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Book Review - Johan Cruyff, My Turn The Autobiography

Monday 7th November 2016
Johan Cruyff was widely regarded as one of football's greatest players. Through his playing career, he was synonymous with the ideology of Total Football, a style where every player could play in any position on the pitch. His philosophy still lives on in teams across Europe.

Title: Johan Cruyff – My Turn, the Autobiography

Author: Johan Cruyff

Publisher: MacMillan

Date Published: 2016

Price: £20

Johan Cruyff's My Turn, like the player, really stands out from the crowd. Coloured a brilliant bright Orange so synonymous with Dutch football, it is a marketing marvel that will be impossible to miss in book shops across the globe.

The content of the book matches that of its striking appearance as you would expect with one of the genuine legends of the game. There are superstar players and superstar managers but probably only Cruyff can be seen as one of the world's best in both roles.

Written in chronological order, Cruyff moves seamlessly through his life that is littered with success, experiences and frustration. From his early days as part of the Ajax family through to managing one of the world's greatest clubs in Barcelona, Cruyff speaks with a passion for the game and a desire to entertain. He also provides a footballing masterclass as he shares his huge knowledge of every aspect of football from individual techniques to tactics and formations. This provides some fascinating insights into how football should be played and makes for an educational as well as entertaining read.

As a key part of the famous Ajax side that dominated Dutch and European football in the early 1970's, Cruyff talks in depth about the attacking philosophy that is known as ‘total football'. With its emphasis on technique, high pressing, movement, team shape and the ability of players to play in any position, total football forms the basis of many of today's top sides and was a genuine tactical revolution.

Honed in the Ajax academy total football came to the world's attention in the 1974 World Cup as Cruyff takes us back to that glorious Dutch national team that would become everybody's second team with their exciting and new brand of football. On a personal front, it was the tournament that saw the famous Cruyff turn, a turn so unique that it still inspires footballers today. A product of many hours on the training ground? No just a moment of brilliance from a player on the top of his game.

The success and nostalgia continue after Holland as Cruyff moves to Barcelona for a world record fee and success on the field is followed by even more success as the manager. A hands-on coach with an attention to detail that few are capable off, Cruyff talks about how he laid the foundations in terms of style and standards that Barcelona are still renowned for today and would provide the benchmark for all clubs to strive for.

However, it has not all be plain sailing for Cruyff. He talks with honesty about personal crisis such as a kidnap ordeal that would eventually lead him into early retirement from the national team and a failed investment that left him in financial ruin. He also talks in depth about his many clashes with the Board at Ajax and the owner at Barcelona. Particularly, at his first love Ajax, you feel his frustrations as he talks about club politics, deceit, accusations and of being ignored all at a time when Dutch football both domestically and nationally was in decline. It is because he cares so much that the battles he had with those that run the game were so frequent and tinged with unpleasantness and sadness, you really feel his despair as he feels compelled to try and help.

Both as a player and manager and in life, in general, another central theme that emerges from his book is Cruyff as an innovator. With boundless energy, creativity and an attitude to learn, Cruyff remembers fondly of his time playing in the US and what he learned about their attitude to sport such as data analytics and the use of specialists. He also shares his thoughts on a range of topics from how football should be governed, developing the game worldwide and to individual projects such as backing Wimbledon's relocation to Dublin as Irelands first premier league club.

Above everything he has achieved in the game (which is an awful lot!) Cruyff takes particular pride in his foundation that helps disabled people to get involved in sport. He has also set up Cruyff courts to provide facilities for children to play and Cruyff colleges that provide education specific for the sportsperson. As these have grown and evolved they all ensure a legacy that goes well beyond his successes on the pitch.

Cruyff's My Turn is extra special in that it was written at a time when Cruyff was diagnosed with lung cancer. The final chapter is particularly touching as Cruyff reflects on his life, family and achievements. He talks about people that are important to him and reconciles with those, such as his mentor and father of total football Rinus Michels where he had disagreements. There are no regrets and a sense of satisfaction in life.

Sadly Johan Cruyff passed away on 24th March 2016 and his book concludes with a moving extract from his family at the memorial service held at Barcelona's Non-Camp. There is also a poignant picture of Cruyff's face on the big screen as the friendly between the Netherlands and France was paused in the 14th minute as a mark of respect to the great man. His statute, as part of the best 11 Dutch players of the century, stands at the KNVB sports centre.

An inspiring, educational and entertaining read, My Turn is also a fitting tribute to one of the football's all-time greats.
Allan Kemp

Born in Suffolk but a Norwich City supporter who is currently exiled in Dallas, US. I am an FA level 2 coach and also a published author, my book of Hall of fame - Norwich City's - All-Time Greats is available from all good bookshops. I am now working on my second book, with Pitch Publishing - Newcastle United Hall of Fame. I'm also a keen reader of football-related books.


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