Johan Cruyff's public statement that his first choice to coach the Washington Diplomats next season would be Los Angeles Aztec Coach Rinus Michels hardly came as a shock to Dip Coach Gordon Bradley.
"Johan has always believed that Michels is the best coach in the world," Bradley said today as he prepared for the Diplomats' second playoff match with the Aztecs. "It doesn't surprise me in the least that he would say he wants to play for Michels again."
Bradley and Cruyff have feuded all season over personnel and tactics. The first half of the season their battles clearly affected the team as the Dips struggled to a 4-9 record. But from that point on, Bradley and Cruyff worked out a compromise that has created a truce and the team has come together in the last six weeks.
But now, faced with the possibility of the season ending as early as tonight, many in the organization already are thinking about next year. The big question: Will Cruyff return?
"He won't come back if Gordon is the coach," one player said. "They just disagree on too many things."
In the meantime, Bradley, 46, said this week that he isn't sure that he wants to coach next year, regardless of whether Cruyff is here.
"I have to think of my family," Bradley said. "I've been running around playing or coaching soccer for more than 20 years now. My boys are almost grown.
"I can't continue trying to be both personnel director and coach next year. I've worried exclusively about coaching the last few weeks and haven't done my other job at all. I just haven't had the time."
Most of his players shrugged off the latest development in the Cruyff-Bradley feud.
"Johan says things all the time," defender Bob Iarusci said. "I think we've all learned by now to just not worry about these things and try to play soccer. That's why we've played so much better the last few weeks. We let Johan worry about Johan and Gordon worry about Gordon."
"I don't know what Gordon wants to do next year," striker Tony Crescitelli said. "But if Johan doesn't come back, they might as well just dump the whole franchise."
General Manager Andy Dolich, who has tried at times to mediate between Cruyff and Bradley, had one comment: "What does any of this have to do with us playing the Aztecs?
"Look," he added, "there's no big master plan that is going to be unveiled at the end of the season. When it's over Sonny Werblin, Jack Krumpe, myself and Gordon will sit down and talk about next year. But until then, there's nothing to say one way or the other."
Ironically, one person who badly wants to see Cruyff remain in the NASL is Bradley.
"There are so many things Johan can do for soccer in this country," Bradley said. "I think he knows that. He's done so much this year, he can do more next year. Soccer needs him.
"But," added Bradley, who has been involved with soccer in the United States since 1967, "I think soccer needs people like myself, too. I love the game and I've worked very hard to make it go here.
"I've done that with the Diplomats also. We've come a long yap in three years with this team."
How much farther Bradley and Cruyff will go with the Diplomats apparently will not be determined until after Cruyff talks to Werblin, chairman of the board of the parent organization, Madison Square Garden Inc., at season's end.