The name Johan Cruyff is one that for many, both in the world of football and beyond, will likely stir a significant memory, whether that be of something magical he executed on the pitch, a moment of his notorious rebelliousness or a generous act of philanthropy. He has often been described as the greatest footballer who ever lived, however, it could be argued that doesn’t do justice to the complexity and depth of such an innovative mind. Cruyff’s football legacy will always be entrenched within the game given his unbelievable talent and revolutionary transition into management, but his heritage goes far beyond this, with The World of Johan Cruyff encompassing The Cruyff Institute and The Cruyff Foundation in addition to his fashion label, Cruyff Classics, and his football consultancy, Cruyff Football.
Soccerex’s Freddie Rose caught up with Carole Thate, General Manager at The World of Johan Cruyff, to discuss the organisation’s role in protecting Johan’s legacy and share some stories on what made the man one of the most iconic sportsmen of the twentieth century.
Freddie Rose: Hi Carole, many thanks for speaking with me today. Following Johan’s sad passing last year his remarkable legacy has been recognized far and wide across the football industry, with The World of Johan Cruyff embodying all that he represented. Could you begin by providing an overview of the many facets of the organization and your role within it?
Carole Thate: The World of Johan Cruyff (WoJC) represents all of the official initiatives that are started and inspired by Johan Cruyff. The WoJC is at the moment mainly a platform where all Cruyff-initiatives (from non profit to commercial) are part of, share developments, work together and are represented. My role is to manage this, on behalf of the brand Cruyff, in name of Johan’s philosophy and in close cooperation with the Cruyff family and various representatives of the different Cruyff organizations.
FR: The fact that your organization has so many arms to it truly reflects the spirit of Johan and the many characteristics that he had as an innovator, a businessman and of course, a philanthropist. To what extent is the diversity of the organization’s work at the heart of your strategy moving forward?
CT: The diversity is an asset and at times also a challenge, but this is all very much in line of Johan’s spirit. The starting point is the brand Cruyff and the unique elements/characteristics that are closely related to its founder. Personality traits like ‘social’, ‘rebellious’, ‘original’, ‘positive’, ‘street-smart’, ‘passionate’, ‘inspirational’ are very much looked for in the way we want to position each Cruyff organization. But, just like in any team sport, each Cruyff organization has a responsibility to be the best they can be in their own field; so all together we can be the best team. Our strategy moving forward is to build the Cruyff brand based on its variety and uniqueness. The WoJC is a tribute to his vision of football and life. A tribute that we can always be better. That we can always do better.
FR: For all of his many contributions to the world, Johan will always be remembered as possibly the greatest football visionary we have seen. Whilst his ‘total football’ ideologies live on at Ajax and FC Barcelona’s respective De Toekomst and La Masia academies, Cruyff Football seeks to offer consultancy to clubs and federations looking to incorporate Johan’s philosophies. How does the Cruyff Football team go about helping its clients to adopt these philosophies?
CT: A nice thing about Johan was that if you would ask for his opinion, turn to him for help or advice, he would never just give you the answer straight away. He would listen, return questions and then, very subtly, force you to analyze and think for yourself. He had a deep conviction and natural understanding that there is no one size fits all solution to a great variety of problems. The way Cruyff Football works is a reflection of Johan's approach. It's about being a guide, transferring knowledge and empowering clubs and federations.
A Cruyff Football project will typically start with an analysis of the current situation within a club or a football nation as well as the challenges at hand. Then Cruyff Football and the client will design a plan, together, combining the Cruyff philosophy with specific project characteristics. The next phase is about implementing the solutions together. Cruyff Football will help as a guide. And finally, evaluate. That's another important Cruyffian lesson: be open to learn every day, because you can always do better. We believe that this is the best way to go, especially in the world of football.
Just like Johan, Cruyff Football has the pioneering spirit. It's the first initiative of its kind, offering quality football knowledge to clubs and nations worldwide. In a neutral role, which is essential. There's a growing demand for football knowledge, not just in Europe, but also in the developing football nations. Take China for example, the World's most populous country with great ambitions in football. That type of challenge fascinated Johan. And his philosophy has proven to produce beautiful football and creative homegrown players, so it's only natural that people are curious to learn more about it. Johan is no longer with us to play his part, but it's reassuring that his son Jordi, Wim Jonk and his team will help guard and spread his vision through Cruyff Football.
FR: In a career that saw so many successes both as an individual and as part of a team, Johan still portrayed a belief that entertainment and flair were at the heart of the way he wanted to express himself on the game. The pressure on coaches and the short term objectives of football clubs in our current generation is such that often style and expression is replaced by tactical pragmatism. Do you see restoring a focus on entertainment and principles as a crucial part of maintaining Johan’s legacy?
CT: One of Johan's most telling quotes is that you need both quality and results. Results without quality is boring, quality without results is pointless. I am not a football expert and Wim Jonk can explain this much better, but I know this is the core of Johan's philosophy. He did not believe in a way of thinking that says: it's either this or that and you will need to sacrifice entertainment to win games.
Football history has proven that teams can win trophies with attractive football. FC Barcelona and Bayern Munchen are very recent examples. Johan always said that these are the teams and trophies that will be remembered most. Ultimately, the game is played for the fans. Therefore, upholding the basic principles of attractive football and entertaining the fans is not just Johan's legacy. It's the responsibility of all who make a living out of football and an inevitable part of any sustainable development of the game.
FR: One of the biggest components of The World of Johan Cruyff is the Cruyff Institute which currently has over 7,000 students globally. Much like Johan himself the institute began in Amsterdam, as an extension of The Cruyff Academy, before growing overseas in Barcelona, and then establishing bases in Peru, Stockholm and Mexico City. Upon its establishment in 1999 what were the initial objectives of the institute and how have these developed over time?
