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Why Johan Cruyff was the most influential man in soccer history

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Johan Cruyff is without doubt one of the greatest individuals the beautiful game has ever seen.

[ VIDEO: Highlights from Cruyff’s career ]

On Thursday it was with great sadness that the news arrived that Cruyff had lost his battle with cancer and had died in Barcelona at the age of 68.

The soccer world mourned as one. Cruyff was a legend of the sport and his overwhelming influence in shaping the modern game can never be measured.

[ MORE: Players, clubs react to Cruyff’s death

He is always mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Diego Maradona and Eusebio as the greatest to ever play the game, but Cruyff continued to give so much more soccer when his playing days were over.

He worked tirelessly to replicate the exciting and entertaining philosophy he thrived in with Ajax, Holland and Barcelona as a player and bring that to the modern era.

The Dutch legend succeeded.

[ MORE: Cruyff dies, aged 68 ]

In his playing days he dazzled. Cruyff’s now famous turn which occurred at the 1974 World Cup is still practiced and taught to youth players today, and he also succeeded in taking a penalty kick between two players. He was a deep thinker who seemed to glide across the surface and made an impact from his debut as a 17-year-old and never looked back. Despite only being a slight figure, he always seemed to be one step ahead of his opponents. He was a genius as a player, winning three-straight European Cups with his hometown club Ajax, then translating that success to Barcelona and Holland.

Johan Cruyff of Holland

He won the Ballon d’Or three times and was a majestic playmaker who was at the heart of Rinus Michels’ “Total Football” philosophy which revolutionized the game.

It allowed a fluid style of play and threw away the rigid defensive systems and allowed any player on the pitch to attack, then another would slot in for them. It was all about spacing and timing and Cruyff’s grasp of that notion was key to it working.

Cruyff took Michels’ ideology into his own coaching career with Ajax, and it continued to shape the Dutch national team, but more famously his ideas and innovation prospered at Barcelona, and still are to this day, as the Spanish powerhouse has so much to thank Cruyff for.

“Every trainer talks about movement, about running a lot. I say don’t run so much. Football is a game you play with your brain. You have to be in the right place at the right moment, not too early, not too late,” Cruyff once said.

He took the ideology he was brought up on at Ajax to Barcelona and wanted to create a team people would enjoy watching. He achieved that and “El Dream Team” was born at Barca. They won four-straight La Liga titles from 1990-94 under Cruyff and he delivered their first-ever UEFA Champions League title in 1992, winning 11 trophies overall.

FC Barcelona v SD Eibar - La Liga

“It was a club which for 100 years had never won it [the European Cup] and now you didn’t only win it but the way you won it,” Cruyff said. “Don’t talk about you won the game. No, no. You enjoyed watching and enjoying the games of Barcelona was much more important than only winning.”

Cruyff did not only excel as Barca’s manager but he created a system which has developed some of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Barca’s famed La Masia academy was Cruyff’s brainchild as he wanted the ideals he learned at Ajax to become commonplace in Catalan’s capital city.

Joan Laporta, former president of Barcelona, summed up Cruyff’s influence on the club and the people of Barcelona, his second-home, plus the Spanish national team who won the World Cup in 2010 for the first-time and the European Championships in 2008 and 2012 with many of the players Cruyff helped to cultivate.

“Johan revolutionized the city and the country,” Laporta said. “He transformed Barcelona and Catalonia because during his time here he turned football into an art form. He was innovative and a breath of fresh air. It was an extraordinary feeling and he touched a lot of people.”

The likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi would not have become legendary figures if it wasn’t for Cruyff and his ideology. The ideas he passed on to Barcelona has helped them become one of the greatest clubs the world has ever seen. It wasn’t always easy for Barca to stick by the philosophy Cruyff had brought, with Jose Mourinho’s defensive approach bearing fruit and other teams becoming more physical, but they stuck to the principles of “Total Football” and developed “Tiki-taka” which has been revered the world over.

