This morning, soccer fans around the world woke up to the news that one of the game’s greatest players, managers, philosophers, and scholars passed away after a battle with cancer at the age of 68.
It’s commonplace, possibly even trite at times like these to say things like “his legacy will live on forever”. Perhaps it is something we say to comfort ourselves when we find out that even the greatest among us, those that didn’t seem to be inhibited by the same natural laws and limitations as the rest of us, even they, the seemingly superhuman and immortal can not live forever.
In Cruyff’s case though, I feel as if the sentiment is appropriate. It would be difficult to pinpoint a man that had more influence on this sport we love so much. As a player he dazzled opponents and thrilled the crowd. As a manager, he taught expressiveness and creativity alongside fitness and discipline, and as one of the games foremost thinkers, he dared to challenge the very idea of convention.
When we sit down this weekend to watch soccer, we’ll still see him if we look closely enough. His fingerprints are all over the tactical systems of the game’s greatest teams. Moments of silence will be had, black armbands will be worn and these memorials are deserved, but the true monuments to the man will not be made of stone. He will be honored in the game forever with every Cruyff turn, no look pass, overlapping wingback, and audacious set piece routine.
Much will be said of the man in the coming weeks. The eulogies will be countless. The tributes moving and unceasing. Countless glasses will be raised in countless taverns and homes today. His passing will be memorialized all around the world, and his life will be celebrated for years and years to come. We didn’t just lose a famous athlete. We didn’t just lose a legendary manager. We lost the man that taught us to play the game beautifully.