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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.

Destroyed Barcelona a ‘disaster’; dominant Bayern react after 10-goal stunner

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction. How do you have a reaction to that?

Barcelona 2-8 Bayern Munich. Yep, that was the score in the Champions League quarterfinal. That’s why the Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction post-game saw both sets of players and coaches looked utterly stunned. It was the first time since 1946 that Barcelona had conceded eight times in a game and they had no answer to Bayern’s relentless attacking.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s players and coaches looked totally stunned towards the end of the game as Bayern could have easily scored 11 or 12 goals. We are not exaggerating. This looked like the end of an era for Barcelona, as their players were outclassed and overpowered throughout.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu had this to say: “A very hard night. I’m sorry for the fans, for everyone. We weren’t the team we are or the club we represent… Today has been a disaster. Now we have to take decisions. Some we had already decided before today. Above all we have to say sorry to the fans.”

[ VIDEO: Alphonso Davies magical assist ]

Barcelona boss Quique Setien didn’t have much else to add, as his time as Barca boss is surely up but he did state that his team were ‘destroyed’ in the dressing room in Lisbon after the game.

“The truth is it is a defeat tremendously painful. Scoreline maybe too harsh, but for sure they deserved many of the goals. The team was overrun at many times. We started very well, but the decisiveness of (Bayern) in many areas overcame us… The dressing room is destroyed. I’m not going to talk about what is needed at the club. I’ve been here for just a few months. If Gerard Pique says that it’s time for big changes there’s going to be importance to his words. It’s time for us to review and take the decisions which are needed for the future.

“The fans? The team did what we could and the rival allowed us to. We started well and as the game went on, we were beaten… We are all tremendously frustrated at the moment. It hurts but we have to accept it. You have to think always that the future will be better, that you can improve the image we showed today, above all thinking of the future. I think that right now it’s too soon to be talking about whether I stay at the club or not. The reality is that it doesn’t depend on me. It’s worth all of us working out what’s important and considering a wide range of things which correspond to a defeat of this importance and which is so painful.”

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Setien may not be in charge of that future, as he only took charge in January but has struggled to galvanize a talented but error-strewn Barcelona side. Setien has overseen one of the most embarrassing nights in Barcelona’s history and although his ageing players were outclassed, the way they kept making the same mistakes time and time again surely points to his managerial style not fitting this squad.

Barcelona veteran Gerard Pique summed it up best.

“Embarrassment is the word, no one is indispensable. If new blood has to come and change the dynamic I’ll be the first to exit and let it happen. Now, we have reached the bottom,” Pique said. “I’m in pain. We all are. We can’t compete like that. It’s very, very tough to take. Nothing more is worth saying. The club needs changes. Not just the players, I don’t want to point out anyone.

“But football is a sport where change is constantly required. We must change the dynamic we are on because I believe we have just hit bottom. We have to look around, we have to trust that people will do the right things for the club. Is it an end of an era, I’m not sure? But I know that we must accept that we have hit bottom. Not just players the but, as a club, we aren’t on the right road. We have had years of success but we haven’t won the league and we haven’t won in Europe and we have to compete. You’ve seen it on the pitch and this today is unacceptable. This was a horrible game… it’s a dreadful feeling. It’s shameful. Structurally we need changes at all levels.”

On the other side of the Barcelona – Bayern Munich reaction, Thomas Muller continued his amazing season to score twice and grabbed an assist as the German legend summed up the focus in the camp of the German champions as they want to win the Champions League and not dwell on their humbling of Barcelona.

“Of course it’s a big statement. The semifinal starts from 0-0. Statement doesn’t matter,” Muller said. “I know the other teams watch our games. They can be impressed or not. It starts from 0-0. We have to be quiet, calm and relaxed, also a little bit happy. Tomorrow morning when we wake up and answer the whole messages on our phone from home and the whole world, then we have to focus and concentrate on the next game. That is our business. We are not here to win the quarterfinal or semifinal. We are here to win the final. I know these tournament situations a lot. Most of the times after these big wins it is more difficult, so we have to be careful.”

Muller and Bayern are ruthless and hungry for more, as he also said they can be more aggressive in their remaining Champions League games.

Hansi Flick has created a ruthless winning machine, as Bayern have scored 26 goals in the six Champions League games he’s been in charge since replacing Niko Kovac in November and they’ve won 27 of their last 28 games in all competitions and are unbeaten since December 7 and have won the Bundesliga and German Cup.

The treble is on for Bayern after their historic humbling of Barcelona.

3 things learned as Bayern Munich beat Barcelona 8-2

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich was a UEFA Champions League classic as Bayern ran riot in Lisbon to book their spot in the semifinals as they won 8-2. That’s right. 8-2.

[ MORE: Barca, Bayern players reaction ]

Bayern scored early and often as both teams had chances galore but the German giants took theirs with Thomas Muller scoring twice, plus Ivan Perisic and Serge Gnabry scoring one each. Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski and Philippe Coutinho (twice) all scored in the second half after Luis Suarez pulled one back to make it 4-2.

Early on Barcelona briefly made it 1-1 through David Alaba’s own goal but Lionel Messi and Co. were dominated and made so many defensive errors. Hansi Flick’s Bayern will now face the winner of Manchester City v. Lyon in the semifinal, while Quique Setien’s brief spell in charge of Barcelona is surely over.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

The game started at an incredible pace as Jerome Boateng defended superbly with Suarez lurking, then Bayern took the lead. Lewandowski and Muller combined and the latter finished to make it 1-0, but soon it was 1-1. Jordi Alba’s cross was shanked into his own net by Alaba to level things up.

Barca then went close as Suarez was denied by Manuel Neuer, then Messi hit the post as his cross missed everyone and struck the woodwork as four Barcelona players were left clutching their heads in disbelief.