He was an inspiration not only to those players but countless managers who are dominating the game today. Pep Guardiola — the man who overtook Cruyff’s record as the most successful Barcelona coach by winning 15 trophies — is perhaps the biggest and best example of someone who idolized Cruyff and as his pupil tried to replicate his ideas on a daily basis both at Barcelona and again at Bayern Munich.

It’s not just Guardiola, though. There is Ronaldo de Boer, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard, Arsene Wenger and countless others who took Cruyff’s ideas and have had success with them from a managerial standpoint. His philosophy will always be admired and Cruyff’s legacy will live on for many more generations. As a person he was outspoken when he needed to be but highly regarded as a good, kind man who was always wiling to discuss his ideas and constantly came up with new ways of playing and implementing his philosophy.

Some of the most famous quotes attributed to Cruyff sum up his sharp wit and high soccer intellect.

“If I wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better,” Cruyff said.

“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is,” Cruyff said.

“Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring,” Cruyff said.

“It’s better to go down with your own vision than someone else’s,” Cruyff said.

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

In recent months, as stories of his battle against cancer became more widespread, current Barca stars Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez concocted a plan to honor Cruyff and show him they were thinking about him. During a game the star trio recreated his famous penalty routine and Cruyff was said to be “excited” by their gesture and his presence is still felt heavily in the modern game.

He was a remarkable individual who made the game what it is today.

Rijkaard, a Dutch national team legend himself, went on to manage Barcelona after playing under Cruyff at Ajax.

“He is like the Godfather of Dutch football,” Rijkard explained. “When I was 10 years old playing in the streets, watching television I saw Cruyff and all of those other great players. For me, that’s the great Dutch generation.”

Marco van Basten, who is often mentioned as the next greatest Dutch player after Cruyff, was Cruyff’s prodigy.

“He inspired us a lot, all of the youth of Holland,” Van Basten said. “All of the young boys wanted to play like him.”

Few could play like him, but those who grasped the ideas he put forward and were lucky enough to work with him became insatiable students who hung on his every word.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 05: Ronald Koeman, Coach of Benfica with Dutch football legend Johann Cruyff before UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Barcelona and SL Benfica at the Camp Nou on April 5, 2006 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Current U.S. national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann was a great admirer of Cruyff’s and back in 2011, when Barcelona beat Manchester United to win the UEFA Champions League at Wembley, this is what Klinsmann had to say.

“Barcelona was not born in the last couple of years. It was born, the style of play now, in the early 90s through Johan Cruyff,” Klinsmann said. “It took 20 years for that moment today that we see and all admire.”

Cruyff himself looks back at his days playing in the NASL in the United States fondly and said it was a “great experience” where he “learned a lot of things, especially in managing” from 1979-81. He is loved the world over and through his charity work and his many institutes set up to help athletes and those less fortunate, he has given so much to so many people.

Jordi Cruyff, his son, played for Barcelona, Manchester United and Holland and followed in his footsteps. Just last week he spoke about his father’s legacy in the game.

“It will be a legacy, the way of playing football. The philosophy behind it is always risky, always dominant, always attractive, always offensive. Successful, obviously, but above all to believe in yourself,” Cruyff said. “My father is not a believer of counter-attack football but of dominating football all the time. Like chess. What does the opponent do? Then I will do this. I will add something else. That is what he added.

“There are a lot of coaches nowadays who have a big part of my father’s philosophy in their own philosophy. That’s the legacy. The way we see football today partly based on the idea he brought into football 30 years ago as a coach. He’s a legend.”

His son, Jordi, also summed up his father’s playing career quite simply.

“I think he [Johan] is one of the legends who is always going to be spoken about with Pele and Maradona. The rest of us… we are just mortals. We come and we go.”

Cruyff’s life may have come and gone, but his philosophy will remain forever. His legacy is everlasting and it has shaped the modern game more than any other individual.

