Johan Cruyff isn’t only the best football player the world had ever seen until Lionel Messi, he’s also a visionary, philosopher and insufferable know-it-all. Luckily, the Amsterdammer never kept his wisdom for himself: everyone in the Netherlands can reproduce at least one of many classic Johan Cruyff quotes. We examined 14 of them and came up with some shocking conclusions…
1. “The most difficult thing about an easy match is to make a weak opponent play bad football.”
“Het moeilijke van een makkelijke wedstrijd is om een zwakke tegenstander slecht te laten voetballen.”
One of the most poetic of all Johan Cruyff quotes. And what he says is true, too. Let’s say the Dutch national team (#8 on the FIFA World Ranking) plays against Andorra (#204). What’s Andorra gonna do? Right, defend like their lives are at stake. Oranje will run into a brick wall. Still everyone expects them to waltz right over these amateurs. A common problem Cruyff touches on here is underestimation. In order to make a weak opponent play bad football, you have to disrupt their rigid defence mechanism. The only way to achieve this is by being one hundred percent focused. A speedy ball circulation and smart movement without the ball is key in ‘easy’ matches.
2. “What is speed? The sports press often confuses speed with insight. See, if I start running slightly earlier than someone else, I seem faster.”
“Wat is snelheid? Vaak verwisselt de sportpers snelheid met inzicht. Kijk, als ik iets eerder begin te lopen dan een ander, dan lijk ik sneller.”
Here Cruyff doesn’t question the importance of speed, he just thinks insight is more important. Insight can largely compensate for a lack of speed, whereas speed can hardly compensate for a lack of insight.
3. “If I wanted you to understand it, I would have explained it better.”
“Als ik zou willen dat je het begreep, had ik het wel beter uitgelegd.”
In a lot of Johan Cruyff quotes his cockiness seeps through. If there’s one thing he hates, it’s people who don’t get what he’s saying. As far as he’s concerned, they don’t even deserve to be asking him questions. I don’t know how and where he said this, but I bet it was at a press conference. Sometimes Cruyff just has the hardest time hiding his contempt for journalists. Former Barcelona and Bayern Munchen coach Louis van Gaal, currently head coach of the Dutch national team, is far worse though.
4. “People who are not of my level can’t affect my integrity.”
“Mensen die niet van niveau zijn, kunnen mijn integriteit niet aantasten.”
The sense of superiority that speaks from this quote is both embarrassing and hilarious. I wonder what the context is. Cruyff is no fan of criticism, that’s for sure. He sincerely believes that he knows more about football (on anything else, for that matter) than any other breathing human being on this planet. It’s why we love him.
5. “Every disadvantage has its advantage.”
“Elk nadeel heb z’n voordeel.”
Without a doubt the best known and most used of all Johan Cruyff quotes. It’s a comforting, reassuring truism that can be used at anytime. Unfortunately, an important detail is lost in the translation: instead of “heeft” Cruyff said “heb”, which boils down to something like “Every disadvantage have its advantage”. Johan might have been the best on the pitch, his Dutch is worse than that of a toddler.
6. “The ball is an essential part of the game.”
“De bal is een essentieel onderdeel van het spel.”
I don’t even know where to start, so I won’t.
7. “There’s only one moment in which you can arrive in time. If you’re not there, you’re either too early or too late.”
“Er is maar één moment dat je op tijd kunt komen. Ben je er niet, dan ben je óf te vroeg, óf te laat.”
Cruyff was referring to a tackle. His comment is so obvious that most people don’t even bother saying it, but Johan just puts it out there. This quote has a lot in common with the one about speed: you need insight to arrive in time, i.e. to save yourself from making bad tackles.
8. “I barely ever make mistakes because I have trouble with being mistaken.”
“Ik maak eigenlijk zelden fouten, want ik heb moeite me te vergissen.”
When it comes to football, Cruyff is smarter than smart. No matter how hard he tries, he’s just barely able to be wrong. Okay, sometimes, very occasionally, his wisdom lets him down, but these are exceptions. Don’t get him wrong, he wants to make a mistake once in a while, but he just can’t.
9. “Before I make a mistake, I don’t make that mistake.”
“Voordat ik een fout maak, maak ik die fout niet.”
In other words: in the rare case that Cruyff makes a mistake, he sure as hell won’t make that mistake twice. The way in which he turns a simple statement – “I don’t make the same mistake twice” – into poetry is simply mind-blowing.
10. “To play well, you need good players, but a good player almost always has the problem of a lack of efficiency. He always wants to do things prettier than strictly necessary.”
“Om goed te voetballen, heb je goede voetballers nodig, maar een goede voetballer heeft bijna altijd het probleem van een gebrek aan rendement. Hij wil het altijd mooier doen dan strikt noodzakelijk.”
Innumerable super talents don’t make it because they don’t know how to be a team player. They can do anything they want with a ball, except giving a simple pass at the right time with the right speed. Showcasing their skills is what it’s all about for them. They play for themselves, not for the team. It’s all about taming the talent and making him see that his star will only rise if he puts the interests of the team above his own.
11. “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
“Voetballen is heel simpel, maar het moeilijkste wat er is, is simpel voetballen.”
Have you ever wondered why FC Barcelona is the best, most successful club in the world? Because players like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta combine supernatural skills with simple, short passes, dedication and team spirit. The man responsible for the Barcelona philosophy? Right, Johan Cruyff.
12. “It’s better to go down with your own vision than with someone else’s.”
“Je kunt beter ten onder gaan met je eigen visie dan met de visie van een ander.”
Calling Cruyff stubborn would be an understatement. He’s an insufferable know-it-all. Still you can’t deny the fact that his vision – Total Football, as it’s commonly called – works. It worked when he was playing for Ajax and Barcelona, it worked when he managed those teams and it’s the basis of Barcelona’s tiki-taka football. The bottom line is: if you have a vision of your own, stick to it.
13. “If you can’t win, make sure you don’t lose.”
“Als je niet ken winnen, moet je zorgen dat je niet verliest.”
Again, it’s so obvious that most of us take it for granted. Of all the Johan Cruyff quotes collected here, this one is most representative of his ‘over my dead body’ mentality. Cruyff shows himself to be a very pragmatic man: if you’re outclassed by your opponent, at least make sure to minimize the damage. Of course Cruyff himself couldn’t be outclassed, so this comment is probably about someone else.
14. “In a way I’m probably immortal.”
“In zekere zin ben ik waarschijnlijk onsterfelijk.”
There’s no better way to end this list of 14 classic Johan Cruyff quotes, is there? Don’t you just love the “probably”? False modesty at its best. ♦
If we missed any important/funny/wise Johan Cruyff quotes that deserve to be mentioned (and explained), please feel free do so in the comments!
Journalist Tom Springveld (1986) is the founder and editor-in-chief of Isle of Holland. He writes about music for Dutch monthly OOR and loves a good story, either spoken, written or recorded on (video)tape. Tom lives and works in Amsterdam.