The prince behind the king: Johan Neeskens turns 70

Together with Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens grabbed the World Cup trophy in 1974, which he missed in the final despite his opening goal. But “Prins Johan” was always remembered. Today he turns 70.

Powerful: Johan Neeskens (left) joins the goal in the World Cup final against Germany.

imago/Ferdi Hartung

It’s one of those moments that every football fan of my generation remembers. This second minute of the 1974 World Cup final between the Netherlands and hosts Germany.

The foul by Uli Hoeneß on Johan Cruyff. Referee Taylor’s whistle. Franz Beckenbauer’s complaint. The moment when Johan Neeskens grabs the ball. The fact that at this point in time no German player has touched the ball even once. Sepp Maier will be the first when this blond boy with the hairstyle of a Bay City roller and the number 13 on his back has completed his work.

The penalty shot by Johan Neeskens back then in Munich was so violent that my brother-in-law got up from the couch at home, went to the television and fussed behind the device. “What are you doing?” I asked him. “See if everything is still whole,” he laughed.

Neeskens’ projectile, almost exactly in the middle of the goal, had developed a speed that immediately catapulted the ball from the net towards the player as if it were made of wire. The chalk of the penalty spot still swirled through the air. Sepp Maier knelt defeated in the right corner. Once more the blond Dutchman punched the thing vehemently into the mesh, then it was over. Sepp Maier caught the ball. Much too late.

Creativity and destruction – with Cruyff Neeskens worked in the “total football” of the Dutch

Here Johan Cruyff, the anointed king of football. There Johan Neeskens, his majesty’s knight washed with water. At the time, nobody could have known that this leading gate was only the overture to an orange drama. It was absolutely clear to me – who had been dealing with this World Cup for months – that only those who had absolutely no idea about football would bet on a victory for the Germans after this early lead by their opponents. We, the real connoisseurs, knew: “total football” will win the world cup. Those ten footballers down there, anyone who could defend and anyone could attack. In the center: the two Johans. One in front, the other behind. Dynamic, fast-paced, a fighter who could handle the bullet and shot like a horse. That was Neeskens. I liked him better than Cruyff, probably because he seemed more accessible. The two central players embodied the idea of ​​their coach. Rinus Michels was always looking for a balance between creativity and destruction. He had found what he was looking for in these two.

Neeskens collected club trophies, with Oranje he also failed in 1978

Neeskens added Cruyff without disappearing behind him. He was not yet 23 years old that afternoon in Munich and was already highly decorated: in 1971, 1972 and 1973 he won the European Cup with Ajax Amsterdam, and in 1972 he refined his collection of medals with the World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. After moving to FC Barcelona – he followed Cruyff to Catalonia in 1974 – he won the Copa del Rey and the European Cup Winners’ Cup with “Barça”, in 1979 against Fortuna Düsseldorf, 4: 3 after extra time in Basel.

A year earlier he had missed the crowning glory with “Oranje” again: after the 1974 final, the Netherlands also lost the 1978 final, again against the hosts, this time against Argentina. Cruyff had canceled this World Cup. In the end, the world class that was left was not enough, Argentina won 3-1.

In the USA Neeskens let his career end in 1979, won a few titles with the New York Cosmos, which simply could not be prevented at the time. The end of his career dragged on, the “Crown Prince” of the great Cruyff landed in Switzerland in the winter of his career, where he finally began as a coach. He worked as an assistant coach for Guus Hiddink (in Holland and Australia), for Frank Rijkaard at FC Barcelona and Galatasaray Istanbul. From 2000 to 2004 he proved that he could also be in the front row at the provincial club NEC Nijmegen, which he sensationally led into the UEFA Cup.

Johan Neeskens – twice vice world champion, 49 international matches for Holland, 17 goals – one of them in Munich. A goal that really terrified us. And made sure that we should never forget this energetic blonde.

Congratulations from Germany on your 70th birthday, Prince Johan!

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