Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, regarded as one of the world’s greatest-ever footballers, has been diagnosed with lung cancer, his management team said on Thursday, as messages of support poured in.
“In the last few weeks Johan Cruyff has undergone medical tests at a Barcelona hospital. He has been diagnosed with lung cancer,” Carol Thate said in a statement.
“To respect Johan and his family’s privacy and because tests have not been finalised, no further information will be given at this stage,” Thate added.
“More will be given once these examinations have been finished.”
Cruyff, 68, who captained the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 1974 and who was one of the proponents of the ‘Total football’ philosophy, has been in-and-out of hospital over the last few weeks with health complaints.
During his international career, the unorthodox Cruyff, whose fluid passes and mercurial on-field tactics often kept opponents guessing until the last moment, scored 33 goals before retiring in 1977.
He also won the prestigious Ballon d’Or award three times.
Afterwards, he enjoyed a hugely successful managerial career with clubs like Amsterdam-based Ajax and Catalan giants Barcelona as well as a brief spell as adviser to Club Deportivo Guadalajara in Mexico.
Cruyff, who still lives in Barcelona, later tweeted his thanks for the support he had received.
“Muchas gracias, Dank jullie wel, Thank you for all your support,” he wrote.
Muchas gracias, Dank jullie wel, Thank you for all your support. https://t.co/XvmDdICj8p— Johan Cruyff (@JohanCruyff) October 22, 2015
In earlier days, Cruyff was often seen sporting a cigarette from the side of his mouth and known to light up at half-time or as soon as he stepped out of the showers. But he quit smoking after undergoing a double heart bypass operation in 1991.
At the time he was reportedly smoking at least 20 cigarettes a day.
He later appeared in an advertisement for the Catalan health department in which he was seen juggling a cigarette packet 16 times before booting it into touch. “Football has given me everything in life,” Cruyff said in the advert, which can still be seen on the YouTube video channel. “Tobacco almost took it all away.”
Get-well messages poured in for the Amsterdam-born Cruyff, including from FC Barcelona, where he played from 1973-78 and coached from 1988-1996.
“Before beginning her presentation, VP Susana Monje sent a message of support to Johan Cruyff, who just announced that he has lung cancer,” Barcelona said in a tweet as it presented its yearly figures on Thursday.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu tweeted in Spanish and in English: “Johan, you’ll win this one too! The whole Club is behind you.”
Former Barcelona striker Gary Lineker tweeted: “Very sorry to hear that Johan Cruyff has been diagnosed with lung cancer. A beastly illness. Wish him well with the battle that lies ahead.”
From 1988, when Cruyff started as Barca’s manager, the club “came to be associated once more with excellent football and sporting success”, Barcelona said on their website, describing the period under Cruyff’s leadership.
The club won four consecutive Spanish League championships between 1990 and 1994, highlighted by winning the European Cup in 1992 with players dubbed the “Dream Team” of European football.
“Dear #johancruijff i know you as a fighter and after many battles you won you will win this one too,” tweeted another Dutch football legend Ruud Gullit.
The Royal Dutch Football Association said in a statement “we are shocked by the news of Johan Cruyff’s illness. We wish him and his family all the best and our support”.
International football body Fifa also tweeted: “Wishing a speedy recovery to the incomparable @Johan Cruyff. This is just another challenge to conquer.”