‘Pythagoras in boots’: Johan Cruijff and the Construction of Dutch National Identity

I.M. van Hilvoorde, R. Stokvis

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Sporting icons perform a key role in the production and reproduction of national identities. In the Netherlands, no one embodies this sentiment more appropriately than Johan Cruijff, regarded by many as one of the finest professional footballers ever to have played the game. Much of the early part of Cruijff's career (during the 1960s and 1970s) mirrored an era of optimism, (liberal) ideology, freedom, hope and, for the Netherlands competing in international sport, unprecedented success across a range of sports including football, ice skating and cycling. Only a very limited number of players (such as Pele, Platini or Beckenbauer) manage to translate their status as sporting icons onto their subsequent activities beyond the playing field. This article focuses on this phenomenon by examining the case of Cruijff, from an icon on the field of play to his status as a national leader capable of commentating on a range of domestic issues. This analysis also considers the manner in which Cruijff deployed his elevated status in the specific confines of a recent power struggle within his former club Ajax of Amsterdam, the most well-known football club in the Netherlands. The article argues that even in the event of perceived failure and, with this, a possible loss of credibility, the icon retains his prestige and notoriety. © 2013 The British Society of Sports History.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)427-444
    JournalSport in History
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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