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The Gaffer and the Legend: How Adrian Heath remembers Johan Cruyff

Minnesota United’s manager revisits how Cruyff’s words affected his playing career.

Johan Cruyff of Holland Getty

The date was March 24, 2016; Footballing legend Johan Cruyff had just passed away after battling the beast that is cancer. That day Orlando City had just finished training when Head Coach Adrian Heath was bypassing the media on his way back to the team facilities. Being that Cruyff was such an impactful person in the world of football, Heath was quick to pause on his exit from the grounds when I asked if he had any comments about the passing of the Dutchman.

Stopping abruptly, he turned and told the media that had gathered to “make sure you say something about him today,” referencing his thoughts about Cruyff’s passing and the importance of recognizing a legend of the game.

Heath then began recalling a packed Victoria Ground where he was able to watch Cruyff on his visit to Stoke City, and being mesmerized by the genius of the man.

CRUYFF HOL Getty

“He turned Barcelona from a big club into a giant one,” Heath commented.

I asked Heath if he had any personal influences from the man he admired so much, to which he began telling the story of the time Cruyff tracked him down after a match during his time playing for Spanish side Espanyol.

The remaining media members and Orlando City staffers magnetized toward the gaffer for story time.

The man they call “Inchy” began reminiscing about the great Johan Cruyff wanting to speak with him after a match during his time with the Spanish club.

“[Cruyff] came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder,” Heath said, recalling the compassion in the man, and replicating the legends’ gesture, “he told me that I was the best player on the pitch that day.”

Heath, with the joy of the memory all across his face, mentioned how he immediately had to track down a telephone to ring his father and tell him about the praise he had just been given from one of the greatest players of all time.

“It was the best compliment I have ever been paid in my life,” Heath stated.

It was something he would never forget.

Netherlands v France - International Friendly
A friendly between the Netherlands and France was halted in the 14th the day after Cruyff passed.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Johan Cruyff is credited with bringing “Total Football” to the soccer world. A style of play that incorporated every field player being adept in all positions as a total footballer.

Cruyff also famously perfected the turn known as a “cruyff,” which is still a large part of players’ repertoire to this day.

After doubling the world record transfer fee upon his move to Camp Nou, Cruyff arrived at Barcelona with the club in the relegation zone; within six months Cruyff had taken them to the league championship, including a 5–0 dismantling of Real Madrid. His stature as the greatest player of his era was solidified in 1974 when he won the award as European Footballer of the Year for a third time in four years.

He is an icon for all to remember, certainly one that Adrian Heath won’t soon forget.