THE biggest names in football have paid tribute to Johan Cruyff – widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time – who died yesterday after a battle with lung cancer.
Cruyff, who won countless honours during his 20-year career, notably at Ajax, Barcelona and in the Dutch national team, was diagnosed with the disease in October.
A statement on his website said: “Johan Cruyff died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard fought battle with cancer. It’s with great sadness we ask you to respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”
Ever the optimist, Cruyff had said in an interview last month he felt he was “2-0 up in a match” against his cancer and he was “sure I will end up winning”.
His death prompted Dutch radio and television stations to suspend regular programmes to televise tributes to the star from around the world.
And Willem-Alexander, king of the Netherlands, said: “He enriched football and gave it a new face.”
At Westminster MPs took the opportunity in the Easter adjournment debate – when they can raise any subject they want – to remember Cruyff.
Tory Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, said he will forever remember the “Cruyff turn”, a piece of footballing trickery invented by the forward and copied the world over. And senior Labour MP Keith Vaz told the Commons Cruyff “was a great footballer”.
International footballers said the sport had lost a legend who had changed the way the game was played.
The Dutch FA said: “The greatest Dutch footballer of all time and one of the world’s best ever.” French football legend Michel Platini said: “Johan was my childhood hero, my idol and my friend.”
Former Germany World Cup winner and manager Jurgen Klinsmann: “What an amazing player, coach, teacher and person he was.”
And Gianni Infantino, FIFA President said: “Cruyff was a magnificent player, one of greatest... he has marked football history for ever.”
Manchester City and Belgium captain Vincent Kompany said: “True football royalty. I don’t think anyone has ever influenced the game as much.”
Cruyff was awarded European footballer of the year three times. He won three consecutive European Cups with Ajax from 1971, coached Barcelona to their first European Cup triumph in 1992 and helped the Dutch reach the 1974 World Cup final.
Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said: “RIP @JohanCruyff, a genius, a legend, while Ronald de Boer, the Dutch international who played at Barcelona, declared: “He was the best footballer we ever had.”
Italian great Alessandro Del Piero simply said: “Thank you genius” and Argentinian legend Diego Maradona wrote: “We will never forget you, skinny.”
Gary Linekar – who played under Cruyff at Barcelona – said: “Football has lost a man who did more to make the beautiful game beautiful than anyone in history.
Former Manchester United and England player David Beckham wrote: “The game lost a true hero today.
Former Scotland star Charlie Nicholas said: “Genius – I loved the man. Cruyff was a game changer.” Another ex-Scotland and Barcelona player, Steve Archibald, said: “His body movement was different from everyone else’s and he was full of invention, with the machinery of a Rolls Royce” American comedian and talk show host Seth Myers said: “May the world spend the day watching your highlights on YouTube”.