Johan Cruijff’s vision

The following fictional interview with Johan Cruijff I wrote because I am a fan of him and his incomprehensible football statements were sometimes so philosophical that they seemed to relate to our lives themselves. To what extent can the game of football be compared to the game of life? I asked him in a heavenly dug-out.

Interview with Johan Cruijff


Hello Mr. Cruijff, I’d like to talk with you about football and life, as I see similarities between them.

That’s fine, I don’t have much to do right now anyway and I like to chat. And call me Johan, please.

Oh, that’s nice, thank you! By the way, I also lived in De Meer during my youth, just a few streets away, but never got to meet you. I guess we were just a few years and streets apart.

That could be indeed. I was terribly busy during my young football years, so the chance was already small. I was more or less led by the nose back then. Only on the field did I completely do my own thing.

Many people didn’t quite understand you. Or not at all, to put it better, and then they would say you were babbling again. They couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Whereas I actually saw you as a kind of football philosopher with a lot of knowledge. In my opinion, your vision extends far beyond the field.

Well… I think I’ve always been very clear. Sometimes I don’t even remember everything I’ve said, but I’m sure it made sense. I often cut through all the prevailing opinions, and then they couldn’t follow me anymore. Then they criticize instead of trying to understand. Then I would say, if I wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better, hahaha.

Yes, I know that expression from you! Well Johan, I see the game of football as a metaphor for life. In football, we have one ball, two football teams, and two goals on a playing field. That doesn’t seem coincidental to me.

No, that’s logical, because all team sports have matches with two teams. Always on a shared field. Never three or more teams. Look, you can play games like Ludo or Monopoly with three or four players against each other. But in team sports, that’s not the case. Never three teams on the field.

I think that’s because our world, our universe, is dual. Everything is determined by opposites. White-black, beautiful-ugly, good-bad, warm-cold, male-female, war-peace, and so on.

Exactly. The world actually revolves thanks to opposing forces. Everything gets set in motion because of them. And in football, you can see that very clearly: even though both clubs have the same goal in mind, they also each have the other goal in mind. Or actually two goals: one to score in and their own goal to defend. So, two goals, two halves on the field, two coaches. Two of everything clearly signifies competition within sport. You’re right.

We see that everywhere in our ‘game of life’, which means our world is largely in competition with each other, right? So, do you agree with me that football could be a metaphor for our lives?

Certainly, seems logical to me, we can delve deeper into it, see how that works, see how far we get.

Very gladly! Because there’s clearly a non-dual aspect in football that makes the game possible: the ball! There’s only one ball. I think there’s also such a single aspect in our life game, without which no game would be possible. A unique non-dual aspect.

Also logical, the ball is the most essential part of football. You see that one thing makes the whole game possible. Throw a second ball onto the field and the game is dead. Then nothing works anymore. Then everything falls away for which this game is intended. Completely aimless and without a goal, therefore.

Yes, it’s like a ‘third point’, a connecting aspect that connects opponents.

Indeed, without the ball, there’s no game possible. You can’t play without that ball, which is ‘sacred’ for both sides in a way. There’s only one ball, and you have to do something with it, and what it essentially comes down to is what do you do with that ball? I’ve sometimes said that playing football is a simple game and that the hardest thing is playing simple football. So, it seems logical to me that you keep it a bit simple in life too. Make as few mistakes as possible, because whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins, you could say. Simplicity wins over all kinds of complicated stuff. You have to know the basic principles of the game, it’s the same in life.

Is there anything else needed in life?

Well, what truly connects us is not that ball, but football itself, of course. We all love football equally, there’s no fuss about that. Football itself is what you call a ‘third point’, which connects the duality into one, not the ball. That ball… that’s what we fight over. It’s your means to play, and you have to focus all your attention on it to reach your goal. In that regard, you should always play the ball and never the man.
Also, you have to learn to ‘read’ life so you can adapt when necessary, with the right mentality and good basic techniques. By the way, I used to evaluate all the young talents in De Meer based on these three aspects. But football itself is the connection between clubs, and also with the audience. So, life could also connect all people, because who doesn’t love life?

Isn’t it just about pláying in football, and therefore also in life, instead of winning?

It’s about playing indeed. Life, like football, is a game, and everyone is invited to make it a fun game. But here it’s a bit more nuanced than with football. Although, it’s certainly about, just like in football, playing your life attractively. Playing beautifully, honestly, and intelligently without diving and flopping. You also want to make a match as attractive as possible for your audience and everyone. That’s normal. If two teams make it a thrilling football feast right from jumping off, with fair play at the highest level, then everyone is happy and satisfied afterwards. Look, it could go gold or iron, because it could go either way. This emphasizes the importance of being able to deal with uncertainty. Making the right decisions, but also being able to handle losing and failure. That’s the same in life. But after a really beautiful match, even those who lose don’t feel bad, because they also brought out the best in themselves. So, then you’re talking about beauty and excellence. Actually, nobody loses then. As soon as the game is not played fairly, negatively, those things disappear. Also, in your life, pleasure and motivation disappear first if the game isn’t played fairly and the system is being cheated.
(Johan rubbed his nose and mouth here, a familiar gesture of his)

Are there any more non-dual aspects in football?