[ VIDEO: Alphonso Davies magical assist ]

Chances kept on coming for both teams in an entertaining, end-to-end clash with Messi forcing Neuer into a save. Perisic then drilled home a low shot to make it 2-1 and Bayern almost scored a third but Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved well. They did make it 3-1 soon after as Gnabry drilled home a low shot after fine passes from Thiago and then Leon Goretzka.

Muller made it 4-1 before the break as Joshua Kimmich’s cross found the veteran German at the near post as Barcelona kept conceding chances, and goals. In the second half Suarez made it 4-2 early on to give Barca a chance of an unlikely comeback but that’s all it was. Alphonso Davies’ amazing assist set up Joshua Kimmich to make it 5-2 and Lewandowski got his goal to make it 6-2 as Barca were humiliated further when their player, Coutinho, on loan at Bayern rolled two home late on to rub further salt into their wounds.

Here’s a look at what we learned from Barcelona – Bayern Munich, a truly memorable Champions League quarterfinal.


BARCELONA THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES

No team had conceded four goals sooner in a Champions League knockout match and this was the first time Barcelona conceded five or more goals in a Champions League match in their history. It was also the first time since 1949 that Barcelona had conceded seven goals in a single game. It was also the first time since 1951 they lost a game by six goals and the first time since 1946 that they conceded eight goals in a game. It was also the first time a team had scored eight in a Champions League knockout game. Yes, Bayern were clinical but Barcelona caused their own problems time and time again and it was all too easy for the Germans. Ter Stegen was hellbent on playing the ball short inside his own penalty box which put Barca under pressure, while Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong were totally overpowered in midfield and Nelson Semedo was bullied at right back. Barcelona kept making poor defensive mistakes and anybody who has watched them since the restart in La Liga will understand why. This is not a new thing. Bayern could have scored more and Barcelona were just woeful and looked totally devoid of confidence late on. Messi and Co. looked stunned in the final stages of the game, and for most of the 90 minutes. Bayern were good but the story here was about Barcelona being woefully bad.

END OF AN ERA AT BARCELONA?

Messi, Suarez, Busquets, Vidal, Pique. What do they all have in common? Four of them are 33 years old and Busquets is 32. This feels like the end of an era at Barcelona. Of course, Messi is Messi and he can play until he wants as he whipped in delicious deliveries in the first half but didn’t have enough help around him. Even he gave up in the second half. This Barcelona team couldn’t cope with the pace and power of Bayern and they just gave up and Messi was one of the worst culprits. Earlier this season the Argentine legend was outspoken when it came to asking questions of the powers that be and his own teammates and he knew. He knew that big problems were coming and Barca were in big trouble. They still finished second in La Liga and reached the last eight of the Champions League but that’s not good enough for Barcelona and this was one of the most humiliating nights in their history. Quique Setien doesn’t seem to have the belief of his squad but in truth, this Barcelona team is running on empty. It has been for a long time. Is it the managers fault, or the fault of their ageing squad which has been so good for so long but not rebuilt out of faith to their superstars and a haphazard recruitment process? The answer is a little bit of everything and this defeat will be at the core of a dramatic Barcelona rebuild.

BAYERN’S HIGH-LINE A PROBLEM

The one negative for Bayern was how many chances they gave to Barcelona, especially in the first half. Their high-line was problematic but perhaps they pinched so high up so they could give Barcelona’s shaky defensive problems? Either way, they can’t play that high of a line against Manchester City or Lyon in the semifinal. Alhonso Davies and Joshua Kimmick were left exposed at full back and that is something they should address because this game, and result, is likely be a freak one. Aside from that defensive line, they were dominant, powerful, hungry and classy throughout. The German champions are full of confidence and are the red-hot favorites to win the Champions League. Barcelona – Bayern Munich will go down in history and Bayern will be feared by everyone if they weren’t already.

VIDEO: Alphonso Davies turns on style with amazing assist

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Alphonso Davies ladies and gents. Alphonso Davies.

The Canadian teenager set up Bayern Munich’s fifth goal in their demolition of Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal and he did it in some style.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Remember: the Vancouver Whitecaps product only broke into Bayern Munich’s first team as a regular earlier this season and he’s now ripping it up against Barcelona in the latter stages of the Champions League.

He will be pinching himself right about now as he played a key role in a classic Bayern display as they tore Barcelona apart and could have scored seven or eight easily.

Alphonso Davies, 19, totally bamboozled Barcelona’s right back Nelson Semedo on more than one occasion way out on the left flank. He then drove towards goal, skipped past another defender and put it on a plate for Joshua Kimmich to make it 5-2.

Check out the video below to see Davies doing what he does best for the assist, as the teenager is surely going to become the best left back on the planet.

His incredible story continues as his first season as a regular for Bayern Munich has been a hugely memorable one.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United still in the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for the two Premier League clubs in the next week.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League semifinals and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments take place in Germany and Portugal.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United beat Copenhagen in extra time and will face Sevilla in the semifinals and are the lone Premier League club after Wolves were knocked out by Sevilla.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Semifinals (August 16-17)
Sunday, August 16: Sevilla 1-2 Manchester United
Monday, August 17: Inter Milan 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk


Champions League betting odds via DraftKings

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Bayern Munich (+150)
Manchester City (+250)
Paris Saint-Germain (+250)
RB Leipzig (+900)
Lyon (+5000)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+195) Sevilla v. Manchester United (+150). Tie: +215
(-132) Inter Milan v. Shakhtar Donetsk (+350). Tie: +280

Outright winner
Inter Milan (+160)
Manchester United (+190)
Sevilla (+280)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+800)