Categories: Football

The Divine Philosopher

“Poet lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world and makes familiar objects be as if they are unfamiliar” – Percy Bysshe Shelley


Change the words “Poet” and “world” with “Cruijff” and “Football” and you will know that there is no other quote that defines Cruijff so well.


Born on 4th of August 1792, Percy Bysshe Shelley was the predominating revolutionary poet and philosopher of the Romantic age of English Literature whose revolutionary and radical ideology aimed to change the world and bring on earth the Utopia, which he called millennium.


Born on April 25th 1947 Johan Cruijff is regarded as the God sent revolutionary footballer whose radical football ideology was set to change the world forever and ever for the betterment of the heavenly game.


On 8th of July 1822, Shelley drowned in a storm which he went to see in the mirth of adventure.


On 24th March 2016, Cruijff drowned in the death-pool of Cancer which he embraced while enjoying the habit of smoking.


“Cruyff reinvented the concept of football in this country,” says Miguel Angel Nadal while describing Cruijff’s legacy as a football philosopher. He was that revolutionary thinker who made football more than just a game that is played with feet. “To play[football] is to think” Xavi recalls the  Cruyffian version of football, up and above the realms of football thinking of his time just like the Skylark that soars higher and higher and never looks down towards the earth. He broke the shackles of rigidity and brought out his own way of football, a very different type of football that took the era by surprise and left an ever-lasting impression on the world of football, just like the romantic lyrics of Shelley that broke the shackles of rigidly structured poetry of the neo-classics and made itself immortal in the pages of literary history.

 pic courtesy: getty images

The Skylark of Shelley was very similar to what Cruijff is.  “Hail to thee blithe spirit!/ bird thou never wert…” Is what specifically describes Cruijff. He was the divine spirit in the cloak of a human who, just like Skylark,  preaches the words straight from the mouth of the footballing God from above the sky. He was  “Like a Poet hidden

In the light of thought,

Singing hymns unbidden,

Till the world is wrought

To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

He would sing his footballing philosophy to the world till the world is modelled in his philosophy.


In the world of 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1, he in his first session with his players, took the black-board and drew a 3-4-3 structure which he adapted from 4-3-3 while he was playing under Rinus Michels at Ajax. Shelley explained his romantic ideology in the midst of orthodox neo-classics by saying it is the unresting philosophy not chained by the rigid structural logics is what is needed to heal the world of unending human sorrows. Cruijff defended his 3-4-3 by saying

 “If you have four men defending two strikers, you only have six against eight in the middle of the field: there’s no way you can win that battle. We had to put a defender further forward”. Both the revolutionaries had one thing in mind, strike the gangrene at the core to eliminate all sorrows”.


“Waking or asleep,

Thou of death must deem

Things more true and deep

Than we mortals dream,

Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?”

What knowledge of death you have which is still unknown to the mortals that lets you sing such harmonious crystal stream of notes untouched by even a little blotch of sorrow? This is what Shelley precisely asks the Skylark. The question to Cruijff by the mortal football world is very similar, just replace the word ‘death’ with ‘football’. But, unlike Shelley the world of footballing mortals got the answer. Possession, Position and Passing. Cruijff’s knowledge of the three “Ps” helps him sing such harmonious football philosophies. His whole plan revolves around the ball, in other words the ball plays the protagonist.  With the ball at feet you automatically gain the supremacy and keep the play under the control of your hand. With passing you are always moving the game and at the same time creating spaces by drawing opponent players towards yourself and space is something on which his philosophies thrive. With perfect positioning you see through the opponent and hence thread the perfect pass which splits open the defence. But how does possession help in defending? Well Defence wins you title don’t they? Cruijff had the simplest answer

“It’s a basic concept: when you dominate the ball, you move well,” Cruyff said. “You have what the opposition don’t, and therefore they can’t score. The person that moves decides where the ball goes, and if you move well, you can change opponents’ pressure into your advantage. The ball goes where you want it.”

The more you hear him sing, the more you are entranced into a world of football fantasy, that before him was like the Skylark of Shelley, hidden above the highest cloud.

There were many more coaches who had the black board in front of them, Rinus Michels, the Coleridge of total football philosophy, or Heleno Herriera, Dryden of Catenaccio but as an admirer of revolutionary romanticism I invoked the person who brings revolution and romanticism on the same plate, Johan Cruijff, the Shelley of modern footballing age.

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