Forty three years ago today, in the stadium now known as Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, Johan Cruyff showed 53,700 people something they’d never seen before.
The Netherlands arrived at the 1974 World Cup on the heels of an impossibly successful qualification campaign. Bolstered by what was at the time their best ever team, the Dutch ripped through their qualifying group with four wins from six games and a plus-22 goal differential. At the time, Ajax’s Total Football was seeping into the international consciousness as the Dutch team switched positions like some sort of supercharged ballet. With the legendary Johan Cruyff leading the charge, defenses didn’t seem quite certain what to make of it. It wasn’t until they met West Germany in the final that a team managed to pull the curtain across the show.
The Dutch had already played one group game – a dominant 2-0 win over Uruguay – when they met up with Sweden on June 19, 1974. The match was ultimately a dud, a scoreless draw en route to the Netherlands’ ultimate dominance of the group table. But one thing happened that day that stopped viewers in their tracks.
Cruyff had found a one-on-one scenario on the left flank with only defender Jan Olsson between him and space for a cross. Cruyff’s back turned to the end line, it seemed to Olsson as though Cruyff was about to attempt to knock a cross out and around him. And then, in one deft turn, he did this instead.
The move was so subtle that it almost looks elementary to our modern eyes. But then, before anyone had a name for what this even was, Olssen was certain by Cruyff’s body positioning and foot movement that this ball was coming off his foot. Watch his head snap to his left before realizing Cruyff was already gone, disappeared into the mist to shuttle a ball into the box free of interference.
To give you a sense of the moment, Olsson is now known internationally for little more than becoming a footnote to one of the most iconic individual moves in soccer history.
This move had no doubt been performed before in several forms and fashions, and Barcelona’s Eulogio Martinez apparently pulled off a similar move 14 years earlier in the European Championship. But Cruyff did it with such growing frequency and smoothness that it soon became known as uniquely his, a beacon for the sort of sporting smarts Cruyff had rapidly become known for.
So, happy birthday Cruyff Turn. May you continue to tweak the tendons of rec league players who unsuccessfully attempt to mimic it on pitted fields across the world for time immemorial.