Barcelona’s fans finally got to see Johan Cruyff, the man widely pegged as the finest player in the world, on 28th October, 1973 – three long months after the mercurial Dutchman had first signed for the Catalan side.
Indeed, Barca officially signed Cruyff on 13th August, but bureaucratic problems delayed his competitive debut for weeks, with the marquee signing forced to sit out the first seven games of the season.
Cruyff came from Ajax, with whom he had won six league titles, three European Cups and, in 1971, the Ballon d’Or. Barcelona had not won the league since 1960, and paid £922,000 – nearly double the previous world transfer record – to get their man.
Spain had recently lifted a ban on signing foreign players and in fact Real Madrid had been the first to make an approach. The story was that Cruyff had been offended about being omitted from negotiations and as such had chosen Barca instead of their great rivals.
But the fact that Barcelona were managed by Rinus Michels, who had coached Cruyff at Ajax between 1965 and 1971, probably had more to do with it – as did the presence on the coaching staff of Vic Buckingham, who had first discovered and nurtured the young Cruyff and whose innovative tactical ideas laid the foundations for what would later become known as ‘Totaal Voetball’.
Cruyyf told Spanish newspaper Marca in 2013: “Madrid wanted to sign me, and Ajax was more interested in sending me there, at the time it was a much bigger club than Barcelona, but I went to Barca because my first manager was Buckingham, a great friend of mine”.
After finally making his bow (a week or so after a playing in a preparatory friendly against Arsenal), Cruyff scored twice in a 4-0 win over Granada on his first proper appearance in the blaugrana stripes…
The win helped lift his new team from near the foot of the table. By the end of the season, Barca were crowned La Liga champions for the first time in 14 years, unbeaten from the Dutch master’s debut until the campaign closed – 24 games in full.
Cruyff won a second Ballon d’Or for the role he played in the historic title win. He stayed with the side for five seasons, then went on to manage them, securing four league titles, a European Cup, and a Cup Winners’ Cup.
It is with no hint of exaggeration we conclude that Cruyff’s influence on Barcelona was, and still is enormous.