Johan Cruyff changed football forever, says Guillem Balague

Johan Cruyff has been diagnosed with lung cancer, according to reports in Spain

Johan Cruyff changed the shape of football forever through his philosophy for the game, says Guillem Balague.

Three-time Ballon d'Or winner Cruyff passed away on Thursday at the age of 68 after a long battle with lung cancer, and tributes have since poured in from around the world.

Sky Sports' Spanish football expert Balague believes the former Barcelona player and manager did not just shape the philosophy of the Catalan giants for the better, but had a lasting impact on the game which is still evident today.

Dutch legend Cruyff dies

Dutch legend Cruyff dies

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff has died after a long battle with lung cancer at the age of 68

"He is a genius, perhaps the most important person in the history of football both as a player and a manager," Balague said. "He changed football when it was going in a completely different direction.

"Cruyff is a religion, and much of what happens in football has been copied from his religion. The closest to a football God you can find in Barcelona. The club is very proud of the past, and Cruyff shaped much of that.

He was a genius, perhaps the most important person in the history of football, both as a player and a manager.
Guillem Balague on Johan Cruyff

"His philosophy was very successful, and copied by the Spain national side, to great success also. In the 1990's, the football was all about physicality, and Cruyff went against the tide. The Dream Team went against it. And later, Pep Guardiola went against the strong sides like Jose Mourinho's Porto by playing offensive football - all that is down to Johan Cruyff."

As a player with Barcelona, Cruyff helped the club to their first La Liga title in 34 years in 1973/74, his first season in Catalonia, and was crowned European footballer of the year. 

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May 1992:  The Barcelona team celebrate after beating Sampdoria 1-0 to win the European Cup Final between Barcelona v Sampdoria. Barcelona won 1-0. Mandato
Image: Cruyff's Barcelona 'Dream Team' won the European Cup in 1992 at Wembley

However, it was as Barca manager that Cruyff would transform the club. 

"When Cruyff came to Barcelona as a player, he helped them win the title after a long while of not winning," said Balague. "At the time, they were much weaker than Real Madrid. He started delivering a winning mentality - and then, later as a coach, he changed the mentality of the club. 

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"It was the perfect marriage when he came in as manager. Barca had already in the past linked themselves to good football - there were Hungarian players who came over to play for them in the 1950s and the fans appreciated good football generally. But he had ideas of how to make that work.

Charlie Nicholas tells the tale of playing against his footballing hero Johan Cruyff when Celtic met Ajax in the European Cup

"Straight away he did two things which changed the history of Barcelona. 

"The first was the selection of players. He always saw things differently to others and that was a philosophy of his life. Someone told him a player in the 'B' team played the ball well, but when he went to watch them the player was on the bench. He asked why and was told that the player was too weak. 

Johan Cruyff in quotes

Johan Cruyff in quotes

Johan Cruyff: The Barcelona and Netherlands legend in quotes

"Cruyff brought the player into the first team and started using him for his intelligence. It was Pep Guardiola. 

"The second thing he changed was how the Barcelona academy worked. He asked the president at the time to allow all of the Barcelona teams to play the same way. They started doing that and now we've seen the consequence of it."

ROME - MAY 27:  Josep Guardiola coach of Barcelona is  thrown into the air by his players as they celebrate winning the UEFA Champions League Final match b
Image: Pep Guardiola was influenced by Cruyff's thinking

Cruyff's influence has stretched into the modern Barcelona set-up - but also into the wider game, says Balague. 

"When Barcelona were having discussions about appointing Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola as manager, they decided to go for Pep because they saw he represented what Cruyff had implemented at the club. 

"From there Barcelona went on to have huge success and Spain won the World Cup with many Barcelona players in their side. 

"He has influenced young coaches all over the world. If you don't know anything about him, you have to read about him. It will help you understand a lot about football, and also that there is another way of living - to challenge things and think differently."

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