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Cruyff: Teach the Basic Skills

By Johan Derksen- March 9, 2004- UEFA Magazine)

Johan Cruyff is seriously concerned about the future of Dutch football - and indeed the game in general. In this first extract from a special article to mark UEFA's Golden Jubilee, the 56-year-old voiced his concerns to Dutch magazine Voetbal International, a member of the ESM group (European Sports Magazines).

A lot has changed in international football since I quit coaching in 1996. The clock hasn't stopped ticking. But it's still disappointing to see how football, the world's No1 sport, is not No1 when it comes to development.

Team concerns
What I notice particularly is that policy-makers in football are never really concerned about individuals, all they're interested in is the team as a whole. Yet a team consists of eleven individuals who each need attention. I often wonder if we're making the most of the qualities players have to offer.

Physical fitness
Today's football is completely different especially when it comes to the physical aspect - the players are in better physical shape, which is probably the result of all these coaching courses. There's nothing wrong with having fit footballers, but their technical and ball skills have not grown at the same pace, and that's all too apparent when you watch the game these days.

Wasted knowledge
It seems to me that a wealth of practical knowledge is being squandered, in grassroots and amateur football as well as in top-flight football. If you want to be admitted to a coaching course, you need a good basic level of education, but many footballers lack such a solid basis because they turn professional at 16, and then after a long football career it's really hard to go back to the books and start studying again.

Football first
But on the other hand these experienced players already know everything there is to know about football. Too many of them are lost to the further development of the game and I think that is simply ridiculous. A football career should become much more important as a criterion for being admitted to a coaching course.

Unnecessary studies
There are some former top players who take these courses and do so because they want to become trainers and coach professional teams. But they shouldn't be bothering with books on medical subjects - after all, the coaches of AFC Ajax, FC Barcelona or Arsenal FC all have their own staff of medical professionals.

Too much theory
These coaching courses are much too theoretical and this is what you see reflected in the basic technical skills of the average player. My generation put in a lot more hours playing football after school than kids today. These days all the football kids play is at their clubs, so the clubs need to work seriously on basic skills. You hardly ever see a young player who can use both feet, for example.

Basic skills
We really need to pay attention to the basic skills: passing, stopping a ball, heading, kicking. If we fail to do so, it won't be long before no one will want to watch football any more.

Coaches' responsibility
I watch all football, but I have to say I rarely find it interesting. I see way too much pinball football. The ball just goes to and fro, with teams unable hold on to it. There are very few players who can dominate the ball - mostly it's the ball that dominates the player. The coaches and trainers ought to take that to heart, as they are the ones responsible.


Johan Cruyff Quotes

"People always said i was so quick. But they missed the point. I wasn’t that quick, I just started my run a fraction of second earlier than my opponent. So I looked quick. It’s all in the eyes. 

"When you play a match, it is statistically proven that players actually have the ball 3 minutes on average. The best players – the Zidanes, Ronaldinhos, Gerrards – will have the ball maybe 4 minutes. Lesser players – defenders – probably 2 minutes. So, the most important thing is:what do you do those 87 minutes when you do not have the ball…. That is what determines wether you’re a good player or not."


"When you lead with 5-0, it’s much more fun for the public to shoot and hit the post instead of scoring a 6th goal. That’s just for the statistics. A ball on the post is more exciting. Especially if you can hear the ball hitting the woodwork."

"I have seriously considered playing with nine players instead of eleven in some cases. Just to keep them all awake. I’m certain we would have had the same or even better results."

"I can’t work at AS Roma. Ever. They have an athletics track around the pitch. I hate that".

"I am convinced that you have to do it like I do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it this way"

Cruyff interviewer while watching the opponent warm up: “Do you see that player? His kicking technique is lousy.” Why is that, the interviewer asks. How did you see that? JC: “I didn’t see it, I heard it. The sound of the shoe against the ball was not the right sound.”  



It is a system where a player who moves out of his/her position is replaced by another from his team, thus allowing the team to retain their intended organizational structure. In this fluid system, no footballer is fixed in their intended outfield role; anyone can be successively an attacker, a midfielder and a defender

Cruyff's Comments

  • Dominate the ball. Don’t let the ball dominate you
  • Focus on improving the individual
  • Clubs should  focus on developing young players basic skills; passing, dribbling, receiving, shooting etc. 
  • That ratio of skill development to physical and tactical development has not grown at the same pace.
  • His generation out more time into their skills after school. This needs to change and clubs need to provide the skill training and less tactical and physical
  • He sees less players using both feet.
  • That coaching courses are much too theoretical and this is what you see reflected in the basic technical skills of the average players


Johan Cruyff remembers the first time he set eyes on Pep Guardiola. The scrawny teenager was playing in Barcelona's youth team and Cruyff had just been appointed first-team manager at the club. 'He was a boy and the people said to me, "Oh, he's one of the best". 'So (over the next year) I looked for him in the reserves, but he didn't play in the reserves. So then I looked at the first youth team, and he didn't play in that team. And eventually I found him in the third youth team. So I said to the coaches, "You said he was the best one!" And they said, "Yeah, but physically " I said, "Put him there (in the reserves). He will grow. Don't worry, everybody grows". And they said, "Yeah, but we will lose". I said, "If we lose, we lose. We need to create players"And he did very well.' Johan Cruyff. Read more:

"During those (street) games I’d use stone walls, teammates & even the curbs of the pavement. My favorite move was to kick the ball against a wall & control the rebound whilst running at speed, as this split second was often the crucial difference between a great goal or loss of possession" Johann Cruyff. 

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