Have we oversold Johan Cruyff?
"You haven't oversold Johan Cruyff as a star of soccer," said Gordon Bradley. "Not at all. Johan need not play one good game for the Washington Diplomats to be a star of soccer forever. He may not be a star in Washington, but he certainly is in the world of soccer."
May not be a star in Washington?
For $2.5 million, Johan Cruyff may not be a star in Washington?
"Do not misunderstand me," said Bradley, the Diplomats' coach. "I definitely think Johan will come through here. He will show what a player he is. He has done it in spasms to this point, but he will come through. He is too good a player not to."
When the Diplomats put out $4 million to buy Cruyff, Juan Jose Lozano and Wim Jansen this spring, the deals were seen as sign certain that the soccer team not only was serious about making a financial success in Washington but also wanted the artistic glories such wonderful players would produce.
Well, 3-3 isn't very artistic.
The Diplomats have won half their games so far in this young season.
And Cruyff, whose stature in soccer is second only of Pele's -- Johan Cruyff, The Flying Dutchman -- who once scored 11 goals in a game -- Johan Cruyff, the North American Soccer League's most valuable player a year ago when he had 13 goals and 16 assists in 23 games -- Johan Cruyff hasn't scored a goal yet for the Diplomats. He has three assists.
Now to worry, Gordon Bradley says.
"I'm not bothered by who scores," the coach said. "But Cruyff is a premier goal scorer. He will get his share of goals. He can score. I have no question in my mind that he will score often. When he has the ball at his feet, he is electric."
But, Gordon. For $2.5 million, the Diplomats ought to get goals, not guys with electric feet. The Flying Dutchman, he is without wings. A teammate knocked him in the newspaper last week, suggesting Cruyff is not the player he was in 1979. And others surely resent Cruyff's habitual reprimands, complete with gestures and scowls, over what he perceives as their failings during a game.If Reggie Jackson dealt with his teammates this way, someone would soon massage his scalp with a Louisville Slugger. Who does Cruyff think he is. Mr. Perfect?
"This is his manner," Bradley said, "and perhaps the players used to listen to him too intently and wanted to do everything he wanted them to do. It got to the point, perhaps, where they were nervous because they wanted to do everything right for him."
That has changed now. The Diplomats are learning to listen to Cruyff and when to judge his carpings as blather whose only use is to give Cruyff's mouth something to do. His old coach, Rinus Michels, who coached Cruyff at his greatest in Spain and then last year in Los Angeles, has said the only defect in Cruyff's soccer is that he talks too much. certain that he could antagonize his own buddies with his incessant chatter.
Especially when the team is 3-3 and he hasn't scored a goal yet.
Cruyff's work with the Diplomats has been hampered, Bradley said, by a nagging sciatic nerve that numbs the bak of one leg and sends pain into the calf. The homelife aggravation of moving this spring from Los Angeles to Washington has left Cruyff a bit unsettled, too.
Not that the paying customers care a whit about such. At halftime of last Sunday's game against California at RFK, many of the 13,379 patrons booed the Diplomats, at that point trailing, 1-0. The booing is a mark of having arrived, of course, for the fans boo only when they have reason to expect better. Until this season, there were no expectations at all.
At halftime of that game, Gordon Bradley was worried. "We were headed toward a 2-4 record, and in the dressing room it was said by all of us, 'This could be the turning point of our season.'
"But in the second half, we dictated the game.We turned ourselves around. We supported one another, we ran for one another and for those last 45 minutes we put on an offensive display that I have seen only flashes of earlier. We could have run up six goals."
The 3-1 victory Sunday may have been a turning point, indeed, but a positive turn instead of the downhill slide Bradley feared. That's because Bradley saw, for the first time in these Diplomats, the essential ingredient of any champion in any sport: aggressiveness.
"In a roundabout way, the criticisms of Johan and Johan's answers in the newspaper last week did us some good," Bradley said. "We haven't gotten off to the start we all wished for. We have the greatest bunch of players we've ever had here, and it just hurt their pride to be playing below the form they're capable of.
"They didn't want any more animosity in the newspapers. And they showed aggressiveness in the second half Sunday that we had lacked in previous games. We were all so concentrating on trying to do the right thing, we were somewhat manhandled by teams.
"We had to let teams know, 'We're the Washington Diplomats and you're not going to steamroller us." I am soccer purist, but there comes a time when good soccer doesn't win you everything. You have to roll up your sleeves. The term is 'stuck in.' We've got all the soccer skills, but we didn't have the aggressiveness.
"Sunday I could see it. I could see it in the team, in the play. The way we've been working out this week, I see it continuing this Sunday."
This Sunday at RFK, the Diplomats play the Portland Timbers, a team whose star, Rob Rensenbrink, once played with Cruyff on Holland's national team.
"Rensenbrink will be eager to play against Johan," Bradley said.
The coach smiled then. "I think," he said, "that Johan will be waiting to put on a show, too."