Johann Cruyff on a very Dutch murder


Sunday was the night the Netherlands, with complete premeditation, killed football, or at least did their level best to do so. Everyone, except their own short-sighted and indignant fans, knows this to be true, including – as Jeremy Robson, pictured with his young ‘un, points out – a certain Dutch master of the Total Football at which his country once excelled …

I’ve always been a huge admirer of Johann Cruyff.

As a player, he was sublime. The now famous “Cruyff turn” which he introduced to the world in 1974 is a practice drill for aspiring footballers the world over. Hard to believe that up to 40 years ago, this move had never been witnessed on a football field.

Cruyff is never reluctant to offer his opinion about anything of a football nature, and it’s usually worth listening to. His condemnation of the Dutch approach to the World Cup final was uncompromising.

“This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style, yes it served the Dutch to unsettle Spain. If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they ended up losing. They were playing anti-football.”

His criticism of the referee Howard Webb has been no less restrained. “When we say, often, that we do not like talking about referees, it is true and, above all, because only refereeing like that last night by the Englishman Howard Webb can create in us a state of such indignation that then, yes, it is necessary to comment.”
On this occasion Cruyff is understandably upset, but also wide of the mark.

“Because you can referee wrongly, make a mistake, but what you cannot do is create your own sense of justice and, even worse, invent a very personal application of the rules. Not only did he not send off two Dutchmen but he also looked the other way at times when he should have involved himself.”

It’s difficult with the benefit of hindsight to argue with his point of view. At the start of this game however Howard Webb could scarcely have imagined the battle that he was to officiate over, He has since described it as “the most difficult two hours of his career”.

Howard Webb has never been my favourite referee, but he emerged from this game with a great deal of credit, if only for preventing a complete meltdown into a mass brawl from which the sport of football would have been forever tarnished.

Johann Cruyff hasn’t (at least not yet) provided any comment about the consequences of more dismissals in the biggest football match between 2006 and 2014.

There was a serious danger of discipline evaporating even further on Sunday night and the prospect of the game being abandoned as a result.

Cruyff’s criticism of Howard Webb for effectively taking the law into his own hands is certainly not without substance. Mr Webb controlled the game by brandishing yellow cards and by communicating with the perpetrators of challenges that have no place in the beautiful game that Cruyff loves so dearly.

At some point in that game Howard Webb realised that having the game played responsibly requires the input of the players and not just one man with a whistle. Cruyff understandably laments the fact that Holland played “anti-football,” and the death “total football” which the Dutch national side have for so long been associated.

From what I saw on Sunday night Mr Webb managed to almost single handedly save the broader game. There’s no doubt that he got some of the later decisions wrong, but he had been the sole adjudicator amidst scenes of the most appalling provocation and brutality seen on the world stage for decades.

Had Mr Webb conducted himself in the manner that Johann Cruyff is demanding, then he would have been administering football’s last rites, and that’s nobody’s resonsibility.

6 thoughts on “Johann Cruyff on a very Dutch murder”

  1. To blame the ref or even critice him after the diabolical display by Holland baggars belief. Spain are complaining he was too lienient and Holland too severe. The most important event in World football and Holland did not have the commitment or belief to play football tells a story, an under achieving nation who believe they invented total football ( what about Englishman Jimmy Hogan) They then bestow the Knight of the Jaffa Cake on the coach and captain reveals an inferiority complex second to none. Hang your head in shame Holland

  2. Excellent piece!

    The days before the final, the Dutch players said they had to “stay true to themselves and play their own game”, hinting that Germany lost to Spain because they allowed Spain to dominate.
    I personally expected a physical game rather than a technical one, but I didn’t recognise Oranje once they began to commit fouls all over the place. (I don’t support them, but I live in the Netherlands and have watched them play for many years).
    If this was “staying true to themselves”, then that is pretty scary. It’s understandable they were prepared to go far to clench the title and soften the national traumas of ’74 and ’78, but they were out of control. And with the constant kicking an taunting, it’s no wonder the Spaniards began to lose their heads as well.

    I’m not too fond of Webb, but I started to feel sorry for him after a while. With the attitude that Holland brought onto the pitch, any referee would have been doomed from the start.

  3. Four years ago the tournament concluded with a lot of people saying that it had been very poor as a spectacle. Indeed it was, and it has been followed by something considerably worse and far more cynical. To quote Cruyff again; I remember him critcising the Italians for their style of play back in 2002 at the Euros, when he said, “I hope the Italians don’t win because they’ll all want to play like that.” He got his wish and football was saved by the French in the final. That was pretty much what I was saying about Spain before the final. I read an article the other day where some journalist described Spain as “A team of the age, but a lot of people haven’t realised that yet.” This was clearly intended as praise as he went on to eulogise about the way that they pass the ball on the floor and don’t pump it in the air. He clearly forgot that the balls which led to the goals in the semis and final were very much in the air!

    Sadly he may well be right, that this is how international football has become. Four successive 1-0 victories to take home the World Cup. If this is the future of the international game then I may take up fly fishing. God help us! Contributors to this sight have realised that this is possibly ‘a team of the age,’ even though we may wish it wasn’t so.

  4. At this rate, there seems to be very little hope for international football. Clearly, all the Dutch and Spanish cared about was the result. How it was achieved wasn’t even a secondary consideration. The game was dragged into disrepute? Doesn’t matter — we won. Or we came second (but only because we were cheated out of winning by the ref). As long as that attitude holds sway on a countrywide basis, the end will continue to justify the means and things will go from bad to worse.
    The situation in Brazil four years from now could be very ugly indeed. More so, because it’ll no doubt be televised in 3-D so we’ll have the victims of bone-crunching late tackles — or, far worse, bad actors pretending to have been fouled — falling literally at our feet.

  5. “At some point in that game Howard Webb realised that having the game played responsibly requires the input of the players and not just one man with a whistle.”
    Absolutely right. It has to be a cooperative effort on everyone’s part, not simply a single warder attempting to control 22 juvenile (mentally if not physically) delinquents.
    I was curious to see if there would be any backlash against coach van Marwijk for foisting upon the world this “ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching football.”
    After all, Dunga is gone, Domenech is gone, Lippi is gone and Maradona may well be going. I seriously believe that only the £12 million pricetag on Capello’s departure is what’s keeping him in his job.
    The Netherlands may have made it to the final but surely there had to be some payback for bringing the team and its football into such widely condemned disrepute. And, according to the German newspaper Bild, there has been:
    “Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has knighted Dutch national coach Bert van Marwijk and the Orange team captain, Giovanni van Bronckhorst. They received their distinctions on Tuesday morning. . . Mr van Marwijk and Mr van Bronkhorst are now Knights in the Order of Orange Nassau.
    ” ‘I’m speechless,’ Bert van Marwijk said when he left the Catshuis. Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who is bowing out as professional football player, added ‘We may be slightly disappointed [at being beaten in the World Cup final], but in a little while we will remember all of this with a fond smile.’ ”
    Van Marwijk might well be speechless. Least said, perhaps, soonest mended. As for van Bronkhorst’s anticipated remembrance of “all this with a fond smile,” the man is clearly deluded. Perhaps it’s just as well that he’s now retired. I wonder if he’ll turn his hand (and muddled head) to coaching?

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