Idealist Pioneer Rebel
FourFourTwo UK|January 2017

Few people knew the great Johan Cruyff as well as Jaap de Groot, the man who not only ghostwrote the Dutch legend’s weekly column for newspaper De Telegraaf and his 2016 autobiography, My Turn, but was his close friend for 30 years. He reveals Cruyff’s final months to FFT.

​This is something that I was able to benefit from during the many years I collaborated with him for his weekly column in Telesport, the sport section of Dutch daily De Telegraaf. He enjoyed triggering a reaction with his analyses, and he provided the odd wake-up call not only for Dutch football but also the government. Cruyff once criticised the Ministry of Finance in relation to a tax law. Such was Cruyff’s standing, it changed within a month.

Everyone knows that Johan was a phenomenal football player and manager. Most people also know he was an idealist; a pioneer; a rebel. But what most won’t have had the chance to see is that he was a wonderful person. During this post-Barcelona period, Johan started his foundation and the Cruyff Institute for Sport Studies. Both of these enabled him to continue being an inspiration to many other people, and these initiatives helped to change the perception of the stereotypical ‘dumb footballer’ as well as giving athletes more opportunities away from their chosen sport.

Discussing new challenges and getting inspired to realise them became a great element of our friendship. One of those was writing My Turn. The contracts with Pan Macmillan were signed on October 15, 2015, but seven days later, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Our plans soon had to be changed. We had intended to start our interviews in November and December, then write the rough text in January, work on the finishing touches in February and deliver the manuscript in March. Instead, the first interview wasn’t until December 27, after his third session of chemotherapy. Because of his relatively frail physical state, we used the following schedule, at his home in Barcelona: two hours of interview in the morning; lunch; a two-hour siesta; two more hours of interview time in the evening; and then finish the day with a glass of red wine or cava.

Ever the professional, Johan immediately made it clear in that first session exactly what the overarching message of his book should be. Within 15 minutes he had explained the essence of his life. ‘I am not a person with college degrees,’ he said. ‘Everything I have learned, I’ve learned through experience.

‘I’m not capable of doing something at a low level. I can only think in one direction: upwards, to be the best.’

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