Ultimate United Articles

Jordi Cruyff They Promised so much.....

Our latest article looks at a player whose name was world famous before he even kicked a ball. Despite much expectation, the move to Old Trafford never quite worked out for Jordi Cruyff.


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By Philip Meese, Chief Editor


Back in 1996, Manchester United had just won the double of Premier League and F.A. Cup. Among their transfer dealings that summer was Jordi Cruyff. A forward who could play in practically any position in the final third of the pitch, he had also put in some sparkling performances for Holland at Euro 96. This made people wonder if he could ever reach anywhere near the level of his father, Johann Cruyff, who was undoubtedly one of the best players ever.


In spite of a promising start at Old Trafford, it seems that luck was never really on the side of Jordi. A combination of injuries and an increasingly strong squad meant that the Stretford End saw precious little of the form that prompted United to buy him. In this article, we look at why it all went wrong for a player whose name alone gave him a lot to live up to.


Early Beginnings


Jordi Cruyff was born in Amsterdam in February 1974, the son of legendary Dutch footballer Johann, who played for Barcelona at the time. Ever controversial, he named his son after St. Jordi, the patron saint of Catalonia. Although it was seen as an act of aggression towards General Franco, who had made all Catalan national symbols illegal, Cruyff escaped punishment due to the fact that his son was born in Holland, not Spain. Having been brought through the world famous Ajax academy, when Cruyff was appointed manager at the Nou Camp, his son followed him to Barcelona and became part of their youth setup.


In the 1994-95, Cruyff became a part of the first team squad, and scored an equaliser on his La Liga debut against Racing de Santander. The first time Manchester United fans were treated to a glimpse of Jordi’s talents was in their Champions League fixtures against Barcelona in the autumn. After a brief substitute appearance in the 2-2 draw between the two sides at Old Trafford, he started in the return game at the Nou Camp a few weeks later. Jordi started the attack the culminated in Barcelona’s first goal that night, playing Romário through initially, and the move ended with Hristo Stoichkov putting the ball in the net. Barcelona won 4-0 that night, a result which was crucial in United exiting at the group stage.


Equally adept on either flank, or as a second striker, Jordi had an impressive debut season, scoring nine goals in his 36 appearances, no mean feat considering some of the team mates alongside him. The following season, he suffered a knee injury which required surgery, the result of which afflicted him for the rest of his career. As a result he made just 18 appearances in 1995-96, scoring twice. His form towards the end of that season, however, saw Holland manager Guus Hiddink call Jordi up to their squad for Euro 96. Due to having lived in Barcelona for over five years, he was also offered the chance to play for Spain, which he rejected. At the tournament, he scored his only international goal against Switzerland.


Move to Old Trafford


Following a poor 1995-96 campaign, Cruyff senior was sacked by Barcelona after a hugely successful stint as manager. His replacement Bobby Robson had his own ideas about the direction he wanted to take the club, which included signing Ronaldo, the Brazilian phenomenon. There had always been a feeling that, despite Jordi’s talent, he had been fast-tracked into the Barcelona first team due to his father being the manager.


Following impressive performances at Euro 96, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson stepped in with a £1.4 million bid, which the Catalan club readily accepted. Jordi signed a four year contract, and initially hit the ground running, scoring a header against Everton on his home debut in August 1996. A few days later he netted against Blackburn Rovers, running onto a ball over the top of the defence and neatly lobbing the ball over Tim Flowers to make it 1-1. Jordi was a regular starter in his first few months at Old Trafford, before a recurrence of his previous knee injury in November left him on the side-lines for several months.


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He made a recovery towards the end of the season, and scored a superb half-volley in United’s final game of the campaign against West Ham. This was Eric Cantona’s final game in English football, who is now a very good friend of Jordi’s following their joint participation in a charity game towards the end of that season.


1997 - 99


During the 1997-98 season, Jordi spent so much time in the Old Trafford treatment room that he made just eight appearances for United, and half of them were from the substitute’s bench. The knee injury which had plagued most of his career already had struck again. Having not made an appearance for his country since 1996, Jordi was not even considered for their squad for the World Cup in France. In fact, he never played for his country again, and his only further international appearances came for the Catalonia national side, which he was eligible for due to his dual nationality.


The following season was the most iconic in Manchester United’s history, as the club lifted the Treble of Premier League, F.A. Cup and Champions League. Unfortunately, Jordi didn’t see much in the way of glory that campaign. United had strengthened right across the squad following the surrender of their title to Arsenal, and Jordi now found himself little more than a back-up squad member. On the flanks, he had David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and now Jesper Blomqvist ahead of him in the pecking order. With Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Teddy Sheringham up front, the club didn’t need much help in that area, either.


