#218 Johan Cruyff A Life of Total Football



In "My Turn: A Life of Total Football," Johan Cruyff reflects on his life's journey, emphasizing the critical role of family, mentors, and the pursuit of excellence. After losing his father at twelve, football became his refuge and teacher, thanks to figures like the club's groundsman and his trainers at Ajax. His father-in-law provided financial guidance, while others helped him navigate the unfamiliar territory of football marketing. Cruyff's philosophy, shaped by experiences and the concept of 'total football,' prioritized intelligence over physical prowess and innovation in tactics. Despite a successful career, a foray into business led to a costly mistake, reaffirming his place in football. As a player, coach, and advocate for the sport, Cruyff's legacy is his commitment to progress, learning from setbacks, and living a life full of authenticity and intensity.

Summary Notes

Early Life and Influence of Father Figures

  • Johann Cruyff emphasizes the role of experience over formal education.
  • His father's death at age twelve was a defining moment, leading to guidance from his second father and trainers.
  • Family and significant figures at Ajax (IAX) played a crucial role in his development, both personally and professionally.

"After I lost my father at the age of twelve, my life was defined by ix. First by my second father, who was the club's groundsman, and later by my trainers."

This quote highlights the importance of father figures and mentors in Cruyff's life after the loss of his biological father.

Financial and Business Acumen

  • Gained financial experience through his father-in-law.
  • Introduced to marketing and business dealings, which were new to footballers at the time.

"Through my father-in-law, I gained financial experience."

Cruyff credits his father-in-law for his financial knowledge, which was unusual for footballers of his era.

Ambition and Career Transition

  • Cruyff had a single-minded focus on achieving the highest level in football, either as a player or coach.
  • Physical limitations ended his playing career, leading to a transition into coaching.
  • His life philosophy centered on continuous improvement and applying lessons learned.

"I can only think about being at the top. As a player or a coach."

This quote reflects Cruyff's relentless ambition and his inability to settle for mediocrity in his football career.

Influence of Johann Cruyff's Book

  • The autobiography "My Turn: A Life of Total Football" provides insights into Cruyff's life and philosophy.
  • Listener Nicholas sent the book recommendation, highlighting Cruyff's impact on football and his status as a misfit.
  • Cruyff's intelligence and strategic thinking were his main advantages on the field.
  • He innovated in football, similar to Albert Lasker's innovation in advertising.

"Football is played with the brain. The legs are just there to help."

Cruyff believed that mental prowess was more critical than physical attributes in football, emphasizing the importance of strategy and intelligence.

Life Philosophy and Progress

  • Cruyff focused on the future and progress, using the past only as a learning tool.
  • The importance of connecting experiences and learning from them is a recurring theme.
  • His passion for football and life was driven by a desire for continual improvement.

"Everything I've done, I've done with a view to the future, concentrating on progress."

This quote encapsulates Cruyff's forward-thinking approach to life and his career, always striving for betterment.

Childhood and Early Connection to Football

  • Grew up near Ajax stadium, with a family deeply connected to football.
  • His father's death led to Hank, the club's groundsman, becoming a significant influence.
  • Football and enjoyment were intertwined from an early age, with the game feeling like play rather than work.

"I think back on my childhood with great fondness. I have known nothing but love."

Cruyff reflects on his childhood affectionately, acknowledging the love and support that shaped his early years and connection to football.

Training Philosophy and Discipline

  • Advocated for hard training and discipline, believing it led to mastery in the game.
  • Compared training to the philosophy of perfecting a skill through repetition, similar to Bruce Lee's martial arts approach.

"To be able to touch the ball perfectly once, you need to have touched it a hundred thousand times in training."

This quote demonstrates Cruyff's belief in the power of practice and dedication to mastering football skills.

Impact of Father's Death

  • The death of his father had a profound and lasting impact on Cruyff's life.
  • Recognizes the influence parents have on their children and the lasting legacy they leave.

"The way you feel about..."

While the quote is incomplete, it suggests that Cruyff was reflecting on the deep emotional impact his father's death had on him.

Impact of a Father's Death

  • Johann Cruyff's father passed away when Johann was twelve, leaving a lasting impact on him.
  • Johann engaged in conversations with his deceased father at the cemetery, seeking advice throughout his life.
  • His father's death profoundly influenced his personal development and decision-making process.

