It will be a long time before we know the full story of the burglary at Raheem Sterling’s house in Surrey which forced the England star to rush back from the World Cup to be with his family. Police are usually reluctant to publicise details of such incidents for fear of copycat crimes that might put other families in danger.
This was what the great Dutch star Johan Cruyff was told following an incident that forced him to withdraw from the 1978 World Cup. “You might put ideas into the heads of other lunatics,” Cruyff was told.
For long no one knew the real story as Cruyff kept quiet for nearly 30 years, breaking his silence only once all his children had left home and settled.
What had happened was this: Cruyff was in his Barcelona apartment watching a basketball match on television when someone rang the bell. When he opened the door, the caller put a gun to his head and ordered him and his wife to lie on the floor.
Cruyff was tied up and roped to a piece of furniture. As the intruder had put his gun down to do that, Cryuff’s wife ran out and alerted the building. She took a frightening chance, but it foiled the attempt.
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A van with a mattress had been parked outside, and everything pointed to a kidnapping bid. The couple’s children were in the house too, in their room. Kidnapping for ransom was not uncommon in the Spain of the 1970s.
Cruyff, his wife and children were thereafter given police guards — policemen even slept in their living room. It was a terrible time. “In a situation like that you don’t travel to the other side of the world and leave your family on their own for eight weeks,” Cryuff wrote in his book My Turn. “If you are playing in a World Cup you have to be fully focussed.”
Cruyff couldn’t explain to anybody why he wasn’t making the trip. Not even Holland’s coach was told, Cryuff merely explaining that he was not in the right state of mind. Soon there was a ‘Pull Cryuff Across the Line’ campaign, with fans sending him messages by the bagful pleading with him to go.
Would Holland have won the World Cup had Cryuff played? “I think, quite honestly, that we might have done,” said Cryuff. They faced Argentina in the final, and lost 3-1 in extra time.
Marteen Wijffels, a Dutch football writer, said: “If Cryuff had played we could have won the World Cup. He would have made us stronger. I think people were very disappointed at the time he did not go.”
Cruyff, one of the greatest footballers ever, is identified with the concept of the free-flowing ‘Total Football’ which the Dutch played, with players inter-changing positions and often confusing their opponents.
It is one of the major tactical changes in the game, yet the Dutch have never won the World Cup despite being in three finals, most recently in 2010.
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