Americans Abroad: Johnson, Yedlin register starts; Miazga injured in FA Cup bout

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After last weekend served as the year’s best weekend yet for Americans abroad, positive activity was scarce this time around.

Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin returned to their respective team’s starting lineups, but neither them or any other American abroad managed to put the ball in the back of the net.

To make matters worse, Matt Miazga left Reading’s match on Saturday with an apparent ankle injury.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

FA Cup

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin was back on Steve Bruce‘s starting lineup on Saturday. The fullback played all 90 minutes in Newcastle’s draw with Oxford United.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes remianed on the bench in Derby’s 0-0 draw with Northampton Town on Friday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old captain started and played 66 minutes before exiting the field with an apparent ankle injury against Cardiff City on Saturday.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-1 loss to Chelsea.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender stayed on the bench in QPR’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday on Friday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream played the final six minutes in Fulham’s 4-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah didn’t feature on the field or on Lille’s bench this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu watched Rennes draw 1-1 with Nice from the bench.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright remained on the bench in Venlo’s 2-1 win over RKC Waalwijk on Sunday.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest started and played 90 minutes in Ajax’s 2-1 defeat to Groningen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback didn’t dress for FC Emmen on Sunday.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 89 minutes in Frankfurt’s 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on Saturday.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 71 minutes for Leipzig.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is back and running, playing 10 minutes for Schalke in their 5-0 loss to Bayern Munich.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Morales started and played 90 minutes in Fortuna’s 3-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 66 minutes in Werder Bremen’s 3-0 loss to Hoffenheim.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach — Johnson made his way back into Mönchengladbach’s starting cast, playing 87 minutes on Sunday.

Honorable Mentions

Alex Mendez, Jong Ajax — Mendez played all 90 minutes and registered an assist in Jong Ajax’s 3-3 draw with  NEC Nijmegen.

Mexicans Abroad: Vela starts preseason with a bang; Davila continues to shine in A-League

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It took Carlos Vela 10 minutes to prove that he didn’t lose a step over Major League Soccer’s lengthy offseason.

Vela, 30, started his third preseason in grandiose fashion, scoring a trademark left-footed curler against Uruguayan giants Peñarol. The Mexican winger, who scored a league-record 34 goals in 31 matches, inspired LAFC’s 2-0 win at the Banc of California Stadium.

Thousands of miles away, an old friend of Vela, Ulises Davila, delivered the good for his club once again. The Chivas academy product scored a goal and provided an assist in Wellington Phoenix’s 2-1 win over Newcastle Jets.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Jimenez and Wolves did not feature this weekend, but they did on Thursday, and the Mexican shined then. Jimenez scored his 11th goal of the season in Wolves’ 2-1 loss to leaders Liverpool, equalling Harry Kane‘s and Sadio Mane’s count. Thhe goal, itself, was a masterpiece:

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera took the field in the 62nd minute for Angel Correa and completed 25 passes in Atletico’s 0-0 draw with Leganes.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado started but left the field 34 minutes in after picking up an injury. Betis dropped three points after losing to Getafe 1-0.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old was not called up to Betis’ bench on Sunday. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s draw with Eibar on Sunday.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  With reports linking the frenetic winger to Everton, Lozano continues lack playing minutes with Napoli. The 24-year-old was on Genaro Gattuso’s bench on Sunday, but was not substituted on in Napoli’s 2-1 win over Juventus.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 1-0 loss to Braga in the Taca da Liga final. It was reported that the 27-year-old’s home in Portugal was burglarized during the match.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez earned his first minutes of competitive playing time of the year on Sunday. The midfielder played the final eight minutes of PSV’s draw with FC Twente on Sunday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Major League Soccer

Carlos Vela, LAFC – Vela kickstarted LAFC’s 2020 preseason in spectacular fashion. Take a look for yourself:

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Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea and Zulte were inactive this weekend.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Ulises Davila, Wellington Phoenix – On Thursday, Davila played a tremendous role in Phoenix’s 2-1 win, scoring a goal and adding an assist against Newcastle Jets. Davila is the A-League’s fourth highest scoring this season with 10 goals.

