After dickering with the Cosmos for nearly a year and playing two exhibition games for them, Johan Cruyff is a Los Angeles Aztec. The reason: Rinus Michels, who coached Cruyff both in the Netherlands and Spain, is the Aztec coach.
The signing of Cruyff May 22 by the North American Soccer League Aztecs for a reported $2 million for the next two years raises a number of questions about the future of the struggling franchise.
The Aztecs, even in 1977 when they had Steve David and George Best and won a division championship, have never drawn, either in Los Angeles Colliseum or their current home, the Rose Bowl.
Cruyff is not Pele. He is not going to turn crowds of 6,000 into 60,000 or even 16,000, as the crowd of 9,000 which showed up for his Rose Bowl debut would seem to indicate.
At 32 Cruyff is as skillful and entertaining a player as there is in the world. In 1974 he was the outstanding player in the World Cup, leading Holland into the championship game.
But despite his skills and his records in Europe, Cruyff is not a natural drawing card, although his presence in the Aztec lineup eventually may help attendance because he should help make them one of the top teams in the league.
The club, bolstered greatly by Michels' coaching, was 6-2 when Cruyff joined a reeled off two victories before losing to New England Wednesday, 1-0.
Many around the league believe Cruyff was purchased to make the franchise more attractive for sale, although club officials deny this.
The Aztecs have been linked in recent weeks, with 20th Century Fox, a purchase that would add to the continuing pattern of conglomerates buying NASL teams. Already the Cosmos, the Washington Diplomats and the New England Tea Men are owned by major corporations.
"If they really did spend $2 million for Cruyff they must be looking to sell," said one league official. "Those three guys (owners Larry H. Friend, Don Reynolds, Allan Rothenberg) just don't have that kind of money to spend for long with the gates they're drawing. With Cruyff, that club's a good buy."
The Diplomats were delighted to see Cruyff sign with the Aztecs to see Cruyff sign with the Aztecs for two reasons: first, they play Los Angeles at home July 29 and will have tie to promote his Washington debut. Second, the game will be nationally televised and Cruyff's presence should at least give the ratings a lift.
The firing by the Cosmos of Eddie Firmani brings to four the number of coaches let go with the season only a third complete. Eddie mcReadie of Memphis, Terry Fisher of San Jose and John Sewell of the California Surf are the others.
More changes can be expected soon because few NASL clubs are secured enough at the gate to afford a long losing streak. Dan Wood in Atlanta (2-8) and Noel Cantwell in New England (4-9) are probably in the most trouble because their clubs also are doing poorly in attendance.
One of the season's top exhibition games both in terms of quality and importance to the league's status comes up Wednesday night in the Meadowlands when the Cosmos host 1978 World Cup champion Argentina.
The Cosmos are hoping to sell 77,600 seats in Giants Stadium for the game. Argentina is led by Daniel Pasarella, who the Diplomats tried unsuccessfully to purchase during the offseason.
One of the league's most underrated players is Vancouver goalkeeper Phil Parkes. The 31-year-old Englishman led the Whitecaps to their 24-6 record last season with a league-leading 0.95 goals-against average and had 10 shutouts.