Football

Football salutes Oranje wizard Cruyff

Who knows where Pep Guardiola will sit among the ranks of the greatest when he retires as a football manager?

The 45-year-old Spaniard won it all when he ruled at Barcelona.

He's threatening to do the same at Bayern Munich and next season, he will bring his considerable managerial skills to the hurly burly of the English Premier League at Manchester City.

Guardiola, though, knows where Johan Cruyff will rank.

Cruyff, who wore the No. 14 shirt for his country and led them as captain to the 1974 World Cup final, died on Thursday at the age of 68 after losing his battle with lung cancer.

Cruyff, already rated one of the greatest players of all time, was manager when Guardiola began his playing career at Barcelona.

In an emotional tribute, Guardiola, who was part of the Barcelona "Dream Team" that Cruyff coached to the club's first European Cup triumph in 1992, said yesterday: "One day, I went for dinner with my wife and my children and we were talking about Johan. One of my children, who had never met Johan, asked me who he was.

"I explained to him that it's as though you were going to a history lesson, or science or math, and you can't wait for that lesson with that teacher to start because he helps you love the class. My son said 'like Merlin?'

"We had Merlin, a person who helped us and was special."

GREAT MAN

All of his peers have acclaimed his precision passes, speed, technique and scoring ability which set new standards as a player.

"We have lost a great man. May we carry on his example of excellence," said Brazil's Pele.

"He leaves a very important legacy for our family of football."

"He was the best player of all time," French legend Michel Platini said.

"We will never forget you, skinny," said Argentina legend Diego Maradona.

The Holland international against France was halted in the 14th minute yesterday morning (Singapore time) to lead global tributes to the Dutch football legend, as fans and players applauded the footballer and coach.

A huge portrait banner showing Cruyff's back and his familiar Dutch orange No. 14 shirt was hauled across one end of the ArenA stadium in his home city of Amsterdam.

A seat covered with flowers and a No. 14 shirt was left empty in the VIP stand at a game which saw the Dutch slip to a 3-2 defeat against the hosts of the Euro 2016 tournament this summer. It was the first time that an international has been halted for such a gesture.

"Immortal," the Dutch popular daily De Telegraaf said, of Cruyff.

Fans are already clamouring for the Amsterdam ArenA to be renamed the Johan Cruyff Stadium.

"Cruyff was a trainer, an oracle and an Ajax revolutionary," said famous Dutch columnist Bert Wagendorp.

"A gifted football wizard who took the B-nation Dutch to the top of football's Olympus - an icon of an era, a youth hero and the carrier of Dutch dreams." - Wire Services.