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Football: Wim Jonk on Cruyff Football

When Johan Cruyff passed away in March 2016, the footballing world lost a pioneer and a legend. However, his former friend and pupil Wim Jonk is continuing to spread his legacy. He talks to Matthew Campelli about his work

by Matthew Campelli | Published in Sports Management Sep Oct 2017 issue 133
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Jonk (left) was mentored by Cruyff (right) at Ajax Amsterdam
Jonk (left) was mentored by Cruyff (right) at Ajax Amsterdam

Wim Jonk is not unique in being inspired by Johan Cruyff, one of the finest footballers to ever grace the planet. Several of the pre-eminent coaches in world football – most famously Pep Guardiola – scores of players and countless fans swooned over the Dutch master’s incredible footballing ability, acumen as a coach and his steadfast desire to play football “the right way”.

Last year, the world mourned as the three-time Ballon d’Or lost his battle with cancer, but Jonk is intent on spreading Cruyff’s influence and philosophy through Cruyff Football, an education, coaching and consultancy body set up by Jonk that teaches young players and coaches to play the game according to Cruyff’s principles.

Jonk, who enjoyed a stellar footballing career in his own right – winning two Dutch Eredivisie championships, two UEFA Cups and 49 caps for Holland – refers to Cruyff as his mentor. The pair developed a close relationship while working on youth development at Ajax Amsterdam – the club where both players made their name.

Continuing the legacy
Now Jonk wants other players to follow in their footsteps and forge successful careers by playing “attractive, attacking football”. To this end, Cruyff Football is working with clubs and federations to give coaches the tools to develop their players in this way.

“If you want to spread the legacy you have to focus on collaborating with clubs and federations,” Jonk tells Sports Management. “For us, it’s very important to train coaches via our various workshops and clinics.”

The organisation started work just over a year ago, and has so far attracted clients from Jonk’s native Holland, Belgium and new footballing nations China and the US.

Jonk says China is a “very interesting” market, particularly in light of the huge emphasis placed on the sport by the country’s current president Xi Jinping.

“In China it’s very political. We spent a lot of time there and realised that to do anything, you have to do it the right way,” he explains. “Everything starts with the grassroots – we’re going to work with a Montessori school in Beijing.

“They’re very interested in football in China but they have to start from scratch and everything is based around the school system. We visited the schools, did some clinics and now we’re going to build that up.”

Principles
The basis of the Cruyff Football education is to teach principles that were revered by Cruyff, such as creating one-on-one situations, creating a ‘third man’, playing the first ball forward and using both feet to control and pass the ball.

Jonk says: “Johan’s first focus was to create attractive football that people want to watch. As a fan, if you go to the stadium, what do you want to see? Do you want to see good attacking football or defensive counter-attacking football?

“He talked about principles, never about systems, and how to create those principles by training young players and developing them. Johan was always thinking in details.”

However, after experiencing a successful football career in his own right, playing for Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Italian giant Internazionale Milan, Jonk is keen to add to Cruyff’s principles with other good coaching practices he learned along the way.

“I worked with many coaches and you learn little bits that you bring into your own system and training style,” he explains.

“I had many discussions with (former Holland player and coach) Frank Rijkaard who was coach of Barcelona and the national team. He was also inspired by Cruyff, but he had his own style of playing. There’s more than one way to play attractive football.”

So, which team now plays the most attractive, Cruyff-esque football in the professional game? Jonk says that he advises the young players and coaches to watch teams like Liverpool FC and Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, who “play with a lot of these principles”. But he reserves special praise for one coach in particular.

“Look at teams coached by Pep Guardiola,” he says. “When he coached Barcelona you could tell he was inspired by Cruyff. Pep’s system has the most Cruyff principles.”

Ambition
Jonk’s ultimate ambition with Cruyff Football is to “inspire coaches in the same way that Johan inspired me”. He adds: “If we can spread that to 10 or 10,000 or 100,000 coaches that gives me a lot of inspiration to go on with it.”

Cruyff Football has not been set up with the intention to make money, says Jonk, although he acknowledges that the business has to be strong to continue to operate.

As well as coaching, Cruyff Football offers consultancy for professional clubs around ‘operating with intelligence in the transfer market’ and ‘developing youth team players’. It also consults national federations on ‘sustainable football strategies’.

Jonk adds: “It’s important to build a business, but we want to do it for a long period of time, not just to make quick money. That’s not our business case. Johan Cruyff is a big name so it’s important to do it the right way.”

Wim Jonk career

Wim Jonk / © Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport
Wim Jonk/ © Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport

• Two Eredivisie championships (Ajax 1990, PSV Eindhoven 1997)

• Two UEFA Cups (Ajax 1992, Internazionale Milan 1994)

• Netherlands caps (goals): 49 (11)

JOHAN CRUYFF career

Johan Cruyff / © PA/PA Wire/PA Images
Johan Cruyff/ © PA/PA Wire/PA Images

Player:
• Nine Eredivisie championships
• Three European Cups
• FIFA World Cup runner-up 1974
• Ballon d’Or 1971, 1973, 1974

Manager:
• Two UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup
• Four Spanish La Liga championships
• European Cup 1991/92

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