RIP No. 14: Johan Cruijff

It's a sad day in The Netherlands. Our country's greatest football player has died and with it a piece of our collective DNA. I've never seen Johan Cruijff play in the flesh—he ended his playing career far before I was born. But like anyone else in The Netherlands, I know and love Johan Cruijff. Kids all across the country are probably showing off their skills on Johan Cruijff courts at this very moment.

Johan Cruijff made football beautiful. He almost singlehandedly invented the way we Dutch people play and think about football. In The Netherlands the goal keeper is just as much an active player as the midfielder. In The Netherlands the defender never kicks the ball away without intention. In The Netherlands we always play 4–3–3.

There's a reason why the Dutch are the top street football players in the world. We do not just play to win. We play to win beautifully. It's in our DNA because our parents and grandparents saw El Salvador, de verlosser, number 14 Johan Cruijff play. When we play on the street, the pitch or indoor we play with technique, we play with an idea. We play with the aspiration to create something beautiful.

Johan Cruijff's genius made him one of the best players ever. It also made him a completely original thinker. I remember whenever Johan Cruijff appeared in a talk show, was hired as pundit to comment on a Champions League game or was being interviewed for something, we all sat in front of our television. His use of language was only matched by his creative thinking. There's a reason we refer to phrases of genius as Cruijffiaans.

One of the words I keep seeing pop up in the tributes to Johan Cruijff is the Dutch word 'onnavolgbaar' which according to Google Translate translates to 'inimitable' in English. The translation is close, but I don't feel that it has quite the same meaning. 'Onnavolgbaar' means literally impossible to follow. And exactly that is what happened whenever Johan Cruijff spoke or played. We all loved to try, but we could never follow him 100 percent. We could only try.

Among his onnavolgbare quotes is: "If I wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better". For me it perfectly marks his completely independent mind and attitude.

rip Johan Cruijff—thanks for inspiring us all to play the beautiful game beautifully.