Jesper Olsen remembers his former Ajax team-mate and legend of the game Johan Cruyff as a footballing revolutionary.
Netherlands, Barcelona and Ajax icon Cruyff passed away at the age of 68 on Thursday following a battle with cancer.
Olsen was the other half of Cruyff’s famous ‘penalty pass’ routine – which Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez emulated for Barca just last month – and one of the youngsters to benefit from Cruyff’s return for his second stint at Ajax in 1981.
And the ex-Denmark international has fond memories of learning from a master of the game, who inspired Ajax to three consecutive European Cup victories between 1971 and 1973, and his country to the 1974 World Cup final.
“It was amazing, because we’d all watched him play in those European Cup finals and won them and we watched him in the World Cup final and his impact on those two teams was amazing,” Olsen told Omnisport.
“And all of a sudden you’re playing alongside him!
“If you talk about the likes of Lionel Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo these days, I think he is up there but even more influential on the pitch. He was such a good talker and his understanding of the game was amazing.”
But it was Cruyff’s ability to think outside the box and push boundaries, both as a player and later a coach, that really made him stand out.
Cruyff and Olsen would encapsulate that when they pulled off one of the classic penalty routines in a 1982 match against Helmond Sport.
Cruyff placed the ball on the penalty spot, before rolling the ball into the onrushing Olsen’s path, who drew the goalkeeper out of his goal before laying another pass back to Cruyff who tucked the ball away with ease.
“We had training in September and he mentioned it, that we could do it in a game and we trained it a few times that weekend,” Olsen added.
“And then we did not talk about it until we actually did it in that game in December. Again, it was just how he was. Always thinking about how he could do things differently.
“Trying to show that this could be done and he was one of those players that just tried new things.
“He knew the advantages to be gained from holding possession, finding the right passes and in the right areas at the right time and if you look at Barcelona today he started that in the old days with guys like [Hristo] Stoichkov.
“He was an amazing player. Amazing.”
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