‘Eventually, you tread your own path’ - Jordi Cruyff has no problems in growing up with the famous surname

Following in the footsteps of your father is hard enough in any profession, let alone one where your dad is considered one of the most gifted footballers of all time.

So much so that while “Johan’s son” may have donned the famous no. 14 shirt his father wore with such distinction, he often accompanied it with the name ‘Jordi’ above it, rather than the legendary moniker ‘Cruyff’.

“I consider my father to be one of the so called football legends who make up less than one percent of football players,” Jordi says of his three-time Ballon D’Or winning dad, who achieved league winner’s medals with Ajax, Barcelona and Feyenoord as a player.

The 68-year-old, who shocked the football world recently when it was revealed he was battling cancer, also won four La Liga titles in a row as manager of the Catalan club from 1991 to 1994.

Jordi Cruyff’s CV also includes a stint at Barcelona, though the two-year first team spell was far less decorated and acclaimed than his dad’s.

The son was always going to be compared to his father. “I was born with a ball under my arm, that’s quite obvious, and I think as a young boy you always look up to what your father is doing,” he says.

Not that he has any issue with the father-son comparison, he says. “You could consider him to be an immortal and I’m just a mortal but I never had any problem with that with all due respect,” Jordi said. “Eventually you tread your own path.”

Cruyff Senior’s decision to bestow the name Jordi on his son, the Catalan derivative rather than the Spanish ‘Jorge’, at a time of deep divisions between Catalonia and Spain, ensured that Cruyff Junior became an adopted Catalan from the beginning.

But Jordi says he had to tread carefully at the beginning of his own path in the blau grana jersey.

Jordi joined Barca’s famed La Masia academy when his dad become boss at Barcelona in 1988, leaving his managerial position with Ajax, but the youngster didn’t really enjoy his football there initially.

“When we moved from Holland to Spain, I was about 14-year- old and I struggled a bit physically to begin with,” Jordi said.

“Spanish 16-year-olds are like little men, Dutch 16-year-olds are like young boys and those differences were hard for me.

“But I just focused on a goal which was to be a professional.

“I had a very good year [at age 17] and from there on things went forward.”

By 1994, “Johan’s son” was absolutely making his own mark.

A couple of hat-tricks on a pre-season tour with the Netherlands and continued good form at youth level meant that his claims for a first-team berth couldn’t realistically be ignored by his father any longer.

Sporting Gijon were the opponents at El Molinon on September 4, 1994 when a 20-year-old Jordi finally made debut for Barcelona’s senior side.

But it was a day to forget. Coming on as a substitute, Barca were already 2-1 down and, in truth, Cruyff made little impact. His first home game at Camp Nou would be an entirely different story however, a goal capping a fine performance in a 2-1 victory.

Over the next couple of seasons, claims of nepotism would be common place but Cruyff Junior always aimed to justify his inclusion.

However, this was a time when the ‘Dream Team’ - Romario, Ronald Koeman, Hristo Stoichkov et al - was coming to an end, and Barca’s notoriously fickle fan base were being forced to return to a period of transition. “It was a time of renovation, the end of the golden era of the dream team and just getting into a new one with all home grown players.

“Of course with so many changes, especially putting a lot of young players in, it meant lots of ups and downs in terms of results.”

As happened at Ajax, Johan would eventually fall out with his employers and Barca’s President at the time, Josep Lluis Nunez, wanted Jordi out.

The situation also accelerated due to his choice of either going to the Olympic Games with Spain or playing with the Dutch national team.

Like his dad, Jordi wore Oranje.

A dream move to Manchester United occurred in 1996, albeit his time at Old Trafford was dogged by injury. And even on his debut for Manchester United, a superstar name – though one in the making, this time – stole the headlines from him. It was the day David Beckham scored at Selhurst Park against Wimbledon from the halfway line.

Despite only 34 league appearances for the Red Devils over four years, though there were enough in season 1996-97 to merit a league winner’s medal, Cruyff harbours no regrets.

“I think it started off reasonably well,” he said. “The truth is I had four or five operations. Both ankles. Even both knees. I had a hernia and I went through quite a few more injuries.

“United gave me more than enough time to realise my potential but it wasn’t easy coming from Barcelona to Manchester, a completely different culture.”

At the relatively young age of 26, and approaching a time when most players reach their peak, Cruyff’s next destination would be at Basque club Alaves, via the shortest of stops at Celta Vigo.

West Ham United had their chance to sign the player - who had even looked for places to live in the area - but delays in signing forced his hand.

Alaves were extremely keen and from the very start the marriage worked.

With almost 100 appearances under his belt there, Alaves was to be the team for whom Jordi Cruyff played most times during his career. He felt important there.

It was also a place where the more-mature Cruyff learned much. Principles the 41-year-old now applies in his role as Sporting Director at Maccabi Tel-Aviv, where he has been since 2012.

“At Alaves I came to understand that sometimes it’s important to win 1-0 because you’re super well organised, everybody is working hard and you score from a corner kick in the last minute,” he commented.

“It’s more ‘reality football’, the way things really are for 99 percent of the clubs.

“When you’re at United or Barcelona normally the question is not if you’re going to win or not, it’s by how much.”

Maccabi have enjoyed one of the most successful periods in their history since he became Sporting Director, including qualifying for this season’s Champions League.

Playing the big guns of Chelsea and Porto has been a step too far though, as he admits. He’s still very much a role model for the club’s players though. Because while he is the first to admit he’s not achieved anywhere near what his dad did in the beautiful game, Jordi knows about playing at the highest level.

And the pressures that go with it. He adds: “I hope that people will say thanks - this guy, he did better than we thought and good luck to him.

“It’s the only thing I’m really thinking of at the moment, just to do my job well, get paid for it and to try to bring the clubs to the next level in any possible way.”

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