Johan Cruyff’s butterfly effect on Pep Guardiola

Manchester City coach praises his mentor at launch of Dutch soccer legend’s autobiography

The favorite disciple, son, and ghost writer of Johan Cruyff were at the launch on Thursday of the autobiography of the Dutch soccer star, who died in March of cancer at the age of 68. The favorite disciple was Pep Guardiola, a former Barcelona player and coach who now manages Manchester City, who said he owes everything to Cruyff; the son was Jordi Cruyff, a former player who is now Maccabi Tel Aviv’s sports director, who remembered the personal side of the soccer legend; and Jaap de Groot, the Dutch journalist who helped write My Turn from interviews and tapes Cruyff recorded in the final months of his life. “He may have been speaking from the grave,” said Groot, but I felt his presence with me in the room when I was working.”

Pep Guardiola and Jordi Cruyff at Thursday’s launch.
Pep Guardiola and Jordi Cruyff at Thursday’s launch.Matt Dunham / AP

De Groot attributed part of Cruyff’s genius to his understanding of mathematics and ability to work with numbers. “For example, you would give him your phone number and he didn’t need to write it down. He just remembered it. I think this ability influenced his understanding of the relationship between the speed of the ball and the space on the pitch, it influenced his vision of the whole field of play.”

The Dutch player held strong opinions about right and wrong

Many of the journalists at the launch expressed their surprise that Cruyff, who made his name at Dutch side Ajax, before moving to Barcelona, did not include Leo Messi in his dream team of all time soccer greats, but that he had found a place for Guardiola alongside Pele and Maradona.

Guardiola was still a teenager when promoted to the Barcelona first team by Cruyff, and having become a cornerstone of the Dutchman’s ‘Dream Team’ that won four consecutive league titles and the European Cup in the early 1990s, he has gone on to win 21 titles as a manager himself. And it was all down to the butterfly effect of working with Cruyff, said Guardiola.

Cruyff in his heyday at Ajax.
Cruyff in his heyday at Ajax.

Over the years, Guardiola has repeatedly highlighted Cruyff’s influence on his playing and managerial career, insisting that without him he would probably have been sold off to a second-division side.

“If it weren’t for him, I would not be at Manchester City as coach, and I would not have been at Bayern Munich or Barcelona,” he said.

“I thought I knew about soccer but when I met him I realized there was a new world in front of me. He taught us, he helped us understand the game, to understand the reasons why situations happen in soccer: good and bad,” he added.

He was speaking from the grave, but I felt his presence with me when I was working Dutch journalist Jaap de Groot

A visibly emotional Jordi Cruyff talked about the less-well known side of his father, reminding journalists of the Dutch player’s strong opinions about right and wrong, and that this often made him enemies, as well as friends, suggesting that his refusal to keep his opinions to himself eventually led to his being sacked as coach at Barcelona.

Few were more unhappy when Cruyff left Barcelona than Guardiola, but as Jordi Cruyff pointed out, Cruyff was also an admirer of Guardiola and his achievements at the club. “If there was one person that my father would really have wanted to be here at the presentation of his autobiography, that person is Pep,” he said, closing the event.

 English version by Nick Lyne.

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