Jordi Cruyff: Where Are They Now?

How the former Manchester United and Barcelona midfielder has reinvented himself as one of most sought-after leaders in the game.
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Jordi is the son of former Dutch football icon Johan Cruyff, and started his football career under the stewardship of his father whilst he was manager of Barcelona in the early 1990’s. Jordi spent two years in and around the Barcelona first team squad between 1994 to 1996, where he managed to score 11 goals in 41 games as an attacking midfielder. Notable performances that the Dutchman had at the Camp Nou featured the likes of Barcelona’s impressive 4-0 win against Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League, where he setup the opening goal of the game for Hristo Stoichkov.

At the end of the 1995/96 season Jordi’s father (Johan) left the Catalonia based club after suffering a heart attack and would never take a managerial role again. His son Jordi however, transferred to Manchester United in the summer of 1996 for £1.4 million on a four-year contract; having impressed Sir Alex Ferguson with his displays at the Camp Nou, and with Holland at Euro 1996 which was held in England.

Jordi made his debut for the reds in the 4-0 hammering of Newcastle in the Charity Shield at Wembley. Cruyff made his league debut against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park on the opening day, the same day as David Beckham’s infamous halfway line goal. His United career started quickly with two goals in his next two games against Everton and Blackburn, before a bad knee injury in November that season saw the Dutchman lose his place in the Manchester United starting line-up. Unfortunately, this was to be a sign of things to come for Cruyff in his time at Manchester United as he made just 36 appearances in all competitions in his next three seasons following his debut season at the club. In Cruyff’s time at Manchester United he did win the Premier League in 1996/1997 and the UEFA Champions League in 1999 following three group stage appearances despite having been loaned out to Spanish La Liga side Celta Vigo for the second half of the treble winning season.

Following what turned out to be an unfortunate stint for Cruyff at United due to injury problems, the Dutchman’s contract was not renewed following the 1999/2000 season. Cruyff was to return to Spain to join Deportivo Alaves, and stayed with the Spanish outfit up until the end of the 2002/2003 season when they were relegated to the Spanish Segunda. A notable highlight was scoring an 89 minute equaliser against Liverpool in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final at Westfalenstadion (Dortmund). However, Alaves lost the game 5-4 due to an own goal in extra time as the final was decided by Golden Goal; nether the less it was a stunning achievement in itself for the Spaniard’s to reach the UEFA Cup Final.

Cruyff signed for Espanyol for the 2003/2004 season where he would go on to play 30 times in La Liga that season, scoring 3 goals. He then turned down a contract renewal from the Barcelona based club and decided to retire to join his family’s clothing brand before coming out of retirement in 2006 to play for Metalurh Donetsk in Ukraine for two seasons. He then finished his playing career at Maltese Premier League side Valetta in 2010 after just one season there.

Despite Jordi struggling to live up to the lofty standards he had set in his early days at Barcelona and the household name his father Johan had created in the world of football on the pitch itself, Jordi became one of the most sought-after Directors of Football on the European football stages.

Following Jordi’s retirement from his playing days at Maltese side Valetta, he joined Cypriot outfit AEK Larnaca as Director of Football on a three-year deal. Cruyff appointed fellow Dutchman Ton Caanen as head coach, who had previously been his manager at Valetta. During Cruyff’s stint at the Cypriot side, Larnaca became only the third Cypriot team to ever qualify for the Group Stages of a European competition in 2011/12 following an aggregate victory over Norwegian side Rosenborg. Larnaca’s achievement has only been preceded by the likes of Anorthosis and Apoel Nicosia who had previously qualified for the UEFA Champions League Group Stages.

Due to his staggering success at AEK Larnaca, in April 2012, Cruyff was appointed as the Sports Director of Maccabi Tel Aviv following a compensation package to AEK Larnaca. His first managerial appointment upon arrival was to sign Oscar Garcia, who was a youth coach at Barcelona.

