previously published in Hard Gras No. 77
February 17, 2005
Grandpa and grandson cross the Gran Via in slow motion. Mouth open, tongue out – great fun on the crosswalk. We motorists understand it. Snow in Murcia, it only happens a few times a century. It snows more often in the nearby Sierra Espuña mountains. Whole tribes then drive out in the morning, to proudly return in the evening with a watery pimple on the hood.
I consider the flakes a favorable omen. Twice before I was on my way to an appointment with Johan Cruijff. Then the sun shone, but the Savior failed. If three times today becomes ship’s law, I may have a new ice age.
Pathetic? I’ve been arranging this interview for years. First I tried the normal way, with an email to his Foundation. No answer. Then call. A magazine about Spain? Mister Cruijff has no time for that. He receives numerous requests for interviews every day and therefore has to make choices. We make those choices … Lothar Matthäus? Jorge Valdano? Nobel laureate Saramago? Nice for you, but not relevant to us.
Once before I met Cruijff, at a training camp of FC Barcelona in Doorwerth. It was a coming and going of people from all walks of life: professional footballers, former professional footballers, aspiring professional footballers, journalists, Barça fans, day trippers, lost hikers … Johan happily walked around in the dovecote he created himself. Signature here, chat there – anything was possible, while he was navigating the tops of his trainer fame.
My girlfriend wanted to take a picture with him. That was also possible. JC asked where we came from and when he heard we were living in Murcia his eyes sparkled. “I played one of my first games there,” he said, as if he were stepping into an old dream. “We slept in Hotel 7 Coronas. Are you having a good time? ”
Then he stood beside me without being asked, so that I too could have my picture taken with him. That print now adorns the piano in my childhood home. Behind Johan and me you see some bushes and a wall. He laughs so relaxed that many a visitor believes my father when he lets slip that Cruijff is actually his cousin – a secret that he only shares with few, “otherwise I will have lost my peace”.
Out of despair, I emailed a new interview request after my phone call to the Foundation, mentioning my Murcia link with Johan. No answer…
And then I suddenly ran into JC everywhere in my hometown. On king-size billboards, he advertised a Dutch real estate project twenty kilometers outside the city. There would be a professional 27-hole golf course, with luxury villas and a real ‘Olympic-quality Johan Cruyff Sports Center’. In fact, he would buy a house there himself and live much of the year. Johan who now walked his dog in Murcia – could it be better?
For many, the combination of Cruijff and business works on laughing muscles. Primarily responsible for this is Michel Georges Basilevitch, the man who allegedly ruined Johan with a baked air farm disguised as a pig farm. The man who, according to ‘insiders’, allowed Danny Cruijff to flourish so much that Johan asked her to stop wearing mini skirts. But we football fans are grateful to Basilevitch. Without him, no wonderful lob on JC’s return to De Meer, let alone the double for Feyenoord in 1984.
The land on which the resort was to appear did not seem particularly suitable for a profitable project. Many Murcians even wondered whether those ‘holandeses’ were right in their heads. Until then, they drove as fast as possible along that barren moon landscape to the beach and vice versa. With the windows closed, because there was often a huge stench from a neighboring pig farm (sic).
And then you had the stories of Dutch workers at the resort under construction. They were regularly banned by their bosses and often received their wages too late. Furthermore, the expat fanfare reported that the project manager could no longer fly to the Netherlands because the tax authorities would then grab him. But yes, ABN Amro supported the project and Johan must have learned from his experiences, right?
My first phone call to a Dutch resort employee had a high level of weirdness. From both sides, because Johan was famous and I was not, but an interview in a glossy magazine for Spain enthusiasts seemed to hit the marketing rose, right? Long story short: after a year I was not a millimeter further.
But then Sergio, a new Spanish PR employee, unexpectedly came to the rescue. “A magazine with 50,000 subscribers interested in Spain? We’ll take care of it.”
I had an appointment within two days. Johan would soon come to see how construction progressed incognito and if there was a hole during the visit, Sergio would call me immediately. He did call, but to say that the news about the visit had leaked. At that time Johan held a short press conference and had no further time for one-on-one conversations.
Sergio called 911 a month later. Cruijff had now explicitly said ‘sí’ and I was able to visit two days later. But on JC-day I was already in the car, when a sad message came in: Johan had to head over to the Netherlands because of a death. However, he had promised to speak to me at a later time.
