Name a cliche used to describe the sensational and it has been used to describe Johan Cruyff. Fabulous. Brilliant. Spectacular. Wonderful. Superb. Unreal. And magic.
Why magic? Because Cruyff, like a magician, leaves you wondering how he pulls off his tricks. When Dave Kingsman hits a home run there is no mystery involved. He swings as hard as he can, makes contact and the ball disappears. When John Riggins runs over people going into the end zone it is easy to understand what he has done.
Not Cruyff. At 5 feet 9 and 150 pounds he is not terribly strong. Or terribly quick. Or terribly fast.
"I'm not exactly sure what it is," said Dallas Tornado midfielder Tony Bellinger after marking Cruyff all game yesterday. "You know he's pretty fast and pretty quick but you never know how fast or how quick. One minute he's just standing there, the next minute he has the ball and he's past you.
"It's as if he has wings or something. He's magic."
The date April 20, 1980 will not be one that Johan Cruyff remembers when he is an old man and reflects on his soccer career.
It was what players call a rather" quiet" game for Cruyff. For others perhaps, mere players, it would be considered a special day. Not for Cruyff.
Consider: the first three times Cruyff touched the ball in the first half, Bellinger fouled him. "I was nevous," Bellinger said. "I was marking Johan Cruyff."
Cruyff was not happy during the first half even though it ended with the Dips leading, 2-0. He started the game working the middle of the field, trying to set up strikers Alan Green and Bobby Stokes on the outside.
The tactic was not working.
"If I am going to work in the middle the other players must go to the open spaces on the outside," Cruyff said, wrapping a long brown towel around him in a hint to writers still around his locker 30 minutes after the game that he might like to take a shower.
"Finally I decided to go to the outside myself. I don't mind that but it should not be one player on the outside, it should be rotated."
Cruyff's teammates did not rotate as he wanted in the first half and he let them know he was not pleased. Once when defender Nick Mijatovic passed elsewhere than to Cruyff when he thought he was open, Cruyff stopped, threw his arms in the air and yelled, "For God's sake, Nick!"
Moments later, when another play failed to develop, Cruyff stopped dead in his tracks. "Come on, people," he implored. "Somebody please move."
Throughout the half he kept looking at Coach Gordon Bradley on the bench as if to say, "Do something," Bradley only smiled each time Cruyff waved his arms in disgust.
"That's Johan's way," Bradley said. and yelling I would wonder what was wrong with him." The Talking Machine
If there is one tangible that everyone who has dealt with Cruyff talks about, it is his mouth.
It is always open.
In fact, Cruyff's longtime coach, Rinus Michels, once said that if Cruyff has a weakness as a player it is that sometimes he talks too much.
On the field, Cruyff talks to everyone. He talks to teammates. He talks to opponents. He talks to his bench. He talks to the officials.
Early in the second half yesterday referee Tony Evangelista missed a call, giving Dallas possession on an out-of-bounds play where Bellinger was clearly the last to touch the ball.
"What?" Cruyff cried, hands held high over his head. "Aren't you looking? Didn't you see?"
Evangelista merely pointed to indicate Dallas' ball.
Cruyff smiled. "You know you are wrong," he said. "Think next time. Think."
For such blasphemous words some players might draw a yellow card or at least a warning. Evangelista smiled at Cruyff.
But Cruyff usually puts his mouth to good use. As the cliche goes, he communicates. "We need to talk to each other more on the field," he said. "Sometimes we're not thinking alike so we must talk."
Maybe, later in the season, Cruyff will let his teammates get in a word edgewise. The Setup Expert
Cruyff has yet to score a goal in four games with the Diplomats. But if there were a category for chances created, he would lead the league.
Yesterday, he produced his fourth assist of the season. It came 10 minutes into the second half. The Diplomats were in control at midfield. Cruyff waited a moment as they tossed it back and forth among themselves, then came to meet the ball.
Almost before the ball was on his foot it was off his foot as he clipped a pass downfield to Joe Horvath, who had come open on the right side. Horvath made a gorgeous move, pulling goalkeeper Billy Phillips out and sliding the ball to Green.
Goal, Green. Assists, Horvath and Cruyff. Only PA anouncer Jim Elliott doesn't announce it quite that way. He draws Green's name out. Horvath's too.
Then a pause. "And the second assist to (May I have the envelope please?) Jo-hannnnn . . . Cruyffff." The crowd reacts. Sitting in his box, Sonny Werblin smiles. A Head for Defense
Defense. It is not Cruff's forte. It is not for this the Diplomats are paying him $1.5 million over three years.
But when the game is on the line, Cruyff plays defense.
When the Tornado had trimmed a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 and it seemed the Dips were ready to wilt, Dallas put on the pressure.
Cruyff, running up on the wing earlier, was now in the defensive end. Each time Dallas had a corner kick he was in the middle of the penalty box, shouting instructions and pushing and shoving with Dallas players for position.
When the ball floated into the middle, two heads seemed to rise above the others, Cruyff's and that of 6-foot-2 defender Mijatovic. Dallas hit the crossbar twice, but never got even. A wing the Opponent
Tony Bellinger is 22, an American, a three-year veteran of the North American Soccer League. This day, his assignement was Cruyff.
Faced with the biggest challenge of his life, Bellinger played well, scoring a goal and adding an assist.But he spent much of the day chasing Cruyff.
"It's his first move, the first step," Bellinger said. "It's as if he has it planned before he gets the ball. You set yourself, you know what he's going to do, then suddenly he's by you. I knew he would do it a few times and I would need help. Luckily, most times I got it."
Sometimes, the help wasn't always there from other Dallas players. If Cruyff had one magic moment on this balmy afternoon it came midway through the second half.
Green sent a long cross to Cruyff on the right side of the net. The pass looked too high. Suddenly, Cruyff's right leg shot out and stopped the ball. It dropped at his right foot.
Now Bellinger made his move, diving toward the ball. Too late. Cruyff Cruyff had it on his left foot and had side-stepped Bellinger. Phillips moved to meet him and he slid a perfect pass to Green. Ooops. Green could not tee it up and shot the ball smack at Phillips.
"Never should have been missed," Green said later, voice laced with disgust. Shirt Off His Back
When the whistle blew and the Dips were 4-2 winners, Bellinger Headed straight for Cruyff.
"I wanted his jersey," Bellinger said. "I'm sure I'm not the first one to ask or the last."
Without hesitation Cruyff stripped off the jersey and handed it to Bellinger. The two shook hands.
For Bellinger a thrill, "something I'll tell my kids about."
For John Cruyff, a quiet day.