Arsene Wenger has paid tribute to Johan Cruyff’s incredible career in football, hailing the Dutchman as one of his idols and ‘the James Dean of Football’.
Cruyff, who died last week at the age of 68, is widely regarded as one of Europe’s greatest players and coaches, having achieved legendary status both on the pitch and in the dugout with Ajax and Barcelona.
He was also the figurehead of the Netherlands’ ‘Total Football’ philosophy in the seventies; a style of play and attitude towards ‘the beautiful game’ that has been propagated by coaches across the continent from the Camp Nou to our very own Emirates Stadium.
“He was one of my idols when I was a kid because he was not much older than I was and did a lot of things on the pitch that I couldn’t do!” the manager told Arsenal Player.
“He was a kind of James Dean of football at the time – he smoked and played. I saw him playing against us at Strasbourg and he was eating a sandwich before the game, then he would go on the pitch and be the best player.
“He had that kind of expression of freedom in the way he behaved and that strength of personality was absolutely exceptional in that period.
“He was the kind of exceptional personality that marked me and all my generation. The other day Michel Platini was speaking about him and he had exactly the same impression.”
He continued: “What Dutch football and Cruyff’s generation has created is ‘let’s be bold enough to play offensive football and let’s defend it,’ no matter what happens.
“I think that is a very generous idea because it starts from the fact that you want to express yourselves and give pleasure to the people sitting in the stands. The only respect you can give to the people in the stands is, at least at the start, to give them some pleasure and transform our game into art.”
A fitting tribute from the boss who, as David Winner – author of ‘Brilliant Orange’ – points out in this fantastic article, has been an unwavering disciple of Cruyffian football throughout his managerial career.
Oh…and if you’re not sure who James Dean was, this is worth a read.