Is it that he tore the game up and started over? That he took something that we were so certain was perfect, put it in a big oil drum in his garden—next to the little model windmills and the hydrangeas—covered it in petrol and flicked a cigarette in, before retiring indoors to make football so, so much better? That was good. Granted. It wasn’t the best thing about him though.
The best thing wasn’t his tactics either, nor his turn, his lovely hair, the trench coats, his politics or his rip-roaring posthumous autobiography. Not that he grew up in the shadow of the fading Dutch giant Ajax, and was so single-focused, so determined, that he would raise them to the pinnacle of world football. That was alright. It was admirable. Impressive. Not the measure of the man though.
The best thing about Johan Cruyff was his chain. Flapping wildly against his chin, tucked partially into the red and white of his hometown club, or the Barça blaugrana, or the orange with a J of his home country.
It said everything, the chain. It said what his haircut tried to, but didn’t quite manage. Johan was here on his own terms, he was going to turn your defenders into mincemeat with the swagger of lost weekend era Lennon, he was going to run at you, and you were going to forget who you were, and by the time you have realised, all you can remember is the light jangle and all-encompassing brilliance of the chain. You’re not a magpie at all. You’re a centre back. Oh shite, he’s scored again.
Johan Cruyff’s chain, or chains—sometimes he wore two, or three—are the best thing about Johan Cruyff. They are one of the best things about football.
We write on other things that we like about football in our quarterly magazine. Issue 14 is out soon, and you can subscribe to get first dibs on it here. Issue 13 is still in the shops, and you can find your nearest stockist on this well fancy interactive map. Peace.