyff’s confrontational and brusque manner when trying to push through his desired changes. These included sacking several youth coaches, including academy director Jan Olde Riekerink, and replacing them with former players, something that would have cost over a million pounds in compensation.
The outgoing chairman, Uri Coronel, claimed to have saved every rude voicemail message he had received from Cruyff and to have recorded the proceedings of all their meetings. But it was impossible for Coronel and the rest of the supervisory board to remain when it emerged that they had conducted a smear campaign against Dennis Bergkamp, the Ajax legend whom Cruyff envisioned as academy director. Stories insinuating that Bergkamp, a Cruyff protégé, was mentally unfit for the role had been leaked to the press.
Coronel and his fellow board members were predominantly from the business world. They hardly stood a chance in winning a PR war against Dutch football’s most famous legend. Yet last month, Coronel couldn’t resist one last dig at Cruyff: ‘I’ve not seen him here since March. But it’s perhaps wise that I have nothing to add.’ Cruyff was conspicuously absent at the announcement of the new supervisory board at the Special Shareholders General Meeting. Coronel also warned that ‘the club is greater than the individual’ - an obvious reference to the massive Cruyffian shadow that hangs over the philosophy of Holland’s most successful club.
Cruyff is no stranger to controversy. In David Winner’s fantastic portrait of Dutch football, Brilliant Orange, Johnny Rep reflects on Cruyff’s influence during Ajax’s most successful period (1966-73), when they won six league titles and three European Cups in just seven years. Rep, who broke into the team in 1972, reflected on Cruyff’s famously big ego, which saw him lose the captaincy in 1973 to Piet Keizer: ‘It was not easy, not all the time. He said you must do this in a game, or you must do that. It was not easy for me to shut my mouth. He was always saying: more to the right, or to the left, or the centre. Always! If he gave a bad ball, it was not his fault. And he is always right! He is the best and all the time he is right. That was the problem with him for me.’
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First, the UAE footballer Awana Diab, who scored with a back-heeled penalty against Lebanon, was threatened with punishment for his creativity. Then, Manchester City’s Italian wild-child Mario Balotelli was hauled off by his manager Roberto Mancini for attempting a back-heeled finish when one-on-one against the goalkeeper. Diab was also substituted soon after his apparent crime.
This begs the question: is footballing innovation in danger of being classed as disrespect? Diab’s penalty was taken when the UAE were ahead by several goals. If anything, serious questions should be asked of the goalkeeper, who failed to react to a pretty poorly executed backheel, which lacked any pace or power. In fact, Roma legend Francesco Totti, attempted a much better one, albeit in training.
As for Balotelli’s finish, it’s clear that he would be lauded if he had pulled it off. Failure to execute the trick properly is his only crime, in my opinion. The context in which this back-heel was attempted is important to consider before we decide to berate the Italian and label him ‘troubled’. There are suggestions that the young striker felt he was offside, hence the nonchalant, unorthodox finish. It happened in a pre-season friendly against LA Galaxy, where the optimization of fitness is the most important thing, the result is completely irrelevant.
Amateur psychologists among us could even argue that Mancini felt pressure to act strongly in a public sphere against any critics, much like Phil Brown’s infamous half-time team-talk at Hull. For, it was he who brought Balotelli from Inter Milan last summer. It was under his management when Balotelli accumulated more cards than goals last season.
So by hauling off the youngster, and bringing on James Milner, a player devoid of any flair but always a hard worker, Mancini moved dangerously close to becoming the Italian catenaccio-worshipping managerial stereotype, rather than the brilliant striker who used to scored goals with the very flair and innovation he punished his own player for exhibiting.
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It is a well known fact that some of the greatest amounts of natural resources on the planet lie within the geographical boundaries of Russia and Qatar. It is also common knowledge that neither of these nations has ever hosted a World Cup. They present FIFA and its sponsors a clear opportunity to exploit new markets and continue the world football governing body’s rampant commercialism in the Blatter era. When you combine financial possibilities with bikini-clad models (as Russia did in their final presentation at the FIFA ExCo hotel in Zurich), it is no surprise that Russia were chosen as the hosts of the 2018 World Cup and Qatar as the 2022 hosts.
