If you have to evaluate the weight of talent to distinguish the category of a player, Johan Cruyff was indisputably among the best. If we add to that his influence as a coach in the evolution of the game, the sum leaves no doubt: Johan is unrivalled. A genius in practice and a genius in knowledge.
He was a very jealous coach of his independence, he didn't want anyone to come between him and his players. He had more than enough prestige and imagination to shield his position and when things got ugly he was categorical. To Xavi, when he was just a coaching project, he gave this advice in his approximate Spanish: "The only way to survive in that position is to send the president to take punches, not to get involved and, if not, say goodbye and good night."
Although we came to develop the profession on opposite shores, he at Barça and I at Madrid, I admired him a lot. As a player, I faced him once with no more story than a few minor anecdotes. As a coach, we reached another level of complicity that was strengthened in the confrontations. He always played for Barça and I was first at Tenerife and later at Real Madrid. In my first season at Madrid we were champions. In the next one we started badly, we couldn't find a way to get back on track and as Madrid is one of the teams in the world that is worst related to defeats, when we reached the Clasico in the middle of the year, my situation was one of weakness. In the previous season we had settled the duel at the Bernabéu with an "unforgettable" 5-0. At that point, that feat had been forgotten and he had to win to survive in office. The match was even and so was the result: 1-1. Insufficient.
When, after the game, I was climbing, like a banshee, the stairs of the tunnel, I saw that Johan was waiting for me at the top as if we were on a date.
After greeting me with his usual affection, he went to the critical topic:
"You had to win and you tied.
I replied that everything was costing us a lot... But Johan wasn't there to analyze things, but as a friend and counselor.
"Do you know what you have to do?"
It was hard for me to understand what he was saying because I was still stuck in a loop, thinking about the game. That's when he gave me his infallible medicine, only in a more forceful dose than the one he offered Xavi.
"Go to the press conference and kill your president."
"For what reason?"
"Anybody. Make one up, but kill it.
Johan was a genius at overcoming crises. On one occasion, they were about to fire him and he leaked to the press the ten conditions he set for the managers to get out of the chaos, and ended the note with a warning: "otherwise, I'm leaving." He took over the center of the stage and magically changed the axis of the controversy.
That wasn't my profile. I didn't even have the imagination to invent a media assassination. But I welcomed that advice as if it were a generous act of friendship between two mafia friends. It's even tender to be offered a knife to kill a president who is thinking about how to kill you. In legal terms it is justified, it is called self-defense. Since I'm not very clever and I wasn't Johan Cruyff, I appreciated the advice, but I didn't carry it out. A short time later I was thrown out on the street. Moral (for Xavi or for anyone who is in a bind): you have to listen to geniuses.
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