Non-dual…? Oh, wait… I understand. You mean what applies to everyone. Sure, you play with rules that apply to both teams. Then you’re talking about only playing the ball with your feet. That you’re allowed to head but keep your hands at home. Furthermore, there’s a referee (okay, he has two footmans) who watches these rules and decides who’s right in case of violations. You might get a free kick, or the other might even get a card. We all have to follow rules, although you have to be clever about it. You can cleverly manipulate rules.

Football takes place on a limited playing field, with fixed dimensions, lines, and markings. Don’t we also have such a field in our lives where invisible lines are drawn? Where we have to play with our abilities and talents, but also our limitations?

Yes, that’s logical. In a favorable case, you have talent and perseverance, and hopefully, in situations, a capable team around you who pursues the same goals and complements you. It’s about flexibility and your ability to switch positions. You shouldn’t limit yourself to one position but be able to play in different positions, making your teammates and your club stronger as a whole. Like football, life is a game of insight, not power. You have to make decisions based on understanding how the game works. So, anticipate your opponent but also your teammates. It’s always about teamwork and cooperation. Success depends on that. Furthermore, you have to dare to take risks. You have to dare to fail in order to succeed. And you have to be inventive and innovative, constantly looking for new ways to achieve your goal. Thinking outside the box. I strongly believe in the power of the mind, and in that regard, you have to become mentally resilient. You have to believe in yourself, even in difficult situations. And have respect for your opponents, on the field and off the field.

It’s also about dedication, isn’t it?

Look, lad, I have a deep passion and love for football. My passion was the driving force behind all my success, and I always encouraged my players to play with passion and enjoy it! And you have to trust in your own abilities. Self-confidence, and belief in your own abilities, even when it gets tough or you get injured. Life is actually a lifelong learning, where continuous improvement is crucial for success, both personally and professionally, you understand? For example, I don’t see mistakes as failures but as opportunities to improve. You have to learn lessons from them, both on and off the field. Focus on the process and not on the end result. Success will come naturally if you set and make goals, work hard, and go all in.

Well, those are clear guidelines!
Football also has clear rules. Does life have those too?

You could say that life also has many rules. Societal rules, but also moral ones. Many don’t know them, or don’t understand them, so they are violated. You can compare it to offside. That rule isn’t there for nothing. It’s really not okay to wait as a striker right in front of the nose of a goalkeeper for a ball from the backline, just to easily score. So, in that regard, without such a rule, it wouldn’t work at all. Nowadays, this offside rule is often violated in life by all kinds of people, because they think they can operate outside the law.

But we do have societal referees, who in case of such violations decide: judges.

Judges, yes, although nowadays there are judges you think… well… let’s not go there. I’ve often had clashes with referees myself. Sometimes they wander around like blind men. But okay, there are also natural laws that ‘decide’ what happens to you if you violate them. For example, you can train too intensely and injure yourself. Or get burned in the sun, or die if you drunkenly drive your car. So, during football, you can get ‘red’ for idiotic violations. And then you’re out. Or you can get a concussion if you head too wildly. You can’t escape those kinds of rules in your life. Easy as pie. You have to use your brains.

Is there a universal referee in life?

What do you think? Can you imagine a match without a referee? Okay, in life, there often isn’t a clear referee to be found, but at some point, your violations are apparently seen by some higher authority… and then you either get confronted with them right away, or you get a ‘card’ whose consequences you only notice later. Then you’re talking about karma! That’s what they call it here in the afterlife.

Aha, so karma could be compared to a form of a judicial procedure? Like in football, a disciplinary consequence afterwards by a disciplinary committee?

You can indeed see it like that! Although you shouldn’t see this too simply, of course. The task of human understanding is to understand that it cannot understand. Do you understand? The truth is never exactly as you think it would be. I’m not the type to chase after things I don’t understand, although I’m often knowledgeable about it.

Well, all very instructive. Thank you very much, Johan. I remain a fan of yours even though you’ve gone ‘in transition’, globally the very best footballer who showed us all how the game should be played.

In transition…? Well, just call it as dead as a doornail. It’s of course nice to hear, but you make sure to become your own fan, by playing your own game of life very well and cleverly. Life should also be a party, right? As a coach, I often said to the boys after the match: if you couldn’t do better, you did excellent!
By the way, I see that you have already quoted me on your website… about how people cannot win against you, but that you can still lose to them…

Yes, I wrote a piece about integrity. About what being integrous actually entails. You gave me the inspiration I needed for this!

Nice! Glad I could help you.

© Michiel Koperdraat