Cruyff: My Soccer philosophy

Rate this post

Cruyff and the Philosofy of Soccer

Cruyff is no longer with us. This year has been a sad one for those who love the style of play and the style of coaching of one of the best in soccer world of all times. Johan Cruyff has become a legend.

I don’t have great memories of him as a player, but Cruyff impressed me so much as a soccer coach. The game of soccer has been evolving for many years and Cruyff was one who made it happen through innovative coaching methodology and through innovative formations using not  only very strong physical soccer players but also intelligent players who were able to understand the game and play as a team.

I discovered how well Ajax played in the late 80’s with unknown dutch players at that time: Rijkaard, Blind, Wouters, Mühren, Witschge, Bosman, Scholten, Bergkamp, De Wit, Van Basten. These players became soccer stars in the 90’s due to the training period they had in the 80’s. Actually that philosophy continued to develop excellent dutch soccer players for another 10-15 years: Gullit, Ronald De Boer, Frank De Boer, Overmars, Reitziger, ….



Cruyff at Barcelona

As as player Cruyff made a huge contribution to soccer, but for the big opportunity to really make a difference happened when he became the F.C. Barcelona Coach.

It was during his period at Barcelona that Cruyff was able to implement his classic team formation, 1-3-4-3.

Three mobile defenders; plus one more covering space – becoming, in effect, a defensive midfielder; two attack-minded players, two touchline-hugging wingers and one versatile centre forward.

He did it with famous soccer players but also with players from “La Massía”, the developmental center that FC Barcelona has for the youth teams. The most famous is Guardiola, but there were others like Sergi, “Chapi” Ferrer or Guillermo Amor.


The impact of Cruyff has been huge:


Reading Johan Cruyff’s book “Football, My philosophy”, you can travel to the basics of coaching soccer. You can also discover that most of the ideas of the game are currently used for the professional teams worldwide. Also nowadays some of the coaching drills are used in the football/soccer academies.

According to Cruyff’s philosophy, the kids learn the game in the games but they should discover the game in the street by just playing, That’s the best way to improve the soccer technique and to be passionate about it.

He expresses the concept: “playing for joy”. Even though, football/soccer academies play an important role in developing players, from time to time until they are 12 years old, they should go to the streets, to the parks or even to the parking areas, and just play.

Cruyff´s key to soccer

When coaching, the key factor is the TECHNIQUE.

Kids must be split by age and, starting from the technique, focus in different points:

• U10 kids should get used to the ball: 1v1 situations and short passing.
• U12 kids should be placed in specific positions ( as many as they can play) but still give them freedom to play.
• U14 kids should understand the roles of the game: attacking vs defending.
• U16 is a very complicated age. Most of the times you must go back to basics.
• U19 kids are close to become adult players, but we should stimulate them to love and enjoy the game.

The best formation system for developing soccer players is the 1-4-3-3. Why?

a) The field is equally shared by the players: 4 lines (including the keeper) spread out along the soccer field.
b) Having wingers open give the players multiple choices, something important during the learning process.
c) Every player touches the ball in a regular way. High participation.

Headers technique. Key factors:

• Before heading the ball, bend slightly your knees and the body backwards.
• Use the arms to keep the body balanced.
• Synchronize the move of the body with the speed and height of the ball. Until 12 years old, no jump.
• Head the ball either with the forehead (offensive) or the top of the head (defensive and to pass the ball behind the header).
• Use the right ball and the right air pressure of the ball. Use other kind of balls (tennis balls, rubber balls, etc).

Controling the ball:

A) Head control
• Knees bended at the same time we lean back the body and head. Use the forehead to bring the ball down.
B) Chest control
• When contacting the ball, the head should be over the ball, while the hips and the stomach are back.
• If the position of the body is balanced, the ball should go to the feet, then give the correct direction to continue playing.
C) Tights & laces control
• Bring the ball down in the same path the ball had to decrease the speed of the ball and put it in front of the foot.
• Avoid the sole control. It makes the game slower.

Control the ball drills:

a. One of them throws the ball in the air
b. Throw in
c. Passes: short, medium, on the ground, loft passes
d. Passes: control with one foot, touch with the other and shoot

B) IN GROUPS: Use “rondos”
a. 4v2
b. 4v3
c. 5v3

Position Games:

The objective of these games is to give 2-3 options of support to a player who has the ball.

Every player should move to a location where he/she can receive the ball in good conditions to continue playing and if possible break the line of pressure ( penetration vs possession)
At the beginning, use small areas, and then move to wide ones.
Work with one team in superiority of number of players.
In 8*8 meters, play 12v3: pressure, cover and balance.

What qualities should a soccer player have according to Cruyff?

 Pass the ball at the right speed.
 Pass the ball to the dominant foot of the receiver.
 Pass the ball where/when suitable to continue playing and penetrating.



Style of play of Cruyff´s philosophy

A) Avoid long passes. Use 5 lines + goalkeeper
4 defenders
1 Holding midfielder
2 Center Midfielders ( a little bit open)
2 wingers
2 forwards

B) High & forward defending concept or high pressure: When the team loses the ball, THE FIRST FORWARD IS THE FIRST DEFENDER, close and straight the lines as soon as possible. This way the goalkeeper will be protected by 6-7 players minimum

C) The correct position of the holding midfielder in the field will balance the play. This way if the team loses the ball, the transition will be more effective because the wingers and wing backs don’t have to run back 20-30 meters but 30 meters

D) Building the game from the back

Use the goalkeeper as often as we can. He is the first attacker.

The GK or the center back play with one of the wing backs that previously has moved forward. Then multiple options:

1. One of the forwards moves to the wing. He drags the attention of the center back. The open space is occupied by the winger or the other forward to play a 1v1 situation
2. The winger moves into the space and receives the ball from the wing back. There will be a 1v1 situation or crossing to the box. Then one of the forwards to the near post, the other to the far post, and one fo the center midfielders to the penalty spot

E) Positional play: The triangle of players. Use the space in the field in a clever way.

F) Corner kicks defending: “Don’t concede any “. 3 players in half line, one player out of the box, one player in the corner of the goal kick to force an air ball, one player in the post, and 4 players individual mark plus the goalkeeper for the goal area.
G) Corner kicks attacking: Most of the times play 2v1 to take the defender out of the box.

H) Look for 1v1 situations all over the field

I) Anticipate the play: take the right decision between what you want and what you must do. E. g.: The winger wants to receive the ball but first he has to move forward into the space and then go back to play easy.

J) Keep it simple: Simple execution.

K) Master the technique.

The lasting legacy that Cruyff gave to soccer was about more than just trophies and records, as he gave his players and his teams a winning mentality and football identity&ideology.

The predominant style of play, had been transferred and improved from “total football” in Ajax to “tiki-taka” en Barcelona. It was that which has sustained both Barcelona and Ajax. A total belief in possession-oriented football with an attack-minded 3–4–3/4–3–3 team formation, rooted in a high offside line, pressing and the interchange of players on the field.

He was also responsible for introducing “rondos” (a circle of players pass the ball to each other, while one in the center tries to catch it) into the team’s training sessions.

As a soccer coach I am impressed about his innovative approach of teaching the game at that moment when soccer was evolving from a physical sport to a technical sport. He introduced the concept knowledge of the game and he was able to develop “decision making” players that implemented his ideas in the field, which are nowadays known as talented players.

Thank you Johan Cruyff!


Leave a Reply