As a young boy, Cruijff plays football in the streets of Amsterdam’s Betondorp suburb. At the age of nine he gets his first boots and a year later a letter from Ajax: Jany van der Veen, Ajax’s trainer, often sees him playing in the street and realises that the young Cruijff has talent. Cruijff enrols with Ajax. And when he turns sixteen he signs his first youth contract. It marks the start of a long career in football.
On 15 November 1964, Johan Cruijff plays his official debut game in Dutch professional football in Groningen. He is seventeen at the time. Under trainer Rinus Michels, Cruijff is the regular striker. And in 1966, the young Johan debuts for the Dutch national team.
In 1967, Cruijff is acclaimed Footballer of the Year. And in 1968, Ajax win the Dutch championship for the third time in a row. Between 1965 and 1973, Ajax are champions six times and win three European Cups. Cruijff scores one goal after another. In 311 matches: 248 goals. Cruijff is at his absolute best and in 1971 he is voted European Footballer of the Year.
Following his early years at Ajax, Cruijff arrives in Barcelona. He is greeted there as El Salvador, the saviour. Barcelona has not won the Spanish league for fourteen years. When Cruijff arrives, all that changes. In his debut game in a Barcelona shirt he scores twice. His achievements at Barcelona earn him two European Footballer of the Year titles, in 1973 and 1974. On 7 May 1978, he plays his final game for Barcelona, the result is a 1-0 victory against Valencia. That season, Barcelona take the championship once again. In the summer of 1978, Cruijff decides to stop playing. He is 31.
Then in 1979, Cruijff makes a comeback. He goes to America, where he aims to make soccer popular. He plays for Los Angeles Aztecs for a year and the following year in Washington for Washington Diplomats. Once again, he receives acclaim in the shape of two American Footballer of the Year awards: 1979 and 1980. After a brief stint at Levante in Spain and again for Washington Diplomats, Amsterdam beckons. And in December 1981, Cruijff makes a comeback for his old Amsterdam club. With Ajax he wins two consecutive championships and in the second year, the KNVB Cup as well. Despite winning two titles, in 1983 Ajax decide not to extend his contract. So Cruijff signs for Feyenoord. He leads the Rotterdam club, traditional rivals of Ajax, to their first national championship in ten years. And Feyenoord also win the KNVB Cup. On 13 May 1984, Cruijff finally brings his career as a professional footballer to a close, with a goal against PEC Zwolle. Once again, in his final season, Cruijff is acclaimed Footballer of the Year.