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Mentor Cruyff’s flame still burns bright: Wim Jonk

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – The late Dutch legend Johan Cruyff’s philosophy of attacking football is still relevant despite the emphasis placed on results by club owners, former Netherlands international Wim Jonk told AFP.

The 50-year-old was asked by a dying Cruyff to keep the flame of ‘Cruyff Football’ burning.

And he said the young Ajax side that lost to Manchester United in last season’s Europa League final exemplified this as they were largely players he and the Dutch master had imbued with his beliefs when Jonk was in charge of the club’s Academy.

“There is a future for Cruyff’s philosophy,” said Jonk after speaking at the Soccerex Global Convention.

“It was a special moment the Europa League final because we (him and Cruyff) trained all those players.

“That was for me great to watch because I knew at the end of our time in charge of the Academy this success will come.

“It was a very good thing as (then Ajax coach) Peter Bosz believed in Cruyff.

“You could feel it in the stadium as well as the players were enjoying playing that way and the crowd were loving watching them play in that style.”

He says Bosz, now with Borussia Dortmund, has to varying degrees of success implemented Cruyff’s key principles.

These included always playing the ball forwards,  trying to recover the ball within three seconds rather than losing 50 metres, and the ‘third man’ which sees one player on the ball, another looking for space and then a third one running from behind to take the pass.

– ‘I will get up again’ –

Jonk admits even the likes of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola — who as Barcelona boss deployed a lot of what he learned under Cruyff when he was a player under the Dutchman at Barca — and Ronald Koeman at Everton had to rein in their enthusiasm.

“Guardiola when he went to Bayern admitted to me it would be problematic as he was taking on a team that had won everything,” said Jonk.

“However, he still tried to implement some of Cruyff’s principles which was very special.

“Koeman is a very realistic coach, he wants to bring in young players but also he is not taking too many risks because these days 3-4 games you could be gone and that is a problem especially as owners have different visions.”

“It depends on whether one takes a short term approach or a long term approach,” said Jonk, capped 49 times and a member of the hugely-talented Dutch side that lost on penalties to Brazil in the 1998 World Cup semi-finals.

Jonk, who at club level won the UEFA Cup (the predecessor of the Europa League) with Ajax and then Inter Milan, says managers also face a problem in the teams they inherit.

“Cruyff’s principles depend on the players epecially when you work with 26 or 27 year-olds,” said Jonk, who was brought to Ajax as a player by Cruyff who then promptly left to take over Barcelona.

“You have to change the mentality of how they see the game and what is in their DNA.

“You have to find the right players to play that style and revel in the pressure to take it to the next level.

“The players at Barcelona knew what was required as it was in their system.

“Also in a team you need players who are special passers of the ball and can defend spaces like (Lionel) Messi or (Franck) Ribery.”

Jonk, who along with Cruyff parted company with Ajax in 2015 after a disagreement with the board over implementing the great man’s philosophy, says his mentor displayed the same positivity when he was dying of cancer which finally claimed him in March 2016.

“He did not talk much about his illness he was always positive,” said Jonk.

“For him there was no ‘I am going to die’, he was always positive on the phone saying ‘I will get up again’.”

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