Johan Cruyff is one of the most iconic figures in soccer. He helped reshape FC Barcelona, leading them to titles and records as a player in the seventies and as a manager in the nineties. Furthermore, he re envisioned how football should be played, embedding his philosophy of “Total Football” across the European continent. As the renowned writer Jonathan Wilson said, “Johan Cruyff invented modern soccer.”
Sadly, Cruyff passed away on March 24th at the age of 68 after a battle with cancer. While his legacy will live on through the numerous teams he’s influenced and through the countless disciples he’s amassed over the years, Cruyff will also be remembered for his insightful-if idiosyncratic- comments on soccer, and life.
Here are five of my favorite.
“It’s better to go down with your own vision than with someone else’s.”
Authenticity. We live in a world obsessed with personal brands. The rise of social media-if not directly-has forced us to always be ready to perform, to live out our lives as though we’re in a movie. It’s tiring and disingenuous. I’m guilty of this in my own writing. I try to mimic the styles or write about the topics that my mentors and idols find interesting, all for the sake of my “personal brand.”
As Kanye said, we’re all self-conscious. But there is no sequel to life, no Godfather, Pt. II. This is all we got. So if this is it, we might as well be the best version of ourselves we can be. At times I’ve been more proud of my rejected articles than my published pieces. As a writer, I’m inching closer towards finding my voice. The ironic part is, the less I worry about my “personal brand”, the stronger it becomes.
“I’m ex-player, ex-technical director, ex-coach, ex-manager, ex-honorary president. A nice list that once again shows that everything comes to an end.”
Luis Aragones led Spain to victory in the 2008 Euro Cup. It was Spain’s first title in 40 years. Prior to the tournament, Aragones said he would step down after the final game. But after the tournament, players, media and fans began clamoring for him to stay on as manager. Aragones helped Spain shed it’s label of “perennial underachiever”. As such, he earned the right to go back on his decision. But as he told the media “I’m like milk. Once it’s gone past its expiry date you can’t drink it anymore.”
All good things come to an end. And I think being cognizant and reminding oneself that this job, this vacation, this prosperity will end at fortune’s choosing will allow us to actually enjoy it more by keeping us in the present, in this moment. We often talk about the “good old days”, be it in high school when we had little responsibility and the potential of adolescence or to some other rosy and nostalgic (if imperfect) past. But right now, these are the good old days.
“Every disadvantage has its advantage.”
In early 2003, acclaimed Roc-A-Fella producer Kanye West was gearing up for the release of his debut album, The College Dropout. But months before the release date, the album was leaked. Albums get leaked all the time, but this could have been catastrophic for an artist releasing his first piece of work. GLC, a fellow artist and longtime friend of Kanye, recounts Kanye’s reaction:
Kanye was like, ’OK, I’m just going to make the album better. I’mma put strings on some sh–, have choirs come in. I’mma switch up verses. I’mma make the drums sound stronger.’ He went in and refined his whole album. At that point a person usually panics. Kanye just redid sh–.”
West viewed this “disaster” as an opportunity to garner feedback and improve. The College Dropout was eventually released in 2004, receiving critical acclaim and garnering 10 Grammy nominations in 2005 …and becoming the unofficial soundtrack to my senior year.
“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”
Applicable not only to sport, but to life. As human beings, we have a tendency to complicate things for the sake of complicating things. We add gadgets, commit to things we don’t want to go to and add numerous dating apps in order to increase options. But all this does is needlessly complicate and add clutter to our lives.
In his newest book, Antifragile, Nassim Taleb argues that in order to become “antifragile”, we must first decrease our downside. This means we need to systematically and ruthlessly remove things that add no value. This could include habits, clients, friends or just plain old clutter. Via Negative, addition by subtraction. Society propagates that the key to happiness is additional goods, or more shit you don’t need. But as Taleb argues, less is what can create abundance.
“Salid y Disfrutar. Go out and enjoy.”
Cruyff and his FC Barcelona “Dream Team” reached the final of the European Cup in 1992. As the predecessor to the UEFA Champions League, the European Cup was the most prestigious club tournament in the world. It was also one Barcelona had yet to win. And the fact that their fiercest rivals, Real Madrid, had six trophies on their mantle only added to the pressure that evening. So what did Cruyff tell his team before kick off? Did he rally the troops ala Russell Crowe in Gladiator? Did he paint Sampdoria out to be an evil force, hell bent and taking what Barcelona rightfully deserved?
He did none of that. Instead, he very calmly told his players to go out and to enjoy the evening. “It’s a beautiful night. The lights are shining. And there are thousands of fans here to see you. Go out and enjoy yourselves.”
* BONUS “In a way I’m probably immortal.”
Might have been an arrogant comment at the time. But it could not be truer. Gracìes Johan.