Hendrik Johannes Cruijff is one name that reverberates around the annals of football history. Nothing short of a footballing powerhouse, Cruyff has gone on to become a Dutch, Ajax and Barcelona legend for his performances on and off the pitch.
Born just a stone’s throw away from the stadium now call the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam in 1947, Cruyff is the most celebrated Netherlands footballer and undoubtably one of the best attacking players of his generation. He was an artist who treated the pitch as his canvas and the ball as his paintbrush. The great Ajax and Dutch teams of the 1970s managed by Rinus Michels orchestrated the tactical theory of ‘Total Football’, with Cruyff as their conductor.
Cruyff, armed with his famous number 14 shirt, was undoubtably one of the world’s most gifted footballers of his generation and a dedicated trainer as well. He earned global recognition as Ajax completed a hat-trick of European cups between 1971–1973. That Ajax side was built up of many youth players and players who had been at the club for a long time, but the leap forward they made into greatness was because their preparation was technically and tactically perfect.
In the summer of 1973 Johan Cruyff joined Barcelona for a world record transfer fee. He won the La Liga title in his first season and was named European footballer of the year. The end of the season brought the 1974 World Cup.
He had always been somewhat of a football kit maverick at the time as he chose to wear the number 14 for Holland and Ajax wherever possible. However, it is the famous two striped jersey that he wore in the 1974 World Cup that perhaps is the biggest example of player sponsorship power in football history.
Player Power with Sponsorship in Football
One could mention the players who change their kits in order to celebrate a goal. There’s the divinely inspired case of Kaka and his ‘I Belong to Jesus’ undershirt, the comical attempts like Berbatov’s ‘Keep Calm and Pass me the Ball’ or Balotelli’s ‘Why Always Me?’. It would be fair to assume those players didn’t receive any financial benefit from those shirts. However, Ian Wright’s ‘179 just done it’ Nike emblazoned undershirt did appear to be the product of a sponsorship deal. He revealed this after breaking the goalscoring record for Arsenal in 1997.
There have also been countless examples of players wearing masks when celebrating. There seems to be a certain superhero vibe for the players who go down this route. Jonas Gutierrez’s Spiderman, Facundo Sava’s Fulham Zorro, Raul Jimenez wore a Wolverhampton Wanderers adorned Mexican wrestler mask and then there’s the bizarre effort from Kaspars Gorkss as a wolf for Reading. The only sponsorship boosted mask was worn by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a man who has worn a Spiderman and Black Panther mask on other occasions. In 2017, Aubameyang was fined for wearing a Nike Hypervenom mask as it was not of the same brand of the Borussia Dortmund kit supplier, PUMA.
There are also several examples of footballers adjusting their kit for comfort or for financial gain. A current case of this is Kyle Walker’s socks. He has been seen on countless occasions cutting small holes into the back of his socks, a feat repeated by several others including Danny Rose. The decision isn’t set to be one of style, rather releasing tension on the calves which can help reduce cramp and muscle strain. This is certainly a more sensible reason than some of the others to come.
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This was a similar to Craig Bellamy’s actions during his first stint at Liverpool. He often opted to cutting off his collar for the 2007 season in several games. It’s not something that he did every match but there are several images of him, and only him, playing with no collar. He’s never commented on whether this was a style or superstition choice, but it is interesting again to see how footballers make changes to the manufacturer’s decisions for personal preference.
There’s a long-standing tradition at Arsenal that the choice of the captain to wear long or short sleeved shirts must be replicated by the rest of the squad. This is a directive Arsenal players have respected since the 1920s. This was until Mathieu Flamini decided to take a pair of scissors to his shirts in 2013. Away to Manchester United and at home to Marseille in the Champions League, Flamini decided to cut his shirts above the elbow. This attracted attention from many Arsenal fans and Wenger was forced to tell the Frenchman that he had to stop, a warning he took heed of.
Another Frenchman who ripped up the football fashion rulebook was Djibril Cissé. During the 2006 FA Cup Final, Cissé wore three different pairs of Adidas F10s during the game. A red boot on his right foot and a white on his left foot during the first half, in which he scored. Then for the second half, extra time and penalty shoot out he wore a bright yellow pair. If he had thought it through a bit more, he would have had a pair for each half of the game and been able to debut another colour. Whether this was a fashion or profit led decision is again unclear, but it is likely he would have benefited in some way from the decision, other than scoring in the final that Liverpool went on to win.
On the subject of financially led football boot decisions, the original wheeler dealer in terms of advertising loopholes was QPR legend Stan Bowles. In 1974, Bowles had been selected for England and was on course to collect his £200 bonus from his boot supplier Gola for wearing their boots for his country. However, before the game he was approached by Adidas to wear their boots for £250. Never one to miss out on some easy money, Bowles had the dressing room in stitches as he told them of his plan. He played with a Gola boot on one foot, an Adidas boot on the other and £450 in his back pocket!