"My father died in 1959, when he was 45 and I was twelve. He died of a heart attack because his cholesterol was too high. His death has never let go of me."

This quote highlights the significance of Johann's father's death on his life, marking the beginning of a lifelong influence that shaped his character and choices.

Support Systems and Mentors

  • After his father's death, Johann received support from various figures, including his soon-to-be stepdad and trainers.
  • Johann emphasizes the importance of not doing anything in life alone and the value of teamwork and mentorship.
  • Core Coster, Johann's father-in-law, played a crucial role in his life, both personally and professionally.

"So after his dad dies, he gets support from his soon to be stepdad, his trainers, his father in law when he gets married. But he does have people that try to help him."

This quote underscores the importance of having a support system and mentors, which Johann experienced after the loss of his father and throughout his career.

Early Life and Career Beginnings

  • Johann's early life was characterized by a pure love for football, without the burden of philosophy or analysis.
  • His mother found work cleaning at the stadium, which later played a role in Johann's professional journey.
  • Upon signing his contract, Johann was able to relieve his mother from the need to work, a significant moment in their lives.

"I was just a kid who had the ball every waking minute of every day. I was at the stadium all day, every day. I was a kid having fun."

The quote reflects Johann's passion for football from a young age, where the game was about enjoyment rather than strategy or analysis.

Philosophy of Continuous Improvement

  • Johann's philosophy as a professional player was to constantly analyze mistakes and improve, regardless of winning or losing.
  • He admired similar approaches in other athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, who also focused on continual improvement.
  • Johann's reflection on his achievements emphasizes the transient nature of success and the importance of looking forward.

"What I learned was that football is a process of making mistakes, then analyzing them, to learn lessons and not get frustrated."

This quote captures Johann's mindset towards football and life: learning from mistakes is essential for growth and improvement.

Development of Total Football

  • Johann and Renus Michels worked together to develop the concept of total football.
  • Total football was influenced by previous generations and required a disciplined approach to be effective.
  • The philosophy of total football mirrored family dynamics, emphasizing teamwork and anticipation.

"Winning was the consequence of the process that we had concentrated on."

Johann's quote illustrates the core principle of total football: success is a byproduct of a well-executed process and team effort.

Emphasis on Quality and Technique

  • Johann's philosophy prioritized quality and technique over mere effort and hard work.
  • He believed that possessing the ball reduced the opponent's scoring chances and increased one's own.
  • His approach to football focused on skillful play rather than physical exertion alone.

"This shifts the focus to quality and technique. Whereas before it was all about effort and hard work."

This quote reflects Johann's belief in the importance of technical skill and quality in achieving success in football and beyond.

Personal Security Incident

  • Johann and his family experienced a traumatic event when they were held at gunpoint in their Barcelona home.
  • This incident was a stark reminder of the dangers that can accompany public figures.
  • It was a significant event in Johann's life, affecting his sense of security and well-being.

"Then something awful happened. I was at home in our apartment complex in Barcelona, watching a basketball game... when the doorbell was rung by what looked like a courier delivering a package."

The quote describes the beginning of a frightening incident that had a profound impact on Johann and his family, highlighting the vulnerability that can come with fame.

Kidnapping Incident

  • Johann Cruyff and his family experienced an attempted kidnapping.
  • The perpetrator forced Cruyff and his partner Danny to the floor.
  • The kidnapper's attention was momentarily diverted, allowing Danny to escape.
  • Cruyff freed himself and secured the gun to prevent further danger.
  • The incident was resolved quickly due to the commotion and community response.
  • A van with a mattress suggested a planned kidnapping, common in Spain at the time.
  • Cruyff emphasizes that he did not seek to understand the kidnapper's motives, focusing instead on the safety and well-being of his family.

"I was tied up to a piece of furniture. To do that, he had to set the gun down briefly, and at that moment, Danny got to her feet and ran out of the room, out of the building." This quote describes the critical moment when Danny took the opportunity to escape, leading to the resolution of the kidnapping situation.

