Johan Cruyff, one of the greatest soccer players of his generation, and perhaps ever, missed the 1978 FIFA World Cup held in Argentina as he didn't want to play close to the torture chambers the right-wing government had set up to house dissidents of the regime.
“How can you play soccer a thousand meters from a torture center?” he is quoted as saying before the tournament.
The South American nation was in turmoil at the time of the competition after a right-wing coup, led by General Jorge Rafael Videla, Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera and Brigadier-General Orlando Ramón Agosti, overthrew Isabel Peron’s democratically elected government two years before.
The dictatorship, which was backed by the U.S., led to brutal repression of the Argentine people with as many 30,000 people forcibly disappeared by the regime.
Argentina's political instability couldn’t be ignored by Cruyff, who was aged 31 at the time and winding down his illustrious career. So he pulled out of the Netherlands squad in a move that infuriated Dutch soccer officials.
He expanded his explanation a number of decades of later.
In 2008, Cruyff said he would have been scared for his safety in Argentina after he and his family had been the victims of a kidnapping attempt a few months before the tournament in Barcelona.
"The children were going to school accompanied by the police. The police slept in our house for three or four months. I was going to matches with a bodyguard," he said. "All these things change your point of view towards many things. There are moments in life in which there are other values.”
The Netherlands’s reached the final where they lost out to the hosts 3-1 after extra-time and many blamed Cruyff's absence for the heart-breaking defeat.
Cruyff, who died Thursday after a five-month battle with lung cancer, has been described by many a pundit as the father of modern day soccer, planting the seeds for the fast-paced ferocious play we have grown accustomed to in Europe’s top leagues today such as La Liga in Spain and the English Premier League.
After a quick glance at Cruyff's trophy cabinet and individual awards, he could be described as the Lionel Messi of the 1970s and 80s, or rather Messi could be described as the Cruyff of the 2000s. Unlike Messi, Cruyff had a piece of skill named after him, called the the ''Cruyff Turn," as he is said to be creator of a deft touch that fools the opposition when you are facing away from them.
RIP Johan Cruyff - one of the best players, and innovators, in football history https://t.co/REESq3hDfP— Sporting Index (@sportingindex) 24 March 2016
The Dutchman, who prefered to play in the hole behind the striker, scored over 200 goals for Amsterdam giants Ajax during a nine-year period helping the club accrue eight Eredivisie (Holland’s premier division) titles and three European cup trophies.
The tricky forward then moved on to Barcelona in 1973 for a world record fee of US$2 million. During a five-year playing stint in Catalonia, his goals helped the side win the La Liga in 1974 and the Copa del Rey in 1978. His 61 goals in all competitions and decision to name his son, Jordi, a Catalan name, helped Cruyff cement his name in the club’s folklore even before he returned as manager in 1988.
Former Argentina and Barcelona coach César Luis Menotti mentioned the three-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner in the same breath as Pele and Maradona.
"There have been four kings of football – Di Stefano, Pele, Cruyff and Maradona – and the fifth has not yet appeared. We are awaiting the fifth, and it is sure to be Messi, but so far he is not among the kings," Menotti said.
Despite all the individual plaudits he received, awards and domestic trophies with his club teams, not to mention his phenomenal managerial records with both Ajax and Barcelona, Cruyff didn’t win any international honors with the Dutch national side, barring a runners-up medal in the 1974 FIFA World Cup.
Cruyff, who was a loquacious character off the pitch and a notorious chain smoker, was capped 48 times for the Oranje and played a crucial role in helping his country reach the final of the 1974 World Cup, in what turned out to be his only appearances in the competition.
For a player as gifted as Cruyff and for a team as complete as the Holland side of the 1970s not to win soccer’s greatest prize is one the game’s greatest disappointments.
The Dutch side and Cruyff had one of their best chances of winning the coveted trophy at the 1978 competition in Argentina and undoubtedly its chances would have boosted should he have been available for selection.
Instead of playing for his country in Argentina 1978, Cruyff finalized a lucrative deal with U.S. side the Los Angeles Aztecs a before moving on to the Washington Diplomats. After, he had two more seasons with Ajax and brief time with Dutch team Feyenoord to finish his 20 years as a player.
Cruyff embarked on a highly successful managerial career in 1985 with Ajax before returning to Barcelona in 1988. During an eight-year stint with the Spanish giants he steered the club to four La Liga titles and a Copa del Rey trophy.
The Dutch soccer legend was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2015 and lost his battle with the disease on March 24.
“Johan Cruyff died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard fought battle with cancer,” a statement on the soccer legend's website reads. “It’s with great sadness that we ask you to respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”