Serie A roundup: Struggling Napoli stun leaders Juventus (video)

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Napoli’s much-needed win against leaders Juventus highlights Sunday’s busy Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Napoli 2-1 Juventus

Second-half goals from Piotr Zielinski and Lorenzo Insigne earned Napoli a hard-earned 2-1 win over leaders Juventus in San Paolo. 

Gli Azzurri’s win marks their first in three Serie A bouts and ended the Old lady’s five-game winning streak.

Cristiano Ronaldo managed to extend his goalscoring streak to eight games in the final minutes of the match, but Juventus failed to go six point clear of second best Inter Milan, who drew on Sunday.

Following the game, the visitor’s boss, Maurizio Sarri, was delighted for Napoli, who he managed from 2015 to 2018.

“I am happy for the lads, as I will always be fond of them,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “If you have to lose, I guess I’d rather it be here to help Napoli get out of their current problems. I’d rather they started winning next week, of course.”

“Clearly, the game takes over and you have to detach yourself from everything around that,” he added. “Napoli represented a special moment in my life and it’s always pleasing and emotional to be back here.”

As for Napoli, the home league victory – their first since October – takes loads of pressure from their back. The club, under the guidance of Gennaro Gattuso, had been struggling.

The club stands 10th with 27 points after 21 games, but has a long ways to go, according to Gattuso.

“We beat two good teams now, fine, but we are still in trouble, still a long way back and need to keep pushing,” he said. “I congratulate the lads for the work they’ve done over the last seven days, but we have to keep going like this now, do not let up, focus on Napoli 24 hours a day.”

Up next for Napoli is Sampdoria, while Juventus host Fiorentina.

Elsewhere in Serie A 

Inter Milan 1-1 Cagliari

Parma 2-0 Udinese

Sampdoria 0-0 Sassuolo 

Verona 3-0 Lecce

Roma 1-1 Lazio

La Liga roundup: Nacho header powers Real Madrid to top of table (video)

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Real Madrid’s close win at the Estadio Jose Zorilla to go atop of Spain’s top-flight highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Valladolid 0-1 Real Madrid

Real Madrid is three points clear at the top of La Liga after Nacho Fernandez’s header in the 78th minute against Real Valladolid on Sunday.

With defending champions Barcelona dropping three, crucial points against Valencia on Saturday, Zinedine Zidane and company take a giant leap in the tight title race. Los Blancos’ 46 points are the most within La Liga with less than a half a season to go.

But even then, the French manager was reluctant to accept that his team did enough against Valladolid to claim league triumph.

“For us, nothing changes,” Zidane said. “We are happy with the victory, the work done having fought until the end, but nothing changes. There are 17 games left and we will continue fighting until the end.

“I don’t want to talk about being champions because there is still a lot left to play. It changes nothing to be leaders, they are three important points but nothing more.

“There are a lot of league games left and it will be difficult for all teams, including us.”

Madrid’s defense shined all 90 minutes, denying the hosts from registering a shot on target and producing the match-winning goal via Nacho.

“Defensively, what we are doing, we are doing well. It is our strength,” Zidane also told reporters. “We defend all and when we lose the ball we recover it very high, and if we keep it we have a good chance of scoring.”

“Nacho scored and that is part of football. We know that we can improve in this aspect,” he added. “Nacho is a professional. When he has to compete he does well. I’m glad for his goal; he doesn’t usually score them but from time-to-time we can also create chances for defenders.”

Debuting for Madrid in 2011, Nacho has made 133 appearances and scored seven goals. His goal on Sunday perhaps the most important, earning his team what is arguably their most crucial league win this season.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 0-0 Leganes

Celta Vigo 0-0 Eibar

Getafe 1-0 Real Betis

Real Sociedad 3-0 Mallorca