I am a fan of Johan Cruyff, the footballer and the football coach. I know some call him plainly JC. I have also read third-hand accounts of bits of hiI am a fan of Johan Cruyff, the footballer and the football coach. I know some call him plainly JC. I have also read third-hand accounts of bits of his life, and in particular the anecdotes collected from Ștefan Kovacs (Covaci) by Ioan Chirila. So, after his death in March 2016, I pre-ordered his auto-biography at the first occasion, then waited patiently until the October 2016 release in the Netherlands. Overall, JC's auto-biography is surprisingly good and learnful, albeit at times self-servient and not very well edited.
The main strength of the book is direct access to Johan Cruyff's experiences and thoughts about them, especially in what concerns management of top-flight organizations. Cruyff was known not only for amazing football skills and success in winning trophies, but also for a particularly argumentative style at human level (he would say in this book that this is what it means to be working class Amsterdammer) and for spectacular rows with many at Ajax and Barcelona. I like how Cruyff describes not only his views about football, but also his interpretation of the process that led to these rows and how they were resolved. Checking my notes taken while reading the book the book, it seems JC has had strong disagreements with fellow players since 1973 (he would leave Ajax for Barcelona at the end of a spat, and later he will leave his second spell at Ajax for a move to bitter rivals Feyenoord in 1983-4), with KNVB (the national football federation of the Netherlands) since 1974 (he retired early from national-team football in 1977-8, but ascribes this in part to an unrelated incident in his personal life), and with upper management since at least 1986 (after disagreeing on vision, he will depart in 1987-8 from Ajax and move almost immediately to Barcelona). It would have been easy for Johan Cruyff to do a mere hatchet job on his "opponents". However, he actually explains, albeit with enough self-serving words, the entire process and analyzes from multiple points of view each event. He admits in several cases his mistakes, among which ambition and inexperience. What surfaces is how a great player feels about merely mediocre, judgmental, and political management (Cruyff is very careful to always stay on the side of the players, and praises even mediocre teammates). His stories especially about Dutch management at Ajax are very interesting and match what I have heard from many top-level professionals in the country.
I was also positively impressed by Johan Cruyff, the person. Johan Cruyff identifies three main traits (honest, gritty, brave), which he calls the essence of being Dutch, Amsterdammer in particular. There is much more in the book. Desire for control, need to explain each action as logical even when inconsistent with previously formulated principles, identity tied with family life, etc. I liked in general his ability to formulate a progressive vision about life (including a full list of guidelines -- "The Fourteen Rules of Johan Cruyff" -- around the end of the book), about responsibility, about guiding others to success. I also liked two important aspects of his testimony: on life at the top of a very competitive and international activity; and on his ability to develop an international identity, while still being inlove with the Netherlands and feeling Dutch, is something that is explored just enough in the book and in my view worthwhile reading about.
The main issues I had with the book limited my own pleasure in discovering this auto-biography. First, and perhaps not unexpectedly, the author is at times self-servient. He claims not being interested in positions of power or his disdain for others abusing them, but in several occasions he is caught in clear conflicts of interest (coaching his son, being a commissioner at Ajax while others are forced to resign, etc.) I particularly disliked how in most situations he expects his view to be unquestionable, as in this paragraph (page 296 in the Kindle edition):
There’s no one in football who knows more about tactics, technique and youth training than I do, so why are you debating with me? It’s utterly pointless and you’ll only do it wrong, so listen to me, benefit from it. How big must your ego be if you can’t see that?
Second, this auto-biography could have been edited better. Several of the chapters, and in particular the last, include long rambling text of a quality much lower than the rest of the book. There are also a few English translations of Dutch idiomatic expressions, which should have been complemented by footnotes explaining them for the general public (some of them are delicious sentences, perhaps worthy of inclusion in I always get my sin). Last, the chapters are chronological, but the structure could have benefited from a good introduction and several testimonials, perhaps from Wim Jonk (who is praised in the book) and Marco van Basten (who is not).
Now it's your turn to read this book. Recommended to all who are interested in football, in competitive and international activities, in living abroad or in a multi-culti environment in the US/EU, and in Dutch management and organizational issues. ...more
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