On Jan. 23, 1980, David (Sonny) Werblin, president of Madison Square Garden, and Jack Krumpe, his executive vice president, made a decision: they were going to get Johan Cruyff for the Washington Diplomats. d
They were in Washington that night for a series of meetings. Over dinner they discussed the Diplomats. Werblin mentioned to Krumpe that his friend Alan Rothenberg had told him he was thinking of selling the Los Angeles Aztecs. Rothenberg also had told him he would be interested in selling Cruyff before he sold the team.
At that point, Werblin and Krumpe agreed to enter the market. And so began a month of negotiations with the Aztecs and Cruyff, the 32-year-old Dutchman generally considered the world's best soccer player. Those negotiations culminated Friday when the Diplomats purchased Cruyff for $1 million from Los Angeles. The team has signed him to a three-year contract worth about $1.5 million.
Of course, other teams were interested in acquiring Cruyff, including four in the North American Soccer League and another eight or 10 in Europe. Less than a year ago Werblin and Krumpe had passed up an opportunity to buy Cruyff when the Cosmos, which owned the NASL rights to him, put him on the market. The asking price was too steep. Warner Communications, which owns the Cosmos, had no interest in handing a superstar to Gulf and Western, which owns the Garden.
Had the asking price been more reasonable, Werblin and Krumpe probably would not have jumped. At the time, neither was convinced that the Diplomats belonged in Washington, or that it was worth spending big money on their new franchise.
That attitude changed -- slowly. Attendance improved at RFK Stadium as the season wore on. Washington's business community came on strong to help get the 1980 Soccer Bowl and the team president, Steve Danzansky, kept urging Werblin and Krumpe to make a spectacular move.
"Steve kept telling them they couldn't make a decision on Washington fairly until they had given the city a full shot," one team source said yesterday. "He kept on them about it."
Werblin and Krumpe found themselves with an opportunity to acquire the world's best player. And they took advantage of it.
Before dollars could be discussed with the Aztecs, Cruyff had to be convinced about Washington.
"Washington itself wasn't a problem," Krumpe said yesterday. "The problem was Johan having to move his family again. They had lived six different places in a year, had just moved into a new house and weren't too excited about moving cross-country."
Cruyff knew he would have to move eventually. As he pointed out yesterday, he knew the new Los Angeles owner probably was going to add a Mexican flavor to the team. A flying Dutchman, even if he did speak five languages, including Spanish, did not fit in.
Cruyff talked it over with his wife, Danny. If they were going to move it might as well be to a major city. Washington would be fine.
Now came intense negotiations with the Aztecs. "That was more frustrating than anything," Krumpe said.
But Werblin and Krumpe persisted. They realized the advantages to a deal of this stature.
"We knew," said Werblin, "that if we pulled this off we would turn the Diplomats from a North American Soccer League team into a major international attraction. It would be one of the biggest deals I've ever made."
Which is saying something for Werblin, who turns 70 on March 17 and has built stars, stadiums, teams and leagues in his lengthy sports career.
After at least a dozen meetings and numerous phone calls between the Garden and the Aztecs, the deal was struck. One factor contributed heavily: Cruyff told the Los Angeles people that he wanted Washington. That weakened L.A.'s bargaining position.
Friday, with Werblin sick with the flu, Krumpe and Danzansky flew to Los Angeles and closed the deal. Cruyff flew to Washington Monday and will start house-hunting today.
The Diplomats already have taken their first steps toward the international limelight: Krumpe said the team was considering tours of the Far East and of Europe in 1981.
Cruyff seemed pleased yesterday to be here. Danzansky, who still tells stories about the Dips playing in fron to 350 people at Woodson High School, was beaming. So was Coach Gordon Bradley. And so was general manager Andy Dolich.
"Cruyff gives us the total credibility and viability we need in the Washington sports community," he said. "Our attendance was, 13,000 per game last year and we are looking toward the 20,000-range per game. It will make a game like the New York Cosmos on June 1 the biggest soccer event witnessed in this city.
"Cruyff won't give us an overnight success. We 're going to have to go out and market and sell our product more aggressively than ever before."
But maybe Werblin was the happiest of all. This was clearly his show and he enjoyed the attention and the swarm of media people was suddenly wanted to talk soccer.
As he looked around the crowded room, Werblin thought lack on the last month. "After we finally made the deal," he said, "I looked at Jack and I said, 'If this doesn't do it, nothing will.' Now, we've done everything we can do."