England’s bid team are left in a problematic place. The Chief Executive Andy Anson criticised the timing of the BBC Panorama investigation, while the bid team essentially denounced any accusations of corruption directed towards FIFA as false. Any moral or ethical high ground was lost when the notion of a free press was lambasted. Despite, being one of the strongest bids in terms of the independent technical report, England accrued only two votes from the twenty-two Executive committee members.
After the disappointing outcome and first round bidding exit, Anson called for FIFA to reform the bidding process. Sadly, his opinion lacks any credibility and smacks of rank hypocrisy, given the uncomfortable amount of sycophancy directed to FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his followers prior to the final announcement. Where the English bid failed was that it failed to wholly relinquish its morals and buy completely into Blatters’ agenda that FIFA is essentially a force of good for humanity.
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UEFA have had massive publicity in the past week – mainly for the wrong reasons. Wednesday night’s Champions League qualifier at the Emirates Stadium was at the centre of the controversy. Eduardo dived after minimal contact from Arthur Boruc – that much is true. What followed is ridiculous.
Firstly, a charge was administered to the Brazil-born Croatian based on Article 10, paragraph 1c of their regulations which deals with ‘acting with the obvious intent to cause any match official to make an incorrect decision’. The prospect of a two-match ban is being mentioned for Eduardo, assuming he can be proven to have acted with intent and a desire to cheat and deceive the referee. While the player dived, there was minimal contact with Boruc. Can UEFA prove this clearly? It does seem unlikely.
It seems that UEFA have suddenly decided to pull out a rule barely referred to in the history of the Champions League. A cynic would argue this organisation is acting upon the media hysteria in Scotland and England. But that is exactly what is happening. The last time a player was banned for diving also involved a Scottish side. Lithuanian Saulius Mikoliunas did so against the national side. Of course the coincidence has led to Wenger claiming the Scottish influence at UEFA has led to the charge being administered. UEFA general secretary David Taylor, a Scot, said of Wenger’s comments:
“It’s our duty to apply the rules without fear or favour. We simply refer the matter to the disciplinary committee, which is independent.”
Wenger’s dismay at how UEFA informed Arsenal of the charge is understandable. A number of senior officials were in Monaco for the CL group stage draw and could have easily been informed by UEFA. Instead a fax was sent to the club, where it was only spotted by a junior worker, who informed Wenger of UEFA’s rash decision.
The retrospective ban has opened the door to a dangerous path for UEFA. When a player is caught simulating a tumble by the referee on the pitch, he is in most cases cautioned. Why the sudden increase in punishment if the action has been taken after the match? It makes little sense and lacks any consistency.
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Don’t you just love deadline day? Brian Swanson and Dharmesh Seth repeatedly refer to their millions of sources and contacts around the footballing world and attempt to break news every other second. The obsession of the 24 hour media and its constant need for new news and exclusives is hilarious. The number of times Sky Sports News has contradicted itself over the past 72 hours is quite frankly disturbing. This is supposed to be a reliable source of news not a tabloid or the disgusting excuse for a website in tribalfootball.com
Take for instance, the ‘sagas’ of Robbie Keane and Andrei Arshavin. This morning we were told that Arshavin had arrived in London for talks if a fee was to be agreed. Then suddenly, the deal was off, as Arsenal and Zenit couldn’t agree a fee. Arshavin was supposedly off to the airport, despite all flights from Heathrow being cancelled.
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The whole racism issue in Spain was apparently set to be eradicated after the initial furore about former Spain coach Luis Aragones calling Thierry Henry ‘a black s**t’ in a bid to motivate his then team-mate Jose Antonio Reyes. The measly fine awarded for the incident was a day’s wages in £2000. And the Spanish FA declined to take any action initially, before being forced by the Spanish anti-violence commission.