"A van with a mattress in it was later discovered outside our flat. So everything pointed to a kidnapping of the kind that was a common occurrence in Spain at the time." The discovery of the van provided evidence for the intended crime, placing it within the context of a broader pattern of kidnappings in Spain.

Cruyff's First Retirement

  • Johann Cruyff retired from football in 1978 at a relatively young age.
  • Post-retirement, he transitioned into business, a move he later regarded as a mistake.
  • Cruyff acknowledges that his success and fame in football led to numerous business propositions.
  • He lost a significant amount of money in a pig farming investment.
  • The experience taught him the importance of staying within his 'circle of competence'.
  • Cruyff's father-in-law played a pivotal role in helping him recognize his mistake and refocus on football.
  • The ordeal led to a realization of his unique talent in football, prompting a return to the sport.

"Football took up every waking hour. And so this is where we get to his first retirement and where he makes the gigantic mistake of leaving his circle of competence." This quote summarizes Cruyff's total dedication to football and sets the stage for the discussion of his ill-fated venture into business.

"I had spent 80% of my time training or playing football. But from that moment on, I stopped playing. That 80% was spent in other ways." Cruyff reflects on the drastic change in his life after retirement, highlighting the void left by football and the misguided attempts to fill it.

"I also began to use the pigheadedness that had served me so well in football in the completely wrong way." Cruyff admits to misapplying the determination that made him successful in football to his business endeavors, leading to poor decisions.

"My ignorance was being exploited. I had money, and where there's money, you'll find rats running about." This quote emphasizes the vulnerability that comes with wealth and the importance of being cautious with investment opportunities.

Return to Football and Lessons Learned

  • Cruyff's business failures led him to reconsider his retirement from football.
  • He chose to play in America as a way to make a fresh start.
  • His time in America provided new insights and ambitions, influencing his later work.
  • Cruyff's foundation, focusing on children with disabilities, was inspired by his experiences in America.
  • He learned the importance of looking beyond the superficial outcomes to the joy his efforts brought to others.
  • Cruyff's return to Europe involved creative financial arrangements to navigate high tax rates.
  • As a coach and manager, he applied lessons from his American experiences, emphasizing teamwork and specialization.
  • Cruyff's coaching philosophy involved minimizing small mistakes and paying attention to details.

"I opted for America in order to make a completely new start, far away from my past and an ideal place to build something big out of a situation in which I'd gone from 100 to zero." Cruyff discusses his decision to move to America for a new beginning, indicating his resilience and desire to rebuild after setbacks.

"America was where I discovered new ambitions and how to develop them." This quote highlights the transformative impact of Cruyff's American experience on his personal and professional growth.

"The seed for my foundation was planted in my first season with the Washington diplomat." Cruyff credits his time in America with planting the idea for his charitable foundation, demonstrating the long-term influence of this period on his life.

"By returning to the Netherlands, I found myself back in the land of 70% tax." Cruyff's return to Europe brought financial challenges, which he addressed through creative solutions.

"The whole organization of the first team was based on the american model." As a coach, Cruyff applied the organizational principles he learned in America to his European football teams.

"I've never pretended I could do anything I couldn't." Cruyff's humility and willingness to delegate to those with specialized skills are evident in this quote, reflecting his leadership style.

Reflections on Career and Philosophy

  • Cruyff reflects on the cyclical nature of his career, including his retirements and comebacks.
  • He emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes and staying true to one's talents.
  • Cruyff's approach to coaching and management was influenced by his belief in specialization and collaboration.
  • His innovative thinking led him to explore unconventional methods, such as hiring an opera singer to improve players' breathing techniques.
  • Cruyff's attention to detail and observation skills were key to his success as a coach.
  • He stresses that small mistakes can have significant impacts, underscoring the need for vigilance and continuous improvement.

"The mistakes I made back then were quickly out of my system, not least of all because I believe that everyone has a destiny, a fate of his or her own." Cruyff expresses his belief in destiny and the ability to overcome mistakes, suggesting a philosophical acceptance of life's ups and downs.

"I suggested that we use Len Delpharo, an opera singer who specialized in breathing techniques to help the players get the maximum return on every inhalation and exhalation." This quote exemplifies Cruyff's creative and forward-thinking approach to improving his players' performance.