CT: Johan Cruyff founded the Institute with the aim of offering athletes the opportunity to continue their studies whilst developing their sports careers. It was (and still is) a challenge for many active athletes to train, compete and perform at a high level and attend and continue classes. The Johan Cruyff Institute offers them flexible study plans, guiding the student athlete through the learning process in a very customized manner. This unique methodology has proven to also be successful for sports professionals in general and for graduates aspiring to develop their professional careers in sports. This is how the Johan Cruyff Institute broadened up its scope over the past 18 years.
Furthermore, by making a strategic move in 2008 and establishing the unit for techno pedagogical design in Barcelona where HQ are based, the Institute achieved further global growth and diversification. Cruyff Alumni of our on-campus and online programs, are from all over the world, working in many fields of the global sports industry.
FR: The campus in Barcelona, a city very close to Johan’s heart, has recently started enrollment for a new FC Barcelona Master in Football Business course in partnership with the club. The syllabus includes 5 key modules centered on FC Barcelona’s history, business operations, strategy, management and philosophy. What about the club’s business model do you believe makes it so exemplary for students of football business to learn from?
CT: FC Barcelona is one of the only clubs in the world that combine top performance in business, sport and community activities, which we believe to be the three main forces of a football organization. A club has to deliver performance on the pitch, be focused in developing revenues, reducing costs and increasing efficiency, and also have a strong commitment to the community where it is based at. FC Barcelona ticks all these boxes and that is why we believe it is such an exemplary organization for students.
FR: The course will undoubtedly be a fantastic opportunity for its students and will even feature a number of lessons taking place at the iconic, Camp Nou, as well as project management tasks focusing on the club’s operations. Can you give an insight into what kind of projects your students will be involved in?
CT: The students will be involved with real and challenging projects that are being dealt with by clubs on a daily basis by the time the specific module starts. They will cover simple tasks, such as how to solve a minor match day problem that may be affecting a small group of fans, to very complex projects such as developing new business opportunities for the club in different locations around the world.
FR: Famed for his elegant style of play, Johan was renowned for his ability to turn football into an art form, both as a player and a manager, and this artistic passion is evident through both the Cruyff Classics fashion range and Johan’s insightful autobiography, My Turn. Do you feel the organization has a responsibility to honour Johan’s artistic heritage?
CT: For sure and it made Johan unique. We feel very responsible and honored to not only protect his legacy but to continue it. We are able to do so through the fashionable style in the clothes and shoes of Cruyff Classics. And we’re very proud that the autobiography is translated in over 21 languages. This gives us the opportunity to not only share Johan’s artistic and football heritage with so many people, but foremost give insight into the man who used all the lessons he learned in life in such a positive way that he can be an inspiration to many generations.
FR: The Cruyff Foundation, a fundamental pillar in Johan’s legacy, has had a tremendous impact on the lives of many young children, with over 200 Cruyff Courts built in neighborhoods around the world. What was the original inspiration behind the Foundation? And, moving forwards into its twentieth year, what are your aspirations for the charity?
CT: The Foundation celebrates its twentieth year in 2017, and in line with many of the Cruyff organizations that were initiated by Johan, it started from Johan’s own experience. In the case of the Foundation it started in America, when Johan played there. He was introduced to a boy living next door with Down syndrome. Without knowing and just by playing with him, Johan learned the importance of sports as a means to development, and how you can use sport to learn. Just by teaching this boy to head the ball, he gave himself confidence, Johan earned his trust and was able to not only teach him to swim but the boy started to play with other kids on the streets. There, in the US, Johan learned to look at the kids’ faces and the joy they had, all by playing with a ball, playing together and because they had fun.
The future aspirations of the Foundation are in line with what the Foundation has been doing the past 20 years. The Foundation strongly believes that active children move up. Therefore the 14-rules of Johan Cruyff about respect, responsibly and teamwork are visible on each Cruyff Court (public playground) and Schoolyard14 (existing schoolyard made more attractive) worldwide. These rules are an integral part of playing sports together. With the help of sponsors, donations, ambassadors and people willing to support its mission, the Foundation will continue its support especially for those in need, by realizing more Cruyff Courts, more Schoolyards14 and by supporting projects for children with a disability.
FR: As well as believing in sport’s power to engage young people from all walks of life, keep them healthy and interacting in a positive way, the Foundation also has a focus on increasing opportunities specifically for children with disabilities. What projects do you currently have underway that are aimed at helping children with disabilities?
CT: The Foundation’s approach is to work as a team, so also in its aim to help children with disabilities, we team-up with global and local organizations that are knowledgeable and committed to these special kids. The Foundation will continue implementing Cruyff Courts specifically adapted to children with a disability, like we did at the Paralympics in Rio for children who are deaf or hearing impaired. We also continue our partnership with the International Tennis Federation to introduce and embed wheelchair tennis in less developed countries. And recently, at our Cooking for Charity Event, we raised funds to buy 100 sport wheelchairs to donate to special schools and clubs.
FR: Finally, with The World of Johan Cruyff transcending a number of sectors including education, charity and fashion, how do you see the organization growing over the next five years? Are there additional industries you are looking to expand the Cruyff brand into that would further extend Johan’s legacy?
CT: The WoJC has the ambition to expand the Cruyff brand, and work together with committed people and organizations. We are very proud to already have so many committed and ambitious people working with us to grow and expand the Cruyff brand in the sectors of education, football, charity and fashion, but we are always open to welcome new initiatives into the WoJC.
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