Johan Cruyff’s Two Stripes
All these previous examples show the huge part that sponsorship plays in football. It could be argued that all the above pale into insignificance when viewed through the prism of Johan Cruyff’s two striped kit for the entirety of the 1974 World Cup.
In the four years leading up to the 1974 World Cup tournament, a Dutch team had won the European Cup in each of these years with Feyenoord winning in 1970, and Ajax winning the next three tournaments consecutively. As well as this, Cruyff had moved to Barcelona for the 1973-74 season for a record transfer fee in a season where he also won the Ballon d’Or for the second time. All this accumulated to mean that Cruyff was at the peak of his powers and the Dutch team was made up of the greats from the majorly successful Feyenoord and Ajax sides.
This also meant that there was a lot of media and sponsorship attention on this great Dutch team during the build up to the competition. This was not only because of the huge expectation on the exceptional squad, but also because it was the first time that Holland had qualified for the World Cup since 1938, so it was a new experience for practically all involved. This furore led to a players committee being created with representatives for the Feyenoord and Ajax players, two rival clubs on the pitch brought together for financial benefit.
Cruyff being the highest profile player in the squad, armed with his father-in-law and agent Cor Coster, passed on his media and business experience to the rest of the players. It was agreed that all the squad would be treated the same and receive retainers and same match bonuses for everyone who played. The Dutch FA had signed a kit deal with Adidas which meant that, for the first time, the famous orange jersey would bear the distinctive three stripes on the shirt, shorts and socks.
However, Cruyff had an exclusive personal deal with PUMA. His deal and loyalty to the brand meant that he refused to wear an Adidas kit as per the instructions by the Dutch FA. They had believed they didn’t need to run their decision past any of their players, including their superstar captain Cruyff.
He had signed a deal with PUMA several years earlier, wearing their iconic PUMA King boots and earning himself a large sum on the side. His ties with the company even meant that he wore a PUMA sponsored suit jacket when he collected the 1971 Ballon d’Or. He continued to wear their boots throughout his career and remains a marketing figure head for the company.
This led to a difference of opinion between the captain and the national team. Cruyff argued that, despite the fact that the kit may belong to the Dutch FA, “The head sticking out of it is mine”. It was then agreed that Cruyff could remove one stripe from his kit to make it commercially neutral and so that it didn’t affect his sponsorship deal with PUMA. The kits did not have the Adidas logo on them anywhere. It would have been interesting to see the outcome had this been the case.
Of course, this delighted PUMA who spun the story that he ripped off one stripe from his kit because of his distaste of Adidas. It is more likely that the kit makers agreed to adjust Cruyff’s kit because of his desire to keep his lucrative financial deal with PUMA intact. They continue to push the tale of ‘The rebel brand and the rebel player found their spirit and worked together. It wasn’t just that PUMA paid Johan Cruyff to wear PUMA gear, he felt it in his bones. And PUMA did too’. An obvious but fair message to push on their behalf.
Nevertheless, this was a huge win for PUMA, and they were delighted that their star man had shunned a rival brand on the biggest stage of all. This was furthered by an advertisement campaign by PUMA after the tournament which boldly spread the images of Cruyff after he had won the Ballon d’Or for a third time. The image showed him in his distinctive two striped kit and PUMA King boots during the 1974 World Cup. The advert said ‘Johan Cruyff, European Superstar. Footballer of the Year with PUMA’.
The fact that Cruyff could remove a stripe from his kit and remain unpunished by Adidas and the Dutch FA in 1974 but Aubameyang was fined by PUMA and Dortmund for wearing a Nike mask in 2017, shows how times have changed. In Cruyff’s period of playing, in conjunction with his prestige in the game at the time, it was possible for him to go above international Football Associations and kit suppliers as nothing like that had been done before. Today, the huge amounts of money and contract small print means that this is highly unlikely to happen again. The thought of Lionel Messi stitching three stripes into a Nike Argentina kit is comical yet would be the modern-day equivalent of this remarkable historical event.
The 1974 World Cup
The 1974 World Cup was dominated by Cruyff. Yet, despite leading the Netherlands to the final, he remains one of the greatest players never to win the World Cup. The Netherlands kicked off the 1974 tournament with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Uruguay, Johnny Rep was the hero scoring both goals. In their next match, they played out a goalless draw against Sweden in Dortmund and it was here that Cruyff provided the world with an unforgettable moment as he performed the turn that has been known ever since as ‘The Cruyff Turn’. It remains an undying image of that tournament that thousands have replicated but none can deny that Cruyff was the first and arguably best to ever do it.
