Madison Square Garden President Sonny Werblin yesterday left open the possibility that the final two option years of Johan Cruyff's three-year package would not be picked up. Cruyff himself admits that this year may be his only one in Washington.
Hard negotiations will not begin until September or October. But the two sides could agree to agree. So far they haven't tried.
"We hope to have him with us two to three more years," Werblin said, "and finish out his career here. We don't have any commitments from him for next year yet. It depends on what the figures say at the end of the season. We'll have to see if we can afford him."
The figures: $1.5 million in salary spread over three years, monetarily. But there are other figures, such as 53,251 at RFK Stadium for the Cosmos game, yet only 14,322 for the San Jose Earthquakes. Such as a 6-9 record.
"Our attendance hasn't been as good as we'd hoped it would be," Werblin said, "but it has been better than last year."
Werblin and the Garden want results in the books -- in the black. They want a winning team, a championship team. Cruyff wants results that are less tangible -- on the field and in the local area, in terms of ongoing commitment to strengthen the team, the area youth programs, the level of coaching and competition within the league.
"I'm starting to feel better about playing and the team is beginning to come together," Cruyff said."To be a champion, you have to play together. We haven't done that yet.
"But our organization isn't good. And it's getting worse. We need to organize and I felt that was my job when I came here, to lead the team. I said that three months ago, and we're still playing the same way. That's why we're losing.
"There's no sense in trying to organize this team. So far I've tried and the results have been bad.
"It's possible (I won't return). It's up to the owners. If they're not thinking of getting (picking up) the option, there's nothing to talk about. It all depends on what the owners want to do. We both decide. If we don't agree, I don't know.
"Maybe they (the owners) are thinking, 'Soccer's established here, it's caught on,' and then they look at the salaries and they see who they're paying the most and they let him go. Or maybe they're losing money and they figure, 'Who are we paying the most?' and let him go.
"We won't really talk until September, but maybe they should put down their philosophy now. Are they going to get more players? Get more organized? Get better people? You never know how these people think. It happened in L.A. The one who drew the most (Cruyff) isn't there anymore and the attendance dropped off.
"If they want me to stay, I want to win something -- no, that's a bad way of putting it. It isn't a question of winning something. It's more than that. If I was an owner -- and I'm not telling the owners what to do, it's not my place -- I'd want to get 100 percent out of all the possibilities, not 80 percent. A 100 percent winning attitude. No talk of bad luck. There is no such thing as bad luck.
"I think we're doing well, for this year. They'll probably lose some money, but I have a feeling that next year you'll establish it and get it going. But standing still isn't enough. You have to keep going farther. There's still the possibility of falling back to last year. You have to keep improving, moving forward."
"We'll never take a step backward," said Diplomat General Manager Andy Dolich. "Mr. Werblin made a commitment. And the Cosmos didn't do it overnight -- they got one or two players a year.
"Our philosophy is a two-pronged approach. It's not easy to get world-class players, not in a year with the (Cup of Nations) and the World Cup coming up. It's not easy as an off year.
"And as for Americanization, we're committed there, but I think people like Johan and (Juan Jose) Lozano are used to a system like hockey, where the adolescent years are where the great ones are produced.
"Well, this is a multisport country, and I'm not sure we should restrict the youth and make them turn to just one sport in those years.
"But my thinking is positively that he'll return. From the club's point of view, we assume he'll be back. Attendance is up to 21,000 (almost 10,000 above last year's average). Cruyff has been a great catalyst. He figures in our plans. Until anything else happens differently, that's the way we look at it."
On Feb. 25, a medium skilled team in a medium-successful league underwent a quick and drastic change. With one signature on a contract, the attention of the soccer world focused on Washington. Johan Cruyff, legend carved in stone, splashed in neon and newsprint, had arrived to part the sea of fans who would be inexorably drawn by him.
Half a season later, Cruyff has scored a goal. One goal. On a penalty kick. And the closest the Diplomats will get to Soccer Bowl '80 probably will be the good seats at RFK Stadium, the site of the game.
For those who anticipated windfall profits in the won-lost column, a splitting of the stock, choirs of archangels and manna from NASL heaven, Johan Cruyff has been the biggest disappointment since LBJ's Great Society.
The question: how do you define an individual's success on an 11-man team? By points scored? The man was a goal scorer all his life. He has seven points in 10 games this year.
"I'm not worried I haven't scored a lot of goals," Cruyff said. "I can do that. In fact, that's what I'll start to do. Forget about organizing and go out and be spectacular. That's what will win games. But it won't win a championship. You have to be organized to win titles."
