Johan Cruyff is one of the greatest players the world of football has seen. The Dutchman was a maestro on the field and was integral to the great success that Ajax Amsterdam and later Barcelona enjoyed in the 1960s and ‘70s respectively.
The man was an epitome of the hugely successful and revolutionary Total Football. He was instrumental in helping Ajax to three successive European Cup triumphs in the early ‘70s and was at the top of his game as Netherlands made it to the final of the 1974 World Cup. That Dutch team is still regarded by many as the best to have never become the world champions.
However, Cruyff’s contribution to football goes beyond his playing years. He was the key figure in helping Barcelona set up their renowned La Masia youth academy that has churned out some of the best players in world football in recent years.
Cruyff was also the man to have instilled the philosophy of having a uniform style of play throughout all the youth teams right up to the senior side in order to make the transition from the youth set up to the first eleven a seamless one.
His revolutionary ideas possibly make him the greatest man in the history of the game.
Although Cruyff is best associated with Ajax and Barcelona, the midfielder had somewhat of a nomadic late playing career. After 15 years at Ajax and then five years in Catalonia, Cruyff went on to have stints with LA Aztecs, Washington Diplomats, another two years with Ajax and then a single season with Feyenoord.
However, the most surprising of the lot was his brief spell with Levante, and that too in the second division of Spanish football!
In the winter transfer window of 1981, Leicester City were in for the Dutchman’s signature, but when three weeks of negotiations with the Foxes didn’t translate into any significant inroads, Levante, who were then fighting for promotion to the top flight, swooped into bring him back to Spain.
“I’m in Spain. I have signed for Levante and do not mind at all playing in the second division. The negotiations we have held for a month have been completed satisfactorily for all. I’ve decided to play for Levante because in this country I am living very well”, he said upon signing for the Valencia outfit.
“The football is quality and the climate is also great. True, this is a second division club and it is a bit strange for a player like me, but my life is not about money or prestige. This move offers me a chance to live well, collect a large sum of pesetas, and the ability to re-enter football in Europe. I think I cannot ask more.
“What can I offer? My reports show clearly that the team needs a man who channels the game. I am convinced that with Levante in just 13 days we can be raised to first [in the league]. I live for each day. I am only worried about the current season. During the past two months I have had offers from Leicester, Arsenal and a German club, but I want to be free. Next season we’ll see if I renew with Levante or if I’m in the dolce vita.”
Injuries and disagreements with the Levante officials meant that he played only ten games for the team and scored two goals.
However, they were not enough for Levante to secure promotion to the top flight. The club didn’t see any need to give him another deal for the 1981/82 campaign and that spelled the end for Cruyff’s stint in the second division of Spanish football.