Johan Cruyff

That summer, I would be in my backyard
trying to teach myself to play like Cruyff.
When I was growing up, I wanted to be like Johan Cruyff. We had just moved to the far Atlanta suburbs, and I couldn’t play soccer that summer because the nearest league was too far away. That summer I read in Sports Illustrated about Holland’s run to the World Cup final in Germany, about Cruyff leading the “Clockwork Orange” playing total football.

The idea of total football fascinated me. Players like Krol, Neeskens, and Rensenbrink interchanging positions at will, with Cruyff orchestrating everything, moving wherever he could to be most effective. Along with his rival Franz Beckenbauer, Cruyff was redefining how soccer was played. That summer and most of the next years, I would be in my backyard trying to teach myself to play like Cruyff.

When I was just starting high school, Cruyff came to the United States to play. He was near the tail end of his career then. One Saturday morning, I read that his first game would be in Atlanta against the Chiefs. At breakfast that morning, I badgered my father relentlessly to take me to the game that night. I begged. It was unlike me.

Of course, Dad relented and took me to Atlanta Stadium to see the game. It wasn’t a spectacular game. Cruyff played just one half. I didn’t care. I was there. I saw him play. And that’s what is important.

I still wish I could play like Johan Cruyff.

RIP.

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