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Johan Cruyff: The Great Inventor of the ‘False 9’

Johan Cruyff
Johan Cruyff - the man, the myth ...the inventor?! | Image credit: Kieran Turner (Instagram & Behance accounts: 'designkierant')

Johan Cruyff is responsible for a lot of things, and in this particular rendition, we discuss the ‘Cruyff Role’ in attack.

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, many of the ‘modern-day inventions’ that have become common in today’s game, are actually remakes of older mantras. And the concept of a ‘False 9’ – a forward who takes up their post shallower to your typical front man in order to link up play and keep things going – was invented back in the ’70s by a certain Johan Cruyff. IMO, the most influential football player of all time.

If you want a current example of the type of role / position I’m talking about, then perhaps Roberto Firmino of Liverpool is the best way to illustrate this. Despite much of the public and other unassuming pundits branding him as a striker who ‘doesn’t score enough goals’, his employers and closest fans recognise that his influence on a football match far exceeds that simple, yes exhilarating act of kicking a ball in a net.

While out in red, Firmino is just as much a provider as he is anything else for his teammates. And being able to drop back from the forward line and get in and amongst it with the midfield affords him the space with which to create ahead of him. Usually, this works best with two conventional strikers in his eye-line, but also with wingers – who are capable of running the channels, making in-bound runs and confusing defenders as to which option they intend to make by the end of the move. Liverpool do this flawlessly, but before them, the ‘Total Football‘-inspired tactics of Cruyff and co. were running the show.

There’s even this belief that Johan Cruyff selected his now-iconic No. 14 number to directly indicate how non-conformant his playing style is. After all, he’s not a typical midfielder, nor is he a typical striker – so why should he adopt any of their typical numerates? It makes sense when you think about it! Find more cheeky little snippets like this in my new book, ‘The Football Spider Web– now available via Amazon Prime.

When making a name for himself at Ajax in the early ’70s, Johan Cruyff became the embodiment of a new kind of style that his coach was looking to implement for the first time at domestic and European level. Then one of the most innovative coaches of his time – and later christened as the most influential manager of his generation, Rinus Michels needed a conductor at the heart of his new ‘totaalvoetbal’ orchetra. And Cruyff fit the bill.

It essentially meant having somebody to work on the vibe of the game and altering it, as opposed to being swayed by the various ebbs and flows that take a hold of the fixture itself. Therefore, much of the play would run through Johan Cruyff once Ajax retained possession of the ball. And once it was at his feet, it was up to him to decide what the game required. Be it to slow the tempo down, quicken it up, keep it narrow or shift it wide – his name is Johan Cruyff, and by His will, it shall be done!

As the history books shall indicate – or mine, which you can find on Amazon Prime as a Kindle or Paperback (if I hadn’t already mentioned it; in fact, HERE is the direct link to the Amazon listing just to save time … you’re welcome!), this was a Michels masterstroke. Ajax won everything there was to win, they duplicated their success with FC Barcelona in the same decade … and Johan Cruyff became the twice-voted-for Best Player in the World throughout this period. So, let’s give him the credit he deserves, okay!

Don’t forget to share this post and tag us in your best review of the great, Johan Cruyff!

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