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The Russian side has been the most vocal in the January transfer window, alongside Garry Cook and his failed attempt to sign Kaka and Adriano Gaillani’s desire to keep David Beckham. From the various voices at the club, vastly differing news has come out of St. Petersburg. Together with Andrei Arshavin’s talkative agent Dennis Lachter (the Guardian compiled evidence of his tendency to speak when a mike is put before him); the move of the Russian playmaker has led astray the media who appear to be changing the state of the move to Arsenal with every passing day until the February 2nd deadline.
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Enter the top ten defeats of all time. Naturally many matches are remembered for incidents occurring of and on the pitch, perhaps with violent clashes, technical master-classes and shifts in power concerning who rules the footballing world.
No.10 France (4) 3-3 (5) West Germany 1982 World Cup Semi- Final
An epic football match marred by Harold Schumacher’s tendency to rush out to take out man or ball, in a mindset where the end justifies the means, as it did for the Germans. The match was level between the two sides with Littbarski rifling in a shot and a Platini penalty to equalise. Then Schumacher took out substitute Battiston (whose attempted shot went just wide), knocking him unconscious and leaving him with two less teeth. Later when Platini went for a header, when Schumacher came to claim the ball; Platini was left clutching his shoulder. Tresor scored with a hooked finish for France, followed by a thunderbolt from Giresse, Rummenigge pulled one back, before Fischer sent the match to penalties – a first in the World Cup. Schumacher made the headlines, by moving early off his line (a ploy not noticed by the officials) and saving twice from Six and then Bossis. The great French team of Platini and Tigana could not progress ‘because the officials did not do their job’ as the BBC commentator put it.
No.9 Real 0 -5 Barcelona 1973 Primera Division
After being voted out of the captaincy at Ajax, Cruyff left for a club that too was valued on playing beautiful football. In this match he crossed superbly twice to result in goals, and scored a gorgeous goal. Receiving the ball in the edge of the area from the left he burst forward to the left past the despairing lunge of a Real defender, running towards another defender, he quickly shifted the ball onto his right then again onto his left, always shielding the ball from the defender. To top off a superb performance, he finished with aplomb, blasting the ball through the keeper’s legs. To this day Cruyff and his Barcelona team-mates hold the record for Real’s heaviest defeat in the Bernabeu in an El Clasico, an astonishing achievement.
No.8 Arsenal 4-5 Man Utd 1958 Old Division One
The Busby babes came to North London, with a brand of exciting attacking, youthful football. They raced up a 0-3 lead in the first half, and the match seemed to be as good as over. Yet in the space of three minutes The Gunners came racing back and clawed back to a 3-3 score-line. The reputation of the Manchester United side came through, showing mental strength to score twice through the devastating Denis Viollet and Tommy Taylor to an unreachable 3-5 lead. Yet in the dying minutes The Gunners pulled a goal back, leaving a tense finish in which Vic Groves almost equalised. A few days later, the Red Devils flew out to Belgrade to meet Red Star in the European Cup. After a victory, their plane stopped to refuel in Munich. Therefore the game at Arsenal’s historical Highbury was to be the last arena where the famous ‘Busby Babes’ strutted their stuff in England.
No.7 England 3-6 Hungary 1953 International Friendly
The first defeat at Wembley by a team outside of the British Isles broke an undefeated streak since 1901 against such teams. Finally showed how different styles had evolved in contrast to the stereotypical gung-ho British football and it was no fluke. The Hungarians played a pass and move style, with a strike-force of ‘that fat little chap’ (The England player who referred to the Hungarian legend would later live to regret his words) Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti, who played in a revolutionary half-striker role, ghosting between the lines of midfield and attack, impossible to pick up. ‘The Mighty Magyars’ were seen to many as the influence to Rinus Michel’s ‘Total Football’ concept with their fluid formation and interchange of positions. The return game in 1954 was even more one-sided with Hungary annihilating England 7-1.
No.6 Real 11-4 Barcelona 1943 Kings Cup Semi Final
The words Generalissimo or Franco will crop up in remembrance of this semi-final. 3-0 up from the first leg, the Catalans were favourites to meet Bilbao in the final. Yet before the start of the second leg, they were paid a visit by the director of state security, who emphasized the unpatriotic Catalans were only living in Spain on behalf of the generous Franco. Therefore they were forced to throw the match, and even with ten men at half time, it is believed that only such a reason would cause such a loss. The conspiracy theorists continue to look to this dressing room visit. Real still managed to lose the final to Bilbao, after all of their favourite dictator’s help against their arch-rivals.