Under Cruyff's and Garcia's stewardship, in their first season at the club, Maccabi dominated the league and claimed their first title in ten years by thirteen points ahead of their nearest rival; doing so as the league's highest scorers, with 78 goals scored, whilst only conceding 30.

Following Garcia’s growing reputation amongst European football, the Spanish coach was signed by English Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion. Cruyff replaced the Spaniard with former Juventus midfielder Paulo Sousa.

This move further enhanced the performance of the team, as Maccabi won the league by a margin of 16 points; as well as having a successful Europa League campaign, as they advanced to the knockout phase following a tough group stage draw. The Israeli champions beat Bordeaux home and away, as well as beating Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt before eventually losing to FC Basel 3-0 on aggregate in the round of 32.

In 2014/15 Maccabi suffered a huge blow to their European campaign, as Operation Protective Edge kicked in due to the conflicts in Gaza. This meant that their qualifying games to reach the group stages of the UEFA Champions League would have to be held away from Israel, as a result the Tel Aviv based club didn’t enter the competition due to inconvenience and fears for their safety. Following this, Paulo Sousa departed to join FC Basel. Jordi Cruyff appointed Pako Ayestaran, who was a former assistant of Rafael Benítez at Valencia and Liverpool. Maccabi Tel Aviv became the first Israeli team to win a domestic treble: the Israeli Premier League, the Israel State Cup and the Toto Cup. Much to supporter’s surprise, Cruyff sacked Ayestaran as he didn’t believe that the right brand of football was being played. Cruyff believed that Ayestaran didn’t maximise the potential of the squad, despite winning every trophy that the club entered that season.

April 2015 saw Jordi renew his contract for a further two years, despite plenty of interest from several German Bundesliga clubs. In the 2015–16 season following Ayestaran’s departure, Cruyff appointed Slaviša Jokanović as head coach following the Serbians successful promotion campaign from the Championship with Watford to the Premier League. The team qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stages for the first time in 11 years, and faced Chelsea, Porto and Dynamo Kyiv in Group G before exiting the competition. Jordi appointed current Bayer Leverkusen manager Peter Bosz from Vitesse (who would then go on to make a name for himself at Ajax) after Jokanovic departed to join Fulham as head coach at the end of 2015. Despite naming two high profile managers in Jokanovic and Bosz, the club failed to win the league title in both seasons, losing out to Hapoel Be’er Sheva - coming second place in both title races.

Cruyff himself took over as manager in 2017/18 in what turned out to be his final season at the club. Maccabi finished second place in the league, but won the Toto Cup. Cruyff had clearly left the team in a better shape, as they would go on to win another league title the season after his departure. During Cruyff’s tenure at the club, Maccabi Tel Aviv managed to win three league titles in a row, as well as three domestic cups despite selling some key players along the way such as Erhan Zahavi and Munas Dabbur.

Following Cruyff’s departure, he joined Chinese Super League side Chongqing Dangdai Lifan for the 2018/19 season. Many pundits predicted that the Dutchman’s new team would be one of the favourites for relegation, having invested significantly less in foreign players than other Chinese clubs, as notable names such as Marek Hamsik, Marouane Fellaini and Moussa Dembele had recently joined the likes of Dalian Yifang, Shandong Luneng and Guangzhou R&F. However, in Cruyff’s only season at the club, his side finished 10, which was 15 points above the relegation zone occupied by Shenzhen (15) and Beijing Renhe (16).

Having had a very impressive start to his life off the pitch, Cruyff has recently been announced as manager of Ecuador, the nation of which former Manchester United captain Antonio Valencia plays for. Cruyff is yet to take charge of the Ecuador National Team due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus Pandemic. The Ecuador FA are aiming to improve the results of their national side, having gone out of the Copa America as the 11 best side, as well as having not reached a World Cup Finals since 2006 in Germany, where a David Beckham free kick knocked them out in the round of 16 as they lost 1-0 to England. 

If Cruyff replicates his previous leadership and successes off the pitch, it will surely only be a matter of time before we see the legendary household name of Cruyff return to the major European leagues or even on the world stage with a national side.