The snowflakes keep dropping as I pass a heavily moustached resort guard. Via a bumpy road past dozens of houses under construction I arrive at the ‘club house’ – an old Spanish hacienda that now houses an office and a restaurant. The receptionist looks up sheepishly from gossip magazine Hola when I report that I have an appointment with Johan.
Fortunately, there is soon Sergio. No, the snow does not seem to be an obstacle for JC to fulfill its commitments for today. Yó-gan can arrive at any time.
Sergio accompanies me to a meeting room and clicks a Powerpoint on his laptop. I ask a few dissimilar questions about the professional golf course, but in the meantime I mainly try to dampen the damp sweat in my palms.
Then there is noise in the hallway. Cries. Laughter. “Yó-gan,” grins Sergio and beckons me out.
In the middle of a tangle of busy men, JC comes to hop down a flight of stairs. “Ha,” he calls from a few meters. “Are you from the Viva ?”
“ España ”, I add, while the Johan tangle turns away from me and rolls into another room.
Sergio ticts with his right eye a few times. “Let’s go to the restaurant. He’ll like coffee in a minute. ”
Ten minutes later He is sitting across from me at the table – the man who was worth five football pictures from other premier league players in the Nijmegen schoolyard. My classmate Harry P. did not settle for Theo van Duivenbode, Bent Schmidt-Hansen and Johan Neeskens. He also had to have the local heroes Sije Visser and Cas Janssens. But what would you be without a picture of Johan?
I play with the thought to tell Cruijff about my youthful bloodletting, but still bring out my ‘icebreaker’ – a picture frame with the picture that I had secretly shot in Doorwerth next to a VI photographer of Johan and son Jordi. JC senior is sitting in a chair, junior is behind his smiling father and has his arms around him.
Shortly before that, Jordi had received a rock kick from Stojtskov during training. Moaning, he limped to the sidelines, a journey of at least three minutes, but all the while Johan didn’t budge. Only when everyone was following the ball into the distance again, he asked the wind: “Are you okay?” “Yes,” Jordi groaned, against the grass.
JC can no longer remember the photo session, but proudly shows the gift to the resort director, who – unfortunately – is also at our table. The blonde forties laughs a very healthy set of teeth and looks at Johan almost fraternally. A first crack in the image sketched by the expats: this is certainly not an arrogant gladjanus.
Coffee comes on the table. Johan gets up and catches the waiter in a warm embrace (“Paco, hombre! Are you okay?”). Then I turn on my recorder and start asking. About Cruijff’s youth in the Betondorp, the success years at Ajax and Barcelona, the often inhuman pressure to which he was exposed. About the World Cup 1974 he says: “We played the best football. Everyone is still talking about that Orange, so you can actually speak of final profit. ”
During a short treatise on the importance of good team spirit, such as there in West Germany, Johan starts sliding his now empty coffee cup over the red and white checkered tablecloth. Slowly at first, in straight lines. Then faster and zigzagging. After an overcrowded minute, he lets the cup stop just under his nose.
“Yes,” he sighs, looking at me. ( Skittish ??). ( Schichtig !!) “Just like then, we want to create something beautiful here as a team with this project.”
The director bounces from his chair. “Indeed. This project is truly one of a kind and I will explain why… ”
Johan gratefully looks aside. His right hand is now resting on the cup.
I nod friendly to the director, but turn back to Cruijff. Did the Orange not want to do too much in that final? ”
Johan’s right hand shoots at his nose. Then he opens his mouth, but the golf boss is ahead of him: “We would like to explain our project here, right Johan?”
“Yes, pretty much.” Cruijff is now groping for the coffee cup port. “It is a great project.”
He looks at me for a moment and then lowers his eyes. At first I think it’s because of the light, but I’m mistaken: it blushes. No ripe tomato bloom, more a color than after a fresh walk in the woods.
This is not the triple European Footballer of the Year who always knows everything better. Here sits the man who as a teenager woke up in the arms of keeper Heinz Stuy in the morning; the superstar who bit nervous nails for a friendly match; the husband who on the night of July 6-7, 1974 obediently made a phone call to Danny when he should have been in bed a long time ago.
The golf vouchers, however, has picked up on the tweet and starts a long monologue about the many, yes, almost innumerable benefits of staying at this already internationally renowned resort. Meanwhile Johan cautiously probes my reaction. That is why I diligently take notes about living comfort, ecological water supply, flexible payment terms, 300 Sundays a year and much more.