He scored 13 goals and assisted on 16 with the Los Angeles Aztecs last year and was the NASL's offensive player of the year. Five of those goals were game-winners. Scoring goals, he can win games. But not championships. The Aztecs never had a chance. And he was not happy in Los Angeles.
In Washington, with the influx of talent -- Wim Jansen and Lozano -- the foundation was being laid. Some people are still waiting to see the ground floor.
Cruyff also has been hurt -- five games worth, a pulled thigh muscle, the most serious injury in his career.
"He hasn't been the lone factor we haven't won," Werblin said."We've had other injuries to key players. Like yesterday (Sunday), when he was out there, he showed he's still the best player in the world.
"We aren't disappointed he hasn't scored more than one goal. Even if he didn't score a lot of goals but played every game, we would have been satisfied.
"He has helped our attendance and been a good addition to the club. Had he played every game, I'm sure we'd have a better record with him on the field."
"I didn't foresee any immediate victories when he came here," said one Diplomat player. "It takes 11 players to win. Johan can be exciting when he plays, but he has been known not to play hard all the time. I think he has honestly tried to make us a better team, but he has to have help."
"When he wants to play," said another Diplomat, "no one can touch him. I'm not saying he has been dogging it, but everything here has not been to his liking. He hasn't totally agreed with Gordon's (Gordon Bradley, the coach) philosophy. He's been frustrated."
"It's true," Bradley said, "we've had some disagreements over what alignments to use. Our philosophies are different -- he's Dutch and I'm English. Don't forget, we have about nine different nationalities on this team and I have to meld them into thinking as one.
"Johan is an attacking player who has scored a lot of goals. He has told me he plans to concentrate on working on being more an attacker and try to score more goals. I have to say the club struggled some when Johan wasn't in the lineup, but it's hard to say we would have won more games without him. We've won with him, too.
"There was a lot of pressure on us and Johan. He's genuinely hurt and he's been frustrated by the injury."
Cruyff speaks five languages, but he can't begin to explain his frustration.
Last week, prior to taping one of his soccer "clinics" for a local television station, he watched a videotape of an errant Diplomat throw-in that resulted directly in a goal for Fort Lauderdale. He watched it again and again.
Each time he watched with morbid fascination. He tried to explain what went wrong to translate for the layman. It wasn't just the fault of the thrower. Or just the fault of the receiver, who wasn't there. He grasped for words. But he shook his head. Speechless. Such an egregious error, so inexplicable on a professional team, so . . . fundamental.
"He's a perfectionist," said one Diplomat. "and it bothers him that everyone he plays with doesn't have the skills or knowledge he has. He can't always understand why things don't go his way."
"I don't think his style of play has meshed with the Dips," said Terry Hansen, vice president of the Atlanta Chiefs. "You know the old saying of when in Rome, do as the Romans . . . Well, Cruyff hasn't done that yet. And in order for the team to go, he has to."
"Johan has a brilliant soccer mind," said another NASL general manager. "And if there's any debate as to who is right in the game's philosophy, the team might do better to listen to Johan rather than Gordon. This is not a putdown of Gordon, who is a fine man and coach, but Johan is a money player, a winner, and he knows how to organize a winning team."
It's not been the perfect fit, Cruyff and the Garden's collage of international stars, promising domestics and walking wounded.
"Many people here don't like him" said another Diplomat. "but he is a great player, and if he became motivated, we could take off. So far he hasn't helped us. He has been hurt, yes, but he didn't help us when he was playing. One, he always found a way not to practice. It was always something."
"No one could turn things around like he could, if he could motivate himself," said another. "It's not easy playing with him, because he destroys your confidence.
"He never gives you an encouraging word or pat. But he always tells you what you've done wrong. He's such a perfectionist, it's sickening.He's just not the leader he was set up to be. There are definitely double standards on this team, and that's part of the problem."
"I'm not against double standards if I have to use it for the benefit of the team and the game," offered Bradley "And to a point, Johan, because he is Johan, has been treated differently. I can't satisfy all the players, but I'm the coach and I have to do what I feel is right."
"I don't worry about what people say," Cruyff said. "Ignore them. Let the people who are talking go out and play. If they did what they are told instead of worry about me, we might win more games.
"It's the owners' and the coaches' decision to do something about this team. I know a lot of things we could do right now but that's not my job. I'm not getting involved in organizing this team anymore. I tried. Now, I'll play for the spectators."
Which is pretty much what his employers were looking for. The more he plays for the spectators, the thinking goes, the more spectators. The more spectators, the more likely he'll be back. Better to be playing for the spectators than for no one at all.