World soccer mourns death of Dutch master Cruyff

Mon Mar 28, 2016 2:05pm EDT
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(Corrects Dutch scorer in 1974 World Cup final to Neeskens in para 19 of story issued on March 24)

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Johan Cruyff, one of soccer's greatest players and most influential and visionary coaches, died aged 68 on Thursday after a five-month battle with lung cancer.

The death of the Dutchman, whose creative genius on the pitch and inventive brilliance as a coach changed the modern game, prompted an outpouring of tributes to a figure hailed as doing more than anyone to "to make the beautiful game beautiful".

In his heyday in the early 1970s, Cruyff, slender, quick-witted and outrageously gifted, helped a generation of soccer fans across the world see the game in a different light.

Unquestionably the best player in the world in that period, he was voted three times winner of the prestigious Ballon d'Or so that he is now often mentioned alongside the pair widely considered the finest to have played the game, Pele and Diego Maradona.

Brazilian Pele said on Thursday: "Johan Cruyff was a great player and coach. He leaves a very important legacy for our family of soccer. We have lost a great man."

Maradona said: "We will never forget you, mate" while another Argentine Lionel Messi, the world's best current player, added: "Another legend has left us today."

Cruyff, who had announced last October that he was suffering from lung cancer, had said only last month that he was "2-0 up in the first half" of his battle against the disease.

Poignantly, that turned out to be one of the last public statements made by the sage whose observations on the modern game were eagerly courted in global soccer, with his weekly column for De Telegraaf newspaper a must-read until the end.   Continued...

Dutch soccer legend Johan Cruyff directs during a pre-season friendly testimonial match playing for Ajax Legends against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in London July 22, 2006. REUTERS/Toby Melville