Continuing on from yesterday, here is the next five, which were influenced by pieces of magic, the event and social and moral talking points.
No.15 Real Madrid 0-1 Ajax 1973 European Cup Semi-final second leg
According to David Winner, author of ‘Brilliant Orange’ the greatest moment of Ajax’s ‘Golden Age’ was not a goal or a great save. It was a simple piece of juggling by a player who had idolised the legends which had graced the turf of the Bernabeu before him. Gerrie Muhren had the 110,000 fans applauding, rather than the customary white handkerchiefs away teams were used to. It was said to be the moment Ajax took over from Real Madrid as the true Kings of Europe. Having already won the two previous European cups, Ajax strolled to their third successive European Cup victory, having raised the Bernabeu to applaud the brilliance of totaalvoetbal.
No.14 Italy 3-2 Brazil 1982 World Cup Second Round
This was truly an occasion was for a phoenix to rise from the flames. His name blackened from a betting scandal and his critics rounding on the poor performances of his and the national’s teams poor ‘aimless’ play. They reached the second round on the back of three draws to meet a Brazilian side that truly brought back beautiful football. Falcao, Zico and Socrates, formed a midfield of vision technique and unlimited flair. Yet it was Rossi who struck first blood, ghosting in to score a free header. John Motson said the Brazilian school of footballing philosophy shows ‘how to play when you’re behind’. He was proved right when an awesome turn by Zico allowed him to release Socrates with a threaded pass. Yet Rossi replied with a brace, and even with a Falcao thunderbolt, Italy prevailed with Dino Zoff making crucial saves. ‘Thankfully skill will still prevail even though teams try to destroy it’. In hindsight, Motson’s words truly marked the ‘death of joga bonito’ as one internet forum member put it. Brazil’s light, glowing football did not prevail and it was loss for football in the long run.
No.13 Arsenal 2-1 Sheffield United 1999 Premier League
The unwritten rule can have a strong influence and it did until the English FA decided to ignore it from this previous season and onwards. Kelly was putting a ball out, so that his team-mate could receive treatment, or rather so that Bergkamp didn’t score. The resulting throw-in, was taken by Parlour to the Sheffield United players, but was intercepted by Kanu, who crossed for Overmars to slot home. The fact that giving the ball back is seen as an unwritten rule, no-one cannot be sure if all 22 players are playing to the same rule! The match was followed by a generous offer by Arsenal to replay the match, which Steve Bruce ‘expected’, yet in truth he had no right to. Arsenal won the return match 2-1, with no controversy.
No.12 Peru 0-6 Argentina – 1978 World Cup Second Round
The situation: Argentina needed to win by more than four goals to reach the final. Why? Brazil’s superior goal difference was blocking their path to World Cup glory. The conspiracy theory: The game was fixed. The Peruvian keeper had only let in 6 goals in his previous five games; He had Argentinean nationality too. Argentina had only scored 6 in their previous games; the exact margin they won this game by. Argentina progressed to the final where they used stalling tactics to unnerve the Dutch team in Estadio Buenos Aires, a cauldron of blue and white. The greatest mystery of all: they were winners of the FIFA Fair Play Award.
No.11 Germany 2-1 Holland 1990 World Cup Round of 16
After the second World War, the Dutch had moved away from it and had rebuilt. A few generations later, books were released about concentration camps, and trials were held for war crimes. Thus the new youth, which included the footballers, coached by Cruyff, in van Basten, Gullit and Rikjaard saw Germany as the enemy. This boiled over onto the pitch, with Rikjaard spitting at Rudi Voller, and this settled the match. Another aspect to the rivalry was the setting. Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. The AC Milan team of the nineties had a Dutch spine, and in contrast the Inter team, contained a number of Germans. Thus the match reflected a rivalry that was on a number of planes; club and international. The defeat also caused violent clashes on the Dutch-German border.