Johan’s business partner is not of the Dutch roar type that you sometimes encounter abroad – such a poorly dressed hunk of meat that the locals will explain how the earth revolves around the sun. This man tells in sober terms about his ‘life project’, without raising his voice, as if he is talking about mudflat walking or breeding koi carp.
Cruijff shines. It is now about ‘his’ future Sports Academy at the resort and he is beaming with a statement that flexibility and customized programs form the basis of his study philosophy. Because: “Of course we will not let a skater take final exams in January…”
It takes some getting used to, Cruijff fortunately without a ball around. But I’m happy for him somewhere. All that bullshit about his corporate zips, his alleged stinginess, his ‘lapdog behavior’ towards Danny … Here is a legend that was worth five Premier League pictures and has finally found a reliable companion.
But just when I – for myself – want to inquire about the prices of the houses on the resort, the businessman shoots in his own foot: “Maybe it is also good to mention that the international school of Murcia is located here.”
Coincidence makes sense. I know that school and I know people who work there. The building is located south of the city and was recently renovated. I do not know anything about moving plans.
“Will there be a branch of the school here?” I ask carefully.
“No, no,” declares the head of resort, “The school is located here. And there will be a special road through the mountains to Murcia, so that the travel time will be minimal. ”
“But you can reach the city in 15 minutes via the highway. And I think that school just stays in Murcia… ”
“You are mistaken. They are looking for a more international ambiance, and you will find it here. ”
There is a silence. Johan’s hand goes back to the cup. The index finger and thumb play with the earpiece for a few moments. Then he looks at me silently. A few new channels seem to have drawn through his face.
“Maybe we’re not talking about the same school,” I try. “I mean at the international school in La Alberca.”
Two rows of snow-white teeth. “Yes, exactly,” laughs the businessman. “Next to the hospital. But they leave there. The contract will be signed shortly. ”
Johan lets go of the cup. He looks relieved. Asks to ask a few more football-related questions.
Of course I want that. And so I inquire about one of his hobby horses: the youth academy of Ajax. “That is indeed a head-tail of mine,” he chuckles (he really says it: head- tail) and burns loose. About gliding youth players, for example: “Everything starts at the beginning. You can say that a certain 18-year-old is a dreamer and immediately floats after a goal, but that boy was really not born when he was eighteen. He’s been with Ajax for five years or more! ”
While Cruijff is chattering, I watch his neighbor every now and then, hoping to spot something suspicious. But I don’t find anything – no bad looks, no jitters, nothing to indicate that he’s just been cornered.
Perhaps he was not at all cornered either. Maybe the Basilovich of this world and all those ‘insiders’ made me too suspicious and that school just came.
After an hour and a half of talking we say goodbye. Johan thanks me for the photo and says: “Enjoy life in Murcia. I always like to come here. The air, the people … And yes, now also this resort … ”
The golf vouchers give me a warm hand and the number of his secretary in case I need additional information.
That same evening I call an acquaintance who works at the international school. He is very sure that there will be no moving in the coming years. They are even planning to build a new swimming pool and a number of tennis courts for the students.
“Why don’t you warn Johan?” my wife asks, in a tone as if I need to send a message to a good friend.
Maybe I should do that. But how does something like this work without noise? The Foundation, Jaap de Groot, Johan Derksen, the press chief of Barça, yes, I also think about Sergio. In the end, I conclude that it is a hopeless mission. And even if I personally speak to Cruijff, what should I say? That the school will not be built? For him, that is probably just ‘a detail’ in the whole picture – a paradise picture of 3.5 million square meters.
Most likely Johan would find me a nasty schemer. Or worse. Do I want to take that risk when my gift is now in his living room?
I intend to follow the news about the resort closely.
May 23, 2006
AMSTERDAM (ANP) – Johan Cruijff wants the luxurious Mosa Trajectum resort on the Spanish coast to stop using his name and photo. The five-star park of a Dutch project developer calls himself Golf & Sports Resort Johan Cruyff and has a Johan Cruyff running track.
His photo is featured on the website and in brochures. According to the former footballer, the park is now doing so badly that he no longer wants to be associated with it. That emerged on Tuesday during summary proceedings before the court in Amsterdam.
In 2001 Cruijff linked his name to the park in Murcia, Spain, where 1500 villas and apartments and a golf course were to be built. According to his lawyer, the resort is still a large construction site five years later, the park does not meet the expectations and the complaints from homeowners about the quality are raining.