When Jordi did play, he was very effective, and had scored twice from eleven appearances by January, but he wasn’t getting enough game time to get his career back on track. It was around this time that he was offered a loan move back to Spain with Celta Vigo. As a result, he not only missed the chance to be involved in United’s historic Treble, but he only played eight games, although scoring twice, for the Spanish side.


Last Chance


In July 1999 Jordi returned to Old Trafford for a final shot at getting his United career off the ground. Unfortunately for the Dutchman, little had changed since he had been away. An injury to Jesper Blomqvist (which would see him never pay for the club again) should have given Jordi the perfect chance to stake a claim for a place, but United signed Quinton Fortune from Atlético Madrid as cover.


Jordi still managed to make 17 appearances in total during the 1999-2000 season, but he was mainly used in games that were low down on the club’s list of priorities. These included the Charity Shield against Arsenal, and the UEFA Super Cup defeat to Lazio. He also started in two of United’s games in Brazil during the FIFA World Club Championship. In spite of limited appearances, Jordi still managed to net three Premier League goals, but, as luck would have it he didn’t make the mandatory ten games required to qualify for a winner’s medal.


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Jordi’s contract at United expired in the summer of 2000, and he was promptly released by the club. In four years he made just 58 appearances (more than half of which were from the bench), scoring eight goals. After such a promising start, Jordi Cruyff slipped out of Old Trafford almost unnoticed.


After United


Jordi moved back to Spain on a free transfer, joining Deportivo Alavés. They were a relatively new side to La Liga, having been promoted to the top flight in 1998, but had finished 6th in the table to secure a UEFA Cup place. It was here that Jordi enjoyed a brief renaissance, playing every week as opposed to being a fringe player, and it was in Europe that he particularly impressed. In the 4th round, Alavés had drawn 3-3 at home to Inter Milan, and with 15 minutes to go in the second leg at the San Siro were still goalless. Jordi put his side ahead in the 78th minute before his team mate Ivan Tomić doubled their lead five minutes later to seal a shock 2-0 win. Jordi also scored in the quarter and semi-finals to send his side to face Liverpool in Dortmund. An incredible game in the Westfallonstadion saw Cruyff score in the 88th minute make the game 4-4. It was only an own goal in extra time by Alavés defender Geli which handed the trophy to Liverpool.  


Jordi made 110 appearances and scored 12 goals for Alavés, leaving in 2003 when the club were relegated to the Segunda División. He returned to Catalonia with Espanyol, where he played for one season. After training with Bolton Wanderers in 2004, Jordi retired after failing a medical at the club. Rather bizarrely, two years later he came out of retirement to play in the Ukraine with Metalurh Donetsk. Even stranger was the fact that he was deployed at centre back for most of his time at the club, despite having played an attacking role throughout his career.


Jordi Cruyff saw out his playing career in the Maltese Premier Division with Valetta, where he also became assistant manager. He hung up his boots permanently in 2010 to join Cypriot side AEK Larnaca as sporting director. Jordi joined Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv in the same role in 2012. He took up the manager’s job in 2017, guiding the club to a 2nd place finish in the Israeli Premier League last season. There has been interest in his services from clubs in England and Europe, and it would surprise nobody if he takes up one of these offers sooner rather than later.


Final Thought


Jordi Cruyff didn’t have much luck in a lot of areas during his playing career. He played for a Barcelona side that had ruled Spanish football for several years, but were already in decline when he made his debut. He moved to Old Trafford when United when they were the dominant force in England. Despite four years at the club, in three of which the Red Devils were champions, circumstances dictated that he won just one Premier League medal and two Charity Shields in that time. Even at Alavés, the one trophy that was within his reach was snatched away by an extra time own goal – a golden goal at that, meaning there was no chance of a comeback.


Lady Luck also deserted him where it came to staying fit. The knee surgery Jordi underwent during his time at Barcelona shaped his career. Although it didn’t affect any of his abilities as a player when fit, the recurrence of it, especially during his time in Manchester, meant that he didn’t stay fit for too long. By the time he recovered, United had added to their already strong squad. Although the injury didn’t trouble him too much when he went back to Spain, there is no doubt that it had an helping hand in Jordi announcing his first retirement at the age of just 30.


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All of these factors would be tough on any player, in any era, but the fact that he carried the surname of one of the world’s greatest ever footballers on his back added just that extra weight. Many people expected him to be somewhere near the level of his father. The pressure on him couldn’t have been higher if he had been a world record transfer.


Maybe that was the real problem.

Added by Philip Meese on 01/03/2018 21:20:13
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