An Ode to Johan Cruijff

You have probably heard the news of the passing of Johan Cruijff a few weeks ago, (one of) the biggest football player(s) the Netherlands have ever brought forth. Our Premier, Mark Rutte, said that Cruijff connected the Netherlands to the rest of the world: he was more important for our international reputation than even Rembrandt or Van Gogh (two not unknown painters). But above all, this is a much heard sentence: “Johan belonged to all of us”. Meaning that he not only knew how to dominate the game on the fields, but also how to connect people.

An ever amiable man, he did have some peculiar ways of expressing himself – all adding to his charm. He played with the Dutch language the same way as with the ball: twisting and turning it, bending rules and inventing new ones, and always in a watertight manner. This article is a modest ode to this special man, whose expressions are not only applicable to the football field, but can be real life mottos.

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Firstly, some of his football-related jewels like the following: “You can’t lose if they can’t win” (seems fair enough); “The Italians can’t win from you, but you can lose from them” (how? – this is a brainteaser); “If we have the ball, they can’t score” (irrefutable fact). The last one is quite famous in the Netherlands, and it usually holds true for the Dutch national team: we are good at dominating a game by possessing the ball the majority of the time.

Besides this, Cruijff was also quite good at mixing up his proverbs (read more on Dutch proverbs here or here). He said for example “The Korean defence was like goat’s cheese”. What he meant, of course, was that the defence was like a Swiss cheese: full with holes – but this slip is rather cute. Also when speaking Spanish (he lived in Spain for many years), he made some funny mistakes. One of the best known ones is “en un momento dado”. In Dutch you can say ‘at a given moment’, meaning ‘at a certain point’. Translating it literally to Spanish doesn’t work, but it did become the title of a documentary of his life – perfectly capturing the essence of Cruijff when it comes to both his game style and his language.

Then to conclude some quotes that are applicable to life outside the stadium as well. “You have to shoot, or you can’t score” (if you don’t try something, you’ll never reach your goal); “I’ve never seen a bag of cash scoring a goal” (money’s not everything); “Scoring is easy, but it’s difficult to score in a simple way” (which you could possibly interpret as ‘you can be successful, but the way there is hard’).

Some of his quotes will never be forgotten. Cruijff is the inventor of a phrase that’s a favourite for many Dutchies: “Every disadvantage has its advantage”, the most positive way to look at life there is. Even when things don’t turn out right, there is always something good that comes from it. But the one we’ll always remember him by, is this one: “In a certain way, I’m probably immortal” – that is one he couldn’t be more right about.


By Tessa Vermeir


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