World

Dribbling up to fame and fortune

David Baird May 7 1979
World

Dribbling up to fame and fortune

David Baird May 7 1979

Dribbling up to fame and fortune

Spain

Lean, rangy Johan Cruyff is as surefooted as they come on the soccer field and last week he signed a oneyear contract with the New York Cosmos which should enable him to show a clean pair of heels to at least some of

the financial troubles that, along with rumors about his lady-killing exploits, have dogged his footsteps lately.

The Dutch international superstar, 32 this week, really hit the big time in 1973 when he was transferred from his Dutch club Ajax to Barcelona for more than $2 million. Cruyff got 20 per cent of that and soon he was acclaimed El Rey (the king) as his sharpshooting helped the club win the Spanish league championship.

Cruyff opened a Swiss bank account, appeared in television commercials and demanded fees of $500 for interviews about his private life. “People want entertainment that will give them a lift. I can provide that entertainment, and I don’t see why I should not be well paid for it,” he said. By last year, when he quit Barcelona, he had earned $2 million from the club and well-paid advertising work may have put the figure up to $5 million.

But the Spanish press was publishing lurid accounts of how he and his colleagues disported themselves at aftermatch fiestas. On one trip to Casablanca a Moroccan prince allegedly sent along five harem lovelies to Cruyff’s hotel—and not all were turned away. On another occasion Cruyff was said to have been found by his wife, Danny, herself something of a flirt, cavorting less than respectably with female fans in a hotel swimming pool. Fellow Dutch star Johann Neeskens, also likely to sign for the Cosmos, fed the fire by leaving his wife for a Barcelona playgirl.

But it was on the business front that Cruyff’s fortunes really came unstuck. First with his father-in-law Coster, then with a former Pierre Cardin male model turned wheeler-dealer, Michel Georges Basilevitch, Cruyff got involved in a series of improbable business enterprises ranging from special orange juice to selling cacti to Arabs. The result: a reported $50-million debt to the banks and a nasty public wrangle between the three former partners.

The final blow, however, came from the Spanish finance ministry which threatened stern action to garner unpaid taxes. Barcelona has accepted part of the responsibility. But that still leaves Cruyff with some paying out to do, to say nothing of $750,000 (Basilevitch’s estimate) lost through his business ventures.

When Cruyff left Barcelona he swore he was no longer interested in professional soccer. But Cosmos paid him $400,000 for first option should he change his mind. Last week he did so, for a salary somewhat smaller than the $4 million he asked for, and soon Johan Cruyff will be treating North America to the magic that may once more have made him a millionaire. David Baird

David Baird