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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: "My Turn" by Johan Cruyff

Image credit: Nation Books.

The Dutch legend, Johan Cruyff, shares his autobiography only months before his tragic death from lung cancer.

My Review in Brief:

Johan Cruyff was the essence of Clockwork Orange on the pitch and a rare top player to leave a lasting impression as a manager. Cruyff was football pure and simple, elegant and quick, mesmerizing and clinical. We are fortunate to have this precious and compelling memory of his life written in the first person. This book is an integral read for players, coaches and fans to learn how the game works at the highest professional levels along with many insights into Cruyff's tactical acumen.

--- Steve Amoia, World Football Commentaries


1. Organized Format
2. Writing Style
3. Images
4. Notable Quotes
5. About the Author

"I'm not a person with college degrees. Everything I've learned, I've learned through experience... Above all I want to say that my life has always been lived with a view to doing things better and getting better." --- Johan Cruyff

 "My Turn: A Life of Total Football" by Johan Cruyff, quoted on pages xiii to xiv, published in November 2016 by Nation Books with a list price of $26.99.

Some people with university degrees have an inflated sense of their own intelligence. Street-smarts, such as those exhibited by Johan Cruyff, come from the college of everyday life.

I still recall a provocative exchange many years ago between Johan Cruyff and an American journalist in Washington, D.C. The journalist tried repeatedly to denigrate world soccer and compare it to the hallowed stature of American baseball. He didn't know that a Dutchman, Cruyff, played baseball in Amsterdam nor that this athlete wasn't going to tolerate such behavior from a biased journalist even on live television.

"Tell me something? If baseball is such an important international sport, how come nobody else plays in your World Series?" That was quintessential Cruyff: On or off of the pitch, he had few peers to his way of thought and movement.

Let's take a longer look at this intriguing, informative, and important autobiography about one of world football's legendary figures.

1. Organized Format:

There are 14 chapters with a total of 302 pages. There is also a helpful Timeline that details Cruyff 's personal and professional lives in acute detail. There was no index in my review copy although the publisher wisely included remarks by Jordi Cruyff from his father's funeral.

2. Writing Style:

Cruyff received a fatal diagnosis of lung cancer in early 2016 and wrote this book knowing it would be the last chance to tell his story. He did a brilliant project using anecdotes from his childhood, personal life, playing career, spells abroad, coaching tenures, charitable works, and life after football. Cruyff writes in a direct and observant style as he narrates his life to us as if we are sitting next to him at rapt attention.

The author clearly was imbued by early influences on his life. He credited Ajax Amsterdam as a prime example which he never forgot during his life's journey. FC Barcelona also has a special place in Cruyff's heart due to his involvement first as a player, and then later as a manager, not to mention as a staring point for his son's own professional career.

Shaun Whiteside did an admirable job to translate Cruyff's thoughts and feelings from the Dutch into English. He truly captured the man, his direct way of speaking and thinking, and reinforced the importance of translated books in this genre for an Anglophone audience.

3. Images:

There is a small selection of personal pictures along with those from Cruyff's playing career. One of my favorites was the image shown above with his son, Jordi.

4. Notable Quotes:

On the importance of the first touch:

"We were always busy with the ball... So I see touching the ball once as the highest form of technique. But to be able to touch the ball perfectly once, you need to have touched it a hundred thousand times in training..." Page 12

On baseball's influence:

"Baseball allowed me to focus on a lot of details that would later be very useful to me in football... I was able to transfer a lot of advice from baseball to football very successfully." Page 17

On the Dutch style:

"The good player is the player who touches the ball just once and knows where to run; that is what Dutch football is about... I say don't run much. Football is a game you play with your brains." Page 29

On the essence of Total Football:

"Total Football is, aside from the quality of the players, mostly a question of distance and positioning. That's the basis of all tactical thinking... All of that happened within a radius of five to ten meters... You always play based on what you can see and never on what you can't see." Pages 50-51

On the American sporting mentality:

"Within American sport they (professional franchises) understand more than anyone else how important it is to collaborate... In Europe, everyone is out for themselves...

Studying and sport are two sides of the same coin. We (Europeans) split them up, they bring them together. That's why, in America, a real Einstein understands sport, and a real sportsman understands Einstein...

In America, I also noticed that the primary aim of top-level sport is to entertain the public... " Pages 82, 84 and 86.

On how he built up a pension fund first at Ajax and later at Feyenoord:

"Cor (Coster) came up with a beautiful plan, based on the fact that my presence in the team would increase attendances. We proposed that gate receipts above that 10,000 figure would be shared between the club and me. If 20,000 turned up, Ajax would benefit by the price of 5,000 tickets and the income from the other 5,000 would go into my pension plan." Page 100

On his philosophy on coaching:

"First by minimizing the small mistakes. As I've said, the problems seldom or never come from the big mistakes, it's often the small ones that count. That's were the coaching begins too. That's why I trained alongside the players. You see more that way, and you can intervene appropriately." Page 130

 On the importance of language learning:

"Learning a lot of languages is the best form of education for your children, so they can communicate with everyone. But it's often determined that one hour is enough. Why not two or three hours? It's incredibly precious for someone to have command of another language..." Page 178

 On the most important element for a player:

"The most important thing for a player is that he knows how to do the simple actions. I mean passing, receiving controlling the ball with his chest, being able to use his weaker foot and heading. In short, the basic techniques. These are all skills that anyone can be trained in." Page 271

5. About the Author:

Johan Cruyff (1947-2016) played for and coached Ajax and Barcelona. In his retirement, he managed several foundations and wrote a weekly column for De Telegraaf.

Biographical text courtesy of Nation Books.

Please Note:

I have received a complimentary review copy of this book from a representative of the publisher, Nation Books. I was not financially compensated by any party who would benefit from a positive review.

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Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and published The Soccer Translator from 2008 to 2015. 

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