This is the fifth in a series of examinations of soccer/football-related legends and whether they are true or false.
SOCCER/FOOTBALL LEGEND: Johan Cruyff sat out the 1978 FIFA World Cup as a political protest.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
There is a long history of countries using international athletic competitions as political tools. Just during a four year stretch during the 1930s, you had Japan trying to send a delegation from their puppet nation, Manchukuo, to solidify that country’s status as a “real” country in the 1932 Olympics, then Benito Mussolini using the 1934 FIFA World Cup to show Italian superiority and Adolf Hitler using the 1936 Olympics to do the same for Germany.
More recently, the United States and the Soviet Union used the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, respectively, to make political points through boycotts.
So when Argentina was named as the site for the 1978 FIFA World Cup tournament, it was a major political coup for the new military leadership of the country, who had taken over Argentina in a Coup d’état in 1976. Jorge Rafael Videla was the nominal president of a military junta (or council) that ran the country and made several human rights violations between 1976 and 1983.
In 1978, while people likely did not know the extent of the problems in Argentina (thousands of dissenters went “missing” in those years), they did know that there were some serious human rights problems going on. So a number of countries made noise when Argentina was named as the host country of the World Cup. However much bluster there was, no country ended up actually boycotting the event, not even Netherlands, which was one of the more vocal countries about the Argentine leadership.
There WAS one notable absence, though – Netherlands’ star player, Johann Cruyff, perhaps the best European football player of the 1970s, and the leader of the Netherlands team.
Cruyff helped lead Netherlands to the finals of the 1974 FIFA World Cup (where they lost to host West Germany) and was thought by many to have been the best player in that particular tournament, even though his team ultimately did not win it all. Cruyff retired from international play in October of 1977 at the age of 31. The presumption for decades was that Cruyff was protesting the military dictatorship and human rights abuses in Argentina – we now know that this almost certainly not the case.
Cruyff was often outspoken about politics, so it was quite easy to believe that he was boycotting the games for the rumored reasons. To wit, when he was sold from the Dutch football team Ajax to the Spanish football team Barcelona in 1973 (for a staggering amount, equivalent to $2 million US dollars in 1973 money!), Cruyff made a comment about how he was pleased he was not sold to Real Madrid as he did not want to play for a team associated with the Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco.
However, the truth was a good deal more straightforward. Just a few years ago, Cruyff made international headlines when he revealed that he was actually kidnapped (well, held captive at riflepoint in his own home) in Barcelona 1977, soon before he retired! Kidnapping has become somewhat of an accepted terror in South America, but in the 1970s, it was actually more common in the RICHER nations of the world for kidnappings to happen (like the famous Patty Hearst kidnapping in the United States). Kruyff and his family were under armed guard for months following the incident. Naturally enough, you can certainly understand why Kruyff would not want to go off to Argentina (or anywhere, for that matter) in the wake of such an incident.
Interestingly enough, it appears as though Cruyff’s revelation came about due to his wish to debunk a DIFFERENT rumor about why he skipped the 1978 World Cup. You see, there were a good deal of rumors surrounding the 1974 Dutch team and sexual indiscretions (nothing proven, of course, and Cruyff certainly denies anything ever happened) and in a recent book, Cruyff’s former Barcelona teammate, Carles Rexach, asserted that it was Cruyff’s wife, Danny, who told Cruyff that he could not go to Argentina, as she could not handle being apart from him for a month (in the alternative, that she did not trust him on his own for a month). These rumors were highly popular in the Netherlands for decades, and Cruyff seemed willing to allow his wife to work somewhat as a scapegoat for decisions in his life, but it appears that his former friend’s book was the last straw, so Cruyff decided to finally admit his take on why he did not go to Argentina in 1978. In recent interviews about the event, Cruyff stated “To play a World Cup you have to be 200 per cent. There are moments when there are other values in life.”
Another rumor about why Cruyff skipped the World Cup had to do with sneaker endorsements (Cruyff had a contract with Puma while the Dutch national team was sponsored by Adidas).
I don’t think we’ll ever know for absolutely sure (although, really, the kidnapping angle sure seems to be a blatantly obvious reason to skip an international event, don’t you think? Especially as Cruyff and his family left Europe period in 1979 to go play for a professional soccer league in the United States), but the political reasons do not seem to have played any role in his decision.
His absence was made more dramatic when the Dutch team made it all the way to the Finals before falling to the team from the host country, Argentina.
Thanks so much to Dutch football expert Ernst Bouwes for his expertise on collecting all the various rumors about the 1978 World Cup.
SOCCER/FOOTBALL LEGEND: A famous football striker had a rather inventive response to being replaced as #9 on the team.
Throughout professional sports, uniform numbers have taken on great meaning. Players all over the world have particular numbers that they want to wear, whether it be in honor of a former great (like all the players who were #23 in honor of Michael Jordan) or because of the prestige that comes with wearing the number (wearing #1 has become a traditional honor at the University of Michigan).
Famed Chilean football player, Iván Zamorano, was the centre forward for the Serie A (the Italian professional league) team, Internazionale, during the late 1990s, beginning in 1996.
The centre forward (the forward who plays closest to the opposing team’s goal) is known as the “striker,” as he is usually the player who is relied upon to score the majority of the team’s goals. As you might imagine, it is quite a prestigious position.
Traditionally, the centre forward is given the number 9. Zamorano had that honor with Internazionale.
In 1997, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima (better known as Ronaldo) joined the team. The young star (a decade younger than Zamorano) took the number #10.
However, soon Internazionale worked out a new sponsorship with Nike, and as part of the agreement, Nike wanted Ronaldo, one of the biggest stars in the world at the time, to wear #9. Inter agreed, and Ronaldo got the prized number…
Zamorano was none too pleased with this development, and dealt with it in an interesting manner. He took the number 18 (a number typically reserved for backups) and made a slight…alteration…
Yep, his number was, in his mind, not 18, but 1 + 8, or, in other words, 9.
Pretty funny solution, huh?
SOCCER/FOOTBALL LEGEND: A message board poster in England correctly predicted a 7-0 victory in the quarter finals of the 2006 Football Association Challenge Cup.
On March 21, 2006, Liverpool defeated Birmingham City 7-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2006 Football Association Challenge Cup (better known as the FA Cup) on their way to winning the entire tournament. It was one of the most lopsided victories in the history of the FA Cup (and seeing as how the FA Cup began in 1871, that’s saying something!).
But perhaps even more remarkable than the devastating victory was the fact that the score was actually PREDICTED by a message board poster the day of the game!!
An 18-year-old poster, Adam Gabri, going by the user name “Messi better than cesc” made the statement on the BBC 606 message board just 40 minutes before the game began. As you can tell by his user name, Gabri (from Croydon, which is a district in South London) is someone who likes to talk a little trash, and his prediction was meant in that spirit. As Gabri related, “It was just one of those things. I thought it would be funny to wind a few people up on the message boards to see how they would react.”
He was basing his post on the fact that Liverpool HAD scored a goodly amount of goals their previous few games, but the similarities between his guesses and the actual match were uncanny!
Gabri predicted that Liverpool would score 38 seconds into the match. They actually scored 55 seconds into the match!
Gabri predicted an own goal 77 minutes into the match, Birmingham City scored an own goal 79 minutes in!!
If only Gabri would have made a bet on his hunch!
Here’s his original post (well, someone quoting his original post, that is)…
Thanks to the BBC Football website (I can’t find any specific writer of the articles) for the information!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com