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Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff dies age 68

Barcelona, Ajax and Holland star Johan Cruyff has died aged 68 after a long battle with cancer. The three-time Ballon d'Or winner passed away surrounded by his family in Barcelona.

The sad news was announced on Cruyff's Twitter account and on his website on Thursday afternoon.

The site says: "On March 24, 2016 Johan Cruyff (68) died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard fought battle with cancer. It's with great sadness that we ask you to respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief."

Cruyff, regarded by most fans as one of the best players ever to grace a pitch, played for and managed both Barcelona and Ajax. He was named World Player of the Year three times and was voted European Player of the Century in 1999.

In his playing days, Cruyff - usually wearing the number 14 - was wiry, quick and blessed with great vision and positional sense. It was the latter two qualities, combined with an unusually high level of tactical awareness, that led Dutch national team coach Rinus Michels to make him the lynchpin of his famous 'Total Football' side of the mid-seventies.

Johan Cruyff FC Barcelona , Paul Madeley von Leeds (Vordergrund)

Johan Cruyff in action for Barcelona against Leeds

That Dutch side, which also included the likes of Johan Neeskens and Ruud Krol, are widely regarded as the greatest national team never to win the World Cup. Their positional fluidity and commitment to attacking, passing football won them many admirers. Cruyff was the personification of that team.

The ideals of that time had a lasting impact on Cruyff, who adapted the Michels blueprint at Barcelona when he took charge in 1988. The result was the club's first European Cup win in 1992 and a style of play that set the foundations for the current generation's success.

To add to his trailblazing reputation, he was one of a clutch of high-profile players to join the emerging North American Soccer League in the late seventies. Cruyff played for the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Washington Diplomats.

As a player he won nine Dutch titles, one Spanish title and three consecutive European Cups. He also picked up a World Cup runners-up medal in the 1974 World. In total, he made 48 appearances for the Dutch national team, scoring 33 goals.

Cruyff also enjoyed great success as a manager winning four La Liga titles, two European Cups and two Cup Winners Cups.

Watch video 02:16

Studio chat following Johan Cruyff's death

Known for his positive attitude both on the pitch and in the dugout, the Dutchman extended that attitude to his illness.

Just last month he said: "Right now, I have the feeling that I am 2-0 up in the first half of a match that has not finished yet. But I am sure that I will end up winning."

The Netherlands football association (KNVB) and former footballing adversary Franz Beckenbauer were among those who shared their sadness at the news.

Beckenbauer's tweet reads: "I am shocked. Johan Cruyff is dead. He was not only a very good friend but also a brother to me."

The former German captain played against Cruyff in the 1974 World Cup final, which Germany won 2-1. The Dutchman was named Player of the Tournament, dazzling throughout as the Dutch caught the public imagination. It was also the first time the world saw the move that would become known as the Cruyff turn, a deceptive dragback that baffled his Swedish opponents in the group stages.

Fußball Legende Johan Cruyff

Cruyff enjoyed success as a player and a manager

As in his native Holland, Cruyff was much loved in Spain, particularly in Catalonia. Catalan radio RAC1 summed up the feelings of the region on Thursday afternoon:

"A footballing legend has left us. He was everything at Barcelona: player, captain, coach, adviser ... He transformed the club from top to bottom."

It has been announced that the friendly match between the Netherlands and France on Friday evening will pause on the 14th minute, for a minute's silence in Cruyff's honor, as well as a minute's silence before Thursday's Italy vs. Spain friendly, and a special tribute to him before the April 2 Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid.

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