Thursday March 24 2016

Johan Cruyff dies at 68 after cancer battle

People lay flowers at a statue of Dutch soccer

People lay flowers at a statue of Dutch soccer legend Johan Cruyff near the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, 24 March 2016. Johan Cruyff died of cancer at the age of 68, his official website announced on 24 March 2016. EPA/KOEN VAN WEEL 

By AFP

Johan Cruyff, one of the greatest footballers in history, died on Thursday at the age of 68 from lung cancer, his family announced.

The Dutchman "died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard-fought battle with cancer", said a statement on Cruyff's official website.

"It’s with great sadness that we ask you to respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief."

Cruyff won three European Cups as a player with Ajax Amsterdam and Ballon d'Or titles in 1971 with Ajax and 1973 and 1974 with Barcelona, where he starred from 1973 to 1978.

Cruyff is considered one of the best four players in history alongside Pele of Brazil, Diego Maradona of Argentina and France's Michel Platini.

With his precision passes, speed, technique and goalscoring ability, Cruyff set new standards as a player.

He was the incarnation of Total Football that took the Dutch team to the World Cup final in 1974. He inspired a new generation of footballers.

"Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is," he once said.

As a coach, Cruyff led Barcelona to their first European Cup title in 1992.

Cruyff was once a heavy smoker who gave up after heart bypass surgery in 1991. He started sucking lollipops on the touchline at Barcelona games.

Cruyff also appeared in a Catalan government advert, saying: "Football has given me everything in life, tobacco almost took it all away."

He revealed in October last year that he had lung cancer.

A file picture dated 17 May 2013 of Dutch

A file picture dated 17 May 2013 of Dutch soccer legend Johan Cruyff (C) in action during the opening match of the Cruyff Foundation Cup in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Johan Cruyff died of cancer at the age of 68, his official website announced on 24 March 2016. EPA/ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN

He said in February that he had received "very positive" results about his battle.

"Right now, I have the feeling that I am 2-0 up in the first half of a match that has not finished yet. But I am sure that I will end up winning," he added in a statement.

News of his death still came as a shock to the football world and tributes quickly flooded in.

"He was the best player of all time," French legend Michel Platini told AFP.

"I have lost a friend, the world has lost a great man. I admired him," Platini added.

"The '14' will never be the same. RIP Johan Cruyff," said modern-day Spanish hero Xabi Alonso, now with Bayern Munich, on Twitter in a tribute referring to Cruyff's number 14 shirt.

"Goodbye to one of the legends of the history of football," said Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos.

While Cruyff made his name at Ajax, where he started at the age of 17, he made his football home in Barcelona.

"Barça soon began to reap the rewards as the Dutch magician helped Barça to the league title in his first season, and went on to win his second and third Ballon d’Or," the club said in a tribute.

"He quickly became an icon for Barça.

"His acrobatic strike against Atletico Madrid and the 5-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu (against Real Madrid) in 1974, among many other great moments, will live long in the memory of Barça fans."

Cruyff returned as manager in 1988. "He was in the dugout for eight seasons, during which time he led the club through its most successful ever period up until that point."

Barcelona won four consecutive league titles and their first ever European Cup in May 1992 at Wembley, beating Sampdoria of Italy 1-0.

Cruyff was named Europe's player of the century in 1999.

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