Cruyff, a Dutch Great, Helped Transform Spanish Game – NYTimes.com
By JEFFREY MARCUS
Published: July 10, 2010
JOHANNESBURG — Catalonia did not play in the World Cup here. It has never participated in the tournament and, because it is not a recognized member of FIFA, it quite possibly never will.
But Catalonia, a province in northeast Spain, is the capital of the world’s most exciting and inventive style of soccer, one that will be on display Sunday when the Netherlands and Spain meet in the World Cup final.
Catalonia Coach Johan Cruyff’s influence can be seen in the Netherlands, the team he led to the1974 World Cup final, and Spain, where he played and coached at F.C. Barcelona, and now lives.
“I am Dutch,” Cruyff said last week to El Periódico in Spain, where he lives. “But I will always defend the football Spain play.”
That is an easy transition for him because the soccer Spain plays is downright Dutch, and it can trace its roots to Cruyff. At the height of his playing career in 1973, Cruyff joined Barcelona and played there five years, winning the Spanish championship and the Spanish cup. He had even greater success when he coached Barcelona from 1988 to 1996, winning four league titles and the 1992 European Cup.
He also helped establish methods used at the club’s acclaimed youth academy, La Masia, where a third of the current Spanish team learned a style of play that was neither Spanish nor Dutch, but which is internationally appealing and very effective.
“Certainly our style is very similar to Barcelona,” Spain midfielder Xavi, who plays for Barcelona, said Saturday. “The profile of the team and what we’re trying to achieve is very similar.”
In addition to Xavi, other Spain players who have come through the Barcelona system are Carles Puyol, Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Pedro and Víctor Valdés. Many of them have also donned the Catalonia jersey for exhibitions.
“But it is not only Barça,” Xavi said. “We want everyone in Spain to feel great about the football we’re playing.”
Indeed, in a country where regional pride has a deep-rooted and often fractious history, the team has made its Catalan style appeal to all of Spain, relying on key players from Galicia, Asturias and Castilla.
“Our style of football is inspiring people, surprising people,” said Iker Casillas, the
The Spanish style is based on the Dutch system of “total football,” developed at the Amsterdam club Ajax, where Cruyff learned the game. It requires every player on the field to be a playmaker, as a dribbler or passer, depending on what the situation requires.
Open sections of the field were not gaps to be traversed with long passes or frantic runs forward; rather, they were areas to mount an organized, well-fortified attack with keen passing and combination play. That is the sort of play Spain has used here to dominate possession on its way to the final after losing to Switzerland, 1-0, in its opening match.
“I think Spain is the country playing the best football in the past few years,” Netherlands Coach Bert van Marwijk said Saturday. “I’ve been the coach of the national squad for two years now, and during that time, it has crossed my mind that I would love to play Spain, and now it is happening.”
He added: “Both teams have their own style, and they do resemble each other. Right now, Spain has executed better.”
That is a generous assessment.
The Netherlands has scored 12 goals this tournament — some from long-range shots, others off headers close in — by six different players. All but two of Spain’s seven goals have come off the feet of forward David Villa.
Cruyff is ambivalent about the final, so tied is he to the Netherlands, the country of his birth, and Spain, his adoptive home.
“It is Spain’s game to lose,” he told El Periódico. “But I will take intense joy if they win it.”
While Cruyff’s influence is evident in the way Spain plays, it motivates the Netherlands.
“Those teams of 1974 and 1978 are an inspiration to us,” van Marwijk said last week. “I was thinking about the ’74 and ’78 teams during the game against Uruguay, and at the end of the game, and have talked many times about those teams.”
In 1974, and four years later, when the Netherlands again lost in the final, to host Argentina, the Dutch played scintillating soccer. Cruyff’s dashes through the midfield were the highlight of the 1974 World Cup campaign, when the Netherlands lost in the final to host West Germany.
Cruyff’s Oranje rolled through the World Cup undefeated until the final, scoring 14 goals and conceding only one. This team, powered by the midfield dynamo Wesley Sneijder (five goals) and wing Arjen Robben (two goals), had to defeat Braziland Uruguay on the road to the final — just like the Dutch team a generation ago.
“I don’t only think about the past and the thing we did not achieve,” van Marwijk said. “No Dutch player has ever become world champion, so that’s quite special and extraordinary.”
“Of course,” he added, “you want to win the final, that’s the only thing that counts.”