March 24th, 2016
Johan Cruyff, one of the greatest players in soccer history, has died of lung cancer at the age of 68.
The gifted playmaker was the undisputed talisman of the revolutionary Netherlands team that cruised to the World Cup final in 1974, playing a system of fluid positions that became known as “total football,” before losing 2-1 to West Germany. His club sides, for which he picked up a raft of league and cup titles, included Ajax—where he won three consecutive European Cups—and Barcelona. And his individual accolades included three world player of the year awards in the 1970s and being voted European Player of the Century in 1999.
Cruyff’s graceful style and technique made him an icon. He even had a particular trick named after him: the “Cruyff turn” (which he executes in Dutch colors in the video below). Many fans would place him just one rung below a trio of South Americans—Pele, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi—on the list of all-time greats.
Cruyff was also a heavy smoker for much of his life—including during his playing career, although it hardly seemed to hamper him there. He started early in life, and would light up at half-time during games. He finally quit after smoking-related double-bypass heart surgery in 1991, during a trophy-laden spell as Barcelona’s coach. Deprived of his usual cigarettes, he started sucking lollipops on the sidelines instead.
“Football has given me everything in life,” Cruyff said in an anti-smoking TV ad after he quit. “Tobacco almost took it all away.”
Finally, it did. Cruyff was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015. Just last month, he said he was “2-0 up in a the first half of a match” against the disease. Today, tributes are flooding in from all over the world.