Against Bulgaria, the Dutch stepped up a gear securing an emphatic 4-1 win. Cruyff was the driving force in the Netherlands’ effort having won the first penalty after being brought down in the box and assisting the fourth and final goal. This was enough to qualify top of their group and progress to the second round. They began displaying their ability to score at will and this continued in their next game against Argentina.
Cruyff was again dominant with another Man of the Match display. He opened the scoring with a calm and cultured finish early in the game. In the second half, despite the torrid weather, Cruyff shone again as he created another goal with a fine cross from the left which was again dispatched by Rep. Cruyff’s second goal of the game in the dying embers of the match completed a comprehensive 4-0 win for the Dutch.
This meant that they only needed a draw against their next South American opponents, Brazil, in order to progress to the World Cup Final, having already dispatched East Germany 0-2. In what was ultimately the antitheses of everything that comes to mind when one thinks of Cruyff’s game, the highly charged encounter was certainly no beautiful game. A physical approach from the Brazilians showed a clear intimidation tactic towards the great man to provoke him. However, he remained calm and provided a perfectly weighted cross to help open the scoring. Once again, he was on the scoresheet as he volleyed in from close range to secure a famous 2-0 win. Their free flowing, attacking football attracted the support of many neutrals as they headed into the final.
Cruyff’s Holland side were set to face the hosts, West Germany in the final. The Germans, much like the Dutch, had some talented players including their Captain Franz Beckenbauer. The build-up to the final was very much centred on who would guide their nation to glory, Cruyff or Beckenbauer.
Cruyff laid his marker down early in the match. He collected the ball deep in his own half, weaved through the West German midfield and defence before being brought down in the box. The resulting penalty was scored by Neeskens, and it looked as though the Netherlands were on the brink of glory. However, a quick-fire West German double in the first half was enough to win the game 2-1 and break Dutch hearts.
Cruyff’s dream was over. So many in the footballing world wanted him to shine again and lift the World Cup. Despite his remarkable start to the game, he was marshalled well throughout the rest of the match and couldn’t replicate the performances he had delivered throughout the tournament. Beckenbauer summed the tournament up by saying “He (Cruyff) was the better player, but I won the World Cup”.
The 1974 tournament brought with it the premature end of Cruyff’s international footballing career. Following disagreements with the Dutch FA after a kidnap attempt on his family, Cruyff didn’t take part in the 1978 finals where Holland again lost to the hosts (Argentina) in the final.
Cruyff stands alongside the likes of Pele and Maradona as a true footballing great. Blessed with remarkable ability, he was the lynchpin of the Netherland’s masterful 1974 display. Cruyff’s contribution to the game on the world stage will be forever etched in the memory of football fans the world over.
After the World Cup
He retired from playing in 1984. After success as the manager of Ajax, he returned to Barcelona. Barcelona had always had a strong relationship with Dutch players and after the success of Cruyff’s spell as a Barcelona player and his success in the Ajax dugout, they were willing to give him the job. Cruyff always had very simple ideas that provided a very attractive way of playing. Supporters could see his attacking style in fruition when he led Barca to their first European Cup success at Wembley. One of the youngest members of that squad was of course, Pep Guardiola who has carried much of Cruyff’s managerial style into his coaching techniques.
I was once asked how I would like to be remembered in a hundred years’ time. Luckily I don’t have to worry about it too much, because I won’t be here. But if I had to give an answer I’d say something like, ‘As a responsible sports-man.’ If I’m to be judged purely as a footballer, then my life would be defined by a period of between fifteen and twenty years, and quite honestly I think that’s too limited. My footballing talent was given to me by God. I didn’t have to do anything to earn it. It just meant that I got to play a bit of football, and do exactly what I wanted to do. While others said they were off to work, I just went off to play football. So I’ve been lucky that way. That’s why the other things I’ve done in my life carry more weight with me. I haven’t always been understood. As a footballer, as a coach, and also for what I did after all that. But OK, Rembrandt and van Gogh weren’t understood either. That’s what you learn: people go on bothering you until you’re a genius. -Johan Cruyff, 2016
Cruyff left a legacy at Barcelona and was adored by many in Spain and across the world for his style of play. It was a preconception that if you were small or thin, you couldn’t play, Cruyff showed this wasn’t true. He showed that if such players are given the chance in the youth systems then they can develop into better players. His belief that technically advanced players could play a natural and attractive style of football with freedom and expression on the pitch was a huge success. His partnership of beauty and balance on the pitch along with exciting and attacking philosophies as a manager made him one of the most important figures in football’s history.
His famous two striped shirt that he adorned during the 1974 tournament shows how commercially savvy, strong minded and powerful Cruyff was at his prime. The genius of the man is beyond question but this fascinating tale regarding his kit adds another feather to the enigmatic cap of Johan Cruyff’s footballing journey.