history | 2015-12-08
Johan Cruyff's 40 days of glory
The story of how the Dutchman cemented himself as a Barça legend in what was at the time a remarkable scoring streak.
It's been awhile since Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo started spoiling us by breaking scoring records with astonishing ease. The one of Most Consecutive Matches Scoring is one of those achievements that reflect both players’ self-sufficiency and it’s there where both, statistically, stand out the most. In 2002, Ronaldo Nazário bested the number of ten consecutive matches scoring established by Vicente Català back in 1940/41 season and then repeated by Mariano Martín three years later. What had been 60 years of unsuccessful attempts were broke by a Brazilian that featured for Real Madrid in what was his second resurrection. However, such milestone was only meant to last for ten years. The appearance of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo crumbled the Brazilian’s record. Cristiano Ronaldo surpassed it, and the Argentinian pulverized it by scoring in 21 consecutive matches.
Also, both established plenty of close attempts with long streaks of matches scoring: Messi (10, twice with 6, four times with 5), Cristiano (8, 7, twice with 6, three times with 5). An example of might. But not all stars played in La Liga the same way. One that did was Johan Cruyff, who showed his best side during his first season in Blaugrana. Between December 2nd, 1973, and January 13th, 1974, he entered a fugue state which catapulted him to the highest point of Spanish football’s Olympus. He scored in seven consecutive matches and, during that time, Barça took a lead that they wouldn’t give away that season.
The expected debut
Cruyff’s arrival at Barcelona was an absolute soap opera. The Blaugrana club tried to sign him since 1970 without success. Vic Buckingham, who had discovered the Dutchman in Ajax, warned as he arrived at Barcelona that he had to be signed at any cost, and the club spent three years attempting it, finally doing it when Rinus Michels was the coach. Barça had to pay 120 million pesetas, a record at the time, in order to take the Dutchman out of Ajax, which dominated the European Cup in the past three years. However, his transfer wasn’t available until fall and Cruyff couldn’t debut with Barça until the eighth La Liga match. The blaugrana squad had a depressing start to their season, with two victories, two ties and three defeats, which placed them in a dangerous fourteenth place in the table. Granada, one of the best teams at the moment, was his first rival, and after a dull first half from Cruyff, the Dutchman let himself go after the break with his two first goals. Years later, a board member admitted that he feared for an injury of the star signing in his long-awaited debut. Granada’s defense wasn’t joking.
Even if Cruyff’s beginnings at Barça were hope-inspiring, everything he generated as a social phenomenon seemed to exceed his football. He was the idol that Barcelona had been waiting after Kubala’s departure. A representative of modern European football, the Dutchman meant the arrival of Barça at the new football. With Cruyff came the expectation of ending the wait to conquer a league title once again; Barcelona hadn’t won the league since the 1959/60 season, fourteen years since Helenio Herrera’s team and Luis Suárez raised the last trophy for the club. The media hype was such that Cruyff, having recently arrived, had already been in the presentation of a book about his life and an autobiographical film called Cruyff, number 14. The expectation was high, you could even hear claims that Camp Nou would become too small like it happened years before with the old stadium Les Corts with Kubala. The Dutchman, without many highlights in blaugrana, was already the referent.
It took Cruyff four matches to show in La Liga what made him dominate Europe with Ajax. On matchday 12, when they played against Sporting Gijón, Barça arrived in 4th place. However, something was going to change forever that day. In the match the player himself recognized as “his best match of the year”, Barça ran over the Asturian squad led by Quini, who would become that season’s top scorer. Rinus Michels’ team won by 5-1 in the first manita seen at the Camp Nou in three years, and Johan Cruyff scored the first goal of his streak to level a match they started by losing, but that they would end up winning by far. With two dribbles and a shot with barely an angle, he left his print in the shape of a goal before being subbed off after receiving a hard tackle. His streak could have ended there, but he showed no signs of it and, with caution, made it to the next matchday.
Málaga was the next victim in a match in which we could see the beginning of a great relationship with his partner Charly Rexach. The Dutchman scored the 3-0 from a pass of who would become his right hand man as a coach of the Dream Team and Rexach scored a goal after combining with the Dutchman. 4-0 against Málaga and Cruyff’s Barça reached, for the first time, the top of the table, place they wouldn’t leave anymore. Back then, the Dutchman’s name was a reason for questions in press conferences at every Spanish team; Cruyff’s phenomenon was starting to arrive to Spanish football and the coaches began to develop tactics against Barça centered in the Dutch wizard. Oviedo, their next rival, set up individual marking, trying to end Cruyff’s football. But even when he wasn’t as bright as usual, the forward appeared to score the header for the 1-3. Barça started to look like an unstoppable bulldozer.
The match against Atlético represented a change for Cruyff. The colchoneros were the current champions and it seemed to be the first hard test for an in-form Barça, but there was still a doubt if it was calendar-luck. The match started without much action, however, just before the break, Cruyff appeared in which is probably his most remembered goal. Rexach made a far cross in a play that seemed to end without danger, but then Cruyff jumped to become the Flying Dutchman and scored with unlikely acrobatics, an image for the ages that overflowed newspapers and boosted his image. Barça won by 2-1 and started to look unbeatable. After the match, France Football revealed that Cruyff was the winner of the Ballon D’Or for a second time, by defeating the Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff (Juventus) and Gerd Muller (Bayern Munich) in the votes. He recovered a prize Beckenbauer took from him the year before after winning the Euros with Germany.
Now in 1974, the first match of the year was against a top level rival, the Valencia side coached by Alfredo Di Stéfano. Cruyff, without playing a glorious match, showed his determination and scored both goals in the 0-2 victory. Few were the rivals that did not give up before the evidence of the Dutchman being the best player in the world at the moment. One of them, goalkeeper of U.D. Las Palmas Alberto Carnevali, underestimated him in the pre match conference and paid for it. The Argentinian declared to the press that displeased the Dutchman. He said that Cruyff was not a phenomenon, he was a great player, but that the only great ones had been Pelé and Di Stéfano. Of course, Cruyff remembered those words and scored two of the three goals in Barça’s win against the Canaries. In that occasion, the Dutchman came across another tactical strategy against him with the zonal marking of Las Palmas, something that didn’t stop him from another exhibition.
Cruyff’s streak ended vs Elche. He scored for a seventh consecutive match in a play that was lively protested by the Ilicitano club for what they considered an offside, but ended as a goal on the scoreboard and closed a tough match with a 2-0 win by the blaugranas. The Dutchman had already turned himself into a leader and the fans expected anything from the boots of one of the most imaginative players that have ever been seen with the shirt. The longest idyll Cruyff ever had with the goal as a blaugrana ended in Racing Santander’s grounds, in a match where marking became asphyxiating again, but his teammates capitalized by winning 3-1.
After Santander, Cruyff only scored in four more matches that season, and all of them were won by a landslide: 5-2 vs Celta, 0-5 vs Real Madrid, 4-1 vs Real Sociedad (two goals from the Dutchman) and 5-0 vs Castellón. In that season, Barça won all of the matches in which Cruyff scored, a very meaningful statistic of what was the best season of the Dutchman as a blaugrana. On matchday 24, he scored his last goal and Barça already dominated the league by seven points. That was the first and only league title for Cruyff as a blaugrana and his scoring records also hit the roof with the 16 goals he scored in the 26 matches he played that season. His second longest scoring streak was three consecutive matches, reached three years later. The Camp Nou didn’t see a Barça as good as the one in those 40 days again, the days when Cruyff wrote his name with golden letters in the history of Spanish football.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.