Primera Liga in focus: If Barcelona ever need a new sporting director, they should look to Jordi Cruyff
Jordi Cruyff returned home to Barcelona on Friday, the first anniversary of his father Johan’s death. The former Barcelona, Manchester United, Celta Vigo, Alaves and Espanyol player expressed his delight that Barcelona’s new reserve team stadium, which will be built by the training ground on the outskirts of the city, will take his father’s name. He is also pleased that a statue of the legendary Dutchman, who played for and managed Barca, winning 13 trophies, will be erected at Camp Nou.
“If my father was to be in any place he would want to be in the academy, in that last step before the first team, so he would have been very happy about this,” Jordi said.
Jordi has represented his family with dignity when talking about his father, but has also impressed when talking about football in general. He is intelligent and thoughtful in interviews and thinks deeply about the game, like his father.
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A pure football man, he has clear ideas and principles about how the game should be played and has not been afraid to stand up for those. He has played for managers he believed in, even if it took him to unconventional clubs including Alaves and Metalurh Donetsk.
Jordi was a talented player who always stood out in training, even at Manchester United. He often outshone his peers in pre-season, starting the season well before picking up an injury or fading.
“I’m like a bear,” he told this writer. “I sleep in the winter and I’m wide-awake and hungry in the summer. I always got injured in November. The winter months were always difficult in a physical and strong league like England and that’s when things would go wrong.”
Homesick for Barcelona, he was put in housing “surrounded by older people a long way from the city centre” when he lived in Manchester. Then he wanted to live in its city centre when no footballers did. Now, many, including Pep Guardiola, do just that.
Jordi was also thinking about his future and enrolled on a postgraduate marketing course in Manchester to follow up the business marketing management course he had completed while a first teamer at Barca.
His intention was to work in the Premier League as a sporting director. Instead, he has filled that role for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel for the past four years. Maccabi have won three of the past four league titles and qualified for the Uefa Champions League group stage last season. With his family anchored in Barcelona, he has worked in seven countries and speaks five languages.
Being Johan’s son has been a blessing and a curse for Jordi. He once walked into the showers at Camp Nou to overhear two big-name players talking.
“I saw one give the signal to the other to be quiet,” he recalled. “Eventually, I said, ‘Look, if you have a problem go and speak to him [Johan], it’s nothing to do with me.’ I had to be ultra careful. If I was mates with a player then we couldn’t be seen socialising in public, because the media would have thought that the player was trying to get in my – and therefore my dad’s – good books. It wasn’t an easy position because if a player is not playing, they will search for any excuse.”
Jordi claims he learnt a lot from the experience.
“It actually changed my personality,” he said “I used to be very extrovert, but I became quiet, serious and I would retreat inside myself. There’s not a lot of things that can get to me nowadays, I can overcome things quickly.”
His life experiences have served him well as a sporting director, where he is the conduit between the club owner and the first-team manager, with responsibility for which players are signed. Early this season, he put himself in charge of a struggling team. Eight wins and a draw later, he sacked himself to return to being sporting director.
The first Catalan to legally be registered with the name Jordi during the Franco era, when Catalan names were banned, Cruyff’s stock in Catalonia is rising. After his father stopped coaching in 1996, he held power without a position and all prospective club presidents would court Johan.
Jordi does not wield the same power, but when Barcelona are next looking for a sporting director, they could do worse than look at a man with Jordi’s contacts, experience, principles and pedigree.
April will be a decisive month in title race
Spanish football returns after the international break, with Barcelona and Real Madrid facing a staggering nine games in April.
They will play each other on Sunday April 23 at the Bernabeu. Madrid head the table by two points with 11 games left and have a game in hand over Barcelona, but while the Madrid-supporting newspaper Marca thinks they have an 81 per cent chance of winning the title, there are likely to be several more twists in this title race.
Barca, who lost their last away match at Deportivo La Coruna, face some tough games after they meet second-bottom club Granada on Sunday, who only lost 1-0 at Camp Nou in October. Barca play Sevilla at home next Wednesday, then Malaga away before a Uefa Champions League last-eight first leg at Juventus. The Catalans’ next game after the trip to Turin is at Real Madrid before they face doomed Osasuna at home on April 26 and then play in the Catalan derby at Espanyol four days later.
It is an unforgiving schedule, but Real Madrid do not have an easy run either.
Madrid are at home to Alaves this Sunday before they play at struggling neighbours Leganes next Wednesday. Then things get tough. Zinedine Zidane’s side play Atletico Madrid on April 8, then they are away at Bayern Munich four days later in the Champions League before another away game at a Sporting Gijon, who held them in the equivalent fixture last term. Then it is the Bayern Munich return leg followed by Barcelona at home and away to Deportivo La Coruna, rejuvenated under new manager Pepe Mel. In their ninth game of April, Madrid entertain Valencia, who beat them 2-1 in February.
It is going to be tough for both sides; both sets of fans whose fans would only consider a Primera Liga title or a Champions League crown as being a successful season.
Barca are in the Copa del Rey final, and they won the Spanish Super Cup, while Real Madrid have already won the European Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup this season, but the real judgements will be made in May. And what happens in April will go a long way to deciding that.
It is a shame that Sevilla have faded from the title frame, sitting six points behind Barca in third. