Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

Johan Cruyff's Barcelona legacy lives on after new stadium is opened in his name

Estadi Johan Cruyff will house the reserve and women's teams and is named after the great Dutchman

Friends of Johan Cruyff meet at 9am every Saturday morning on a football pitch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea near Barcelona.

Both teams of wear shirts with his famous No 14, with one of the teams featuring a silhouette of Cruyff’s face. The players are 20 to 75 and include members of Cruyff’s family. Cruyff came to Barcelona in 1973 and made his permanent family home there.

Cruyff, one of the greatest ever footballers, played his last game on this pitch in Sitges on 14th November 2014 with this group of veterans and against members of the 1992 Barca team who Cruyff led to their first European Cup.

Cruyff’s legacy lives strong in Barcelona and his friends are extremely proud of him.

There’s the Cruyff Foundation, an academic and social institution started because Johan felt that as an icon of the football world, he had a responsibility to return something to society. It helps 50,000 disabled children annually.

Over 250 Cruyff Courts - 42 x 28 metres artificial grass courts, enclosed with fences so the ball bounces back from the fence - have been installed in 20 countries.

There are roads named after him in Catalonia and, on Monday, a statue was unveiled of him outside Camp Nou’s main stand.

“Salid y disfrutad,” it reads beneath. “Go out and enjoy,” those famous words Cruyff used to tell his players. Son Jordi was there at the unveiling, the first man to legally be called Jordi when the Catalan name was banned under the Franco regime.

“Today was very special for us,” said Cruyff junior. “We saw the great affection that people have for my dad. It makes our whole family proud to see him next to a place where he was so happy.”

On Tuesday, Jordi, current manager of Chongqing Dangdai Lifan in China, was there to see the Estadi Johan Cruyff opened. After a plaque was unveiled he walked onto the pitch alongside Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique et al to kick the first ball at the stadium.

It is the new home of Barca’s B team - who spend their lives between Spain’s second and fourth tier - the women’s team - who are one of the best in Europe - and their Under-19 team when they play European games.

Seating 6,000 under cover, it is eight kilometres from the Mini Stadium by the side of Camp Nou it will replace. Estadi Johann Cruyff has 10,000 fewer seats than the Mini Stadium, but 6,000 is a more realistic figure for a B team who have averaged 3,000 over the last 10 years.

The new stadium, which cost €12 million (Dh49m) and features raised blue seats and a red roof, is part of Barcelona’s training ground, 14km from the centre of the city in the Llobregat river valley.

There wasn’t enough space inside Europe’s most densely populated city to build a huge new training ground a decade ago. Fellow top flight club Espanyol had to build their new stadium and training ground on the outskirts at opposite ends of the city.

Estadi Johann Cruyff isn’t as easy to reach by public transport as the old venue, which will be demolished and in its place will be a new indoor arena for Barcelona’s basketball team. That comes as part of a wider redevelopment of Camp Nou which will see the ageing venue modernised, covered and the seating capacity raised to 105,000.

It will be a shame for those Barca fans who used to watch the B team before crossing the road to watch the first team. Camp Nou also acted like the mother ship, the peak to aim for to the younger players next door.

But it is also advantageous that the new stadium is on the same state-of-the-art site where the young players live and train. Barca’s famed Masia youth system needs its mojo back, the conveyor belt of world class talents have slowed.

The stadium is a beautiful, compact venue, with images and quotes of Cruyff around to inspire younger players including: “football is a game you play with your brain” or “I prefer to win 5-4 than 1-0”.

The U19s, coached by former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes, were the first team to play in the stadium in a friendly against the U19s of Ajax, Cruyff’s former club. Ajax’s young captain presented an Ajax shirt with ‘Cruyff 14’ on the back, before the Dutch side outclassed the Catalans to win 2-0.

The first competitive game is this Sunday, a third tier match between Barça B and their Catalan rivals Nastic of Tarragona.

“Salid y disfrutad,” will be the last thing the players read before they leave the tunnel in the new stadium, Cruyff’s words another permanent reminder of his legacy.

Updated: August 28, 2019 08:16 PM

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