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The Xtra Historic Moment: From Nightlife Enthusiast to Total Football Legend

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Prince Jean

Jul 4, 2024

The World Football Throwback

Every day, XtrAfrica highlights a memorable football journey. Today’s spotlight is on Ruud Krol, whose transformation from a nightlife enthusiast to a pivotal figure in Rinus Michels' legendary 'Total Football' . Credit:FIFA

Ruud Krol, a key figure in the legendary Dutch "Total Football" team of the 1970s, has a fascinating story that transcends his on-field brilliance. Known initially for his nightlife escapades, Krol's journey to becoming a disciplined and inspiring leader under the guidance of Rinus Michels is both intriguing and motivational. In this interview, Krol shares his experiences, insights, and reflections on his career, the Dutch national team, and the enduring legacy of Total Football.

God gave us two ears and one mouth,” you once warned Pim van Dord. How did that transition happen?

“Rinus Michels found it amusing. The ungovernable partygoer had become an inspiring preacher.”

Tell us about your nightlife during your early days with Ajax.

"The night before games, while my teammates were in bed, I would be out in Amsterdam’s trendiest nightspots, dressed in silk shirts, double-breasted jackets, and velvet pants. Eventually, Michels' patience ran out. One evening, he sent a staff member to retrieve me from a discotheque. The encounter resulted in a classic Krol response: ‘Would your wife like to dance?’ Everyone laughed, but Michels didn't find it funny. Despite this, he knew my potential and saw I could be central to the team’s success.”

How did your playing style contribute to the team?

“My primary position was on the left side of the defense, but I often ventured into midfield, the wing, and even the opposition’s box. I would slalom past opponents like Ingemar Stenmark and deliver precise long passes like Roger Staubach. My powerful shots even left Johan Cruyff awestruck. Michels’ patience paid off as I eventually settled down, got married, and focused more on my game. My partnership with Wim Suurbier, nicknamed ‘Snabbel and Babbel,’ became legendary.”

You were quite superstitious and wore the No. 5 shirt for Ajax. How did you feel about wearing No. 12 at the 1974 World Cup, and how did Johan Cruyff get his preferred No. 14?

“It was our first World Cup since 1938. We didn’t know how it worked. They did it alphabetically, and I ended up with No. 12. I wanted No. 5, the shirt I wore for Ajax and made my Netherlands debut in. By 1978, I knew how it worked and made sure I got No. 5 in Argentina. Cruyff, as the captain, found out about the alphabetical order and secured No. 14.”

Was there ever any tension between Ajax and Feyenoord players on international duty?

“No, never. When we played against each other, yes, but on the national team, there was no tension. Under Fadrhonc and Michels, there was always respect between us and for our top coaches.”

How did you handle the pressure going into the 1974 World Cup?

“We felt no pressure because the World Cup was new to us. We hadn’t been since 1938. Our pre-tournament performances weren't great, but when Michels joined us permanently, things improved. A 4-1 friendly win over Argentina boosted our confidence significantly.”

What do you remember about Johan Cruyff's famous turn against Sweden?

“There was a huge reaction, but for us, it was normal. We’d seen him do it before, but it was the first time on a big international stage.”

How did it feel to score your first World Cup goal against Argentina?

“That wasn’t my first World Cup goal. My first was an own-goal against Bulgaria! (laughs) The tension was high, but it was ‘our’ weather, which I think gave us an advantage.”

Brazil were the defending champions. What was the mindset going into that game?

“We loved Brazilian football. Playing against the world champions was like a final. It was a tough game, but we were motivated and won, though it could have gone either way.”

What are your thoughts on the final against Germany?

“We were a better team than Germany, but in football, a weaker team can win. We were unlucky with the penalty decision in the first half and Maier’s inspired form in the second.”

Is it true some Ajax players tried to recruit West German Horst Blankenburg?

“That was just newspaper talk. We had good central defenders. Our only issue was left-back, which is why Michels put me there.”

The Dutch team kept five clean sheets in seven matches in 1974. Do you think the team’s defensive ability is underrated?

“Yes, we were very strong defensively, thanks to Michels. His philosophy was that if you could attack, you could defend, and vice versa.”

What was the reception like when you returned to the Netherlands after the World Cup?

“The reception was amazing. We weren’t world champions, but the reception was truly exceptional, something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

What do you think about playing every minute possible at the 1974 and 1978 World Cups?

“It’s a fantastic statistic, but I’d prefer to have played less and won a gold medal! (laughs) But it’s exceptional.”

Do you consider yourself among the top long-range passers in football history?

“Yes, especially considering the heavier ball back then. Cruyff always encouraged me, and Michels had me practice a lot.”

What do you think of Michels as a coach?

“He was brilliant. He took our football to the highest level, always pushing us to move the ball forward and work hard in training.”

What are your thoughts on Johan Cruyff as a player?

“Extraordinary. He was Michels’ right-hand man on the field, with unbelievable skills and intelligence. He ranks up there with Pele and Maradona.”

What do you think of the legacy of ‘Total Football’?

“‘Total Football’ was revolutionary. Everyone talks about it even now. It’s a testament to Michels’ philosophy and the team’s execution.”

Where do you think the Dutch side of the 1970s ranks among the greatest teams in international football history?

“I think we were the greatest of the 1970s. We were unlucky, but we were definitely the best team of that era.”

Ruud Krol's journey from a nightlife enthusiast to a pivotal figure in the "Total Football" revolution is a testament to his talent and the visionary guidance of Rinus Michels. Krol's reflections provide a unique insight into one of football's most celebrated eras, highlighting the discipline, skill, and teamwork that defined the Dutch national team of the 1970s. His story continues to inspire and captivate football fans around the world.

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