"Problems seldom are never come from big mistakes. It's often the small ones to count." Cruyff's focus on the small details as a coach is encapsulated in this quote, highlighting his meticulous approach to the game.

Johann Cruyff's Personal Challenges and Lessons Learned

  • Johann Cruyff faced the fear of dying young due to his father's early death.
  • His smoking addiction led to serious heart problems and eventually lung cancer.
  • The key lesson from his brush with death was the consequence of poor habits.
  • After a life-threatening health scare, he quit smoking overnight.
  • Cruyff's experience underscores the importance of full commitment to positive change.

"During that time, I was getting stomach complaints more and more often... But in late February 1991, my wife intervened... I was given two heart bypasses... The main lesson I've learned from that is that you can't do anything that's bad for you and not expect to be punished."

This quote illustrates how a significant health scare led Johann Cruyff to reflect on his smoking habit and its dire consequences, leading to a life-changing decision to quit smoking.

"It doesn't work without full commitment."

Cruyff emphasizes that half-hearted measures are ineffective, whether in quitting a bad habit or in pursuing any goal. Full commitment is crucial for success.

Cruyff's Philosophy on Football

  • Simple football is most beautiful but also the hardest to play.
  • His philosophy is straightforward: make the field big when in possession and small when not.
  • The principle is fundamental and should be learned early in life.
  • Cruyff criticizes the bureaucracy and lack of football knowledge among club administrators.
  • He believes that a single responsible leader is more effective than a committee.

"Simple football is the most beautiful, but playing simple football is the hardest thing."

Cruyff shares his belief that the beauty of football lies in its simplicity, though achieving such simplicity in play is challenging.

"When you have possession, you make the field big, and when you lose the ball, you make it small again."

This quote summarizes Cruyff's tactical approach to football, emphasizing the importance of space management on the field.

"There wasn't a single former first team player on the commissioner's council, the board, the members council, or the club administration."

Cruyff criticizes the lack of direct football experience among the administrators of football clubs, suggesting it leads to poor decision-making and conflicts.

Leadership and Organizational Efficiency

  • Johann Cruyff and other great leaders like Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer valued strong, singular leadership over committees.
  • Effective organizations are led by individuals who understand the core activities and are supported by the team.
  • Consensus is important, but a single leader is necessary for clear direction and decision-making.
  • The first eleven players are the most important in a football club, and all club activities should support them.

"Oppenheimer insisted that Los Alamos should have one director... while consensus was important, an organization needed a single leader."

This quote highlights the belief that while collective input is valuable, ultimately, a single, informed leader should guide an organization.

"It isn't the managing director who's the most important part of the club, it's the first eleven."

Cruyff stresses that the primary focus of a football club should be on the players on the field, as their performance is central to the club's success.

The Importance of Fundamentals and Mastery

  • Mastery of the fundamentals is critical in any field, including sports and business.
  • Johann Cruyff emphasizes the importance of mastering the basics from a young age.
  • Great talents like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant focused on fundamentals before advancing to complex techniques.
  • Mastery and deep knowledge in one's field are essential for success and leadership.

"I'm mostly trying to explain how important it is that new talent should work on the ground rules from a young age."

Cruyff advises that young talents should focus on fundamental skills, which are the foundation for further development in their sport.

"There is no one in football who knows more about tactics, technique and training than I do."

Cruyff asserts his expertise in football, emphasizing the importance of deep knowledge and mastery in one's field.

Reflections on Legacy and Attitude Towards Life

  • Johann Cruyff reflects on his legacy and the knowledge he wishes to pass on.
  • He desires to be remembered as a responsible sportsman who played with authenticity and intensity.
  • Cruyff views setbacks as opportunities for adjustment and learning.
  • He advocates for living life fully and on the attack, using lessons learned to achieve one's goals.

"I've led a full life and can look back on it the way you're supposed to... A setback is probably a sign that you need to make some adjustments."

This quote reflects Cruyff's positive outlook on life, viewing setbacks as learning opportunities and valuing a life lived with intensity and authenticity.

"I was once asked how I'd like to be remembered in 100 years time... as a responsible sportsman."

Cruyff shares his wish for his legacy, to be remembered as someone who played responsibly and with joy, akin to artists like Rembrandt and van Gogh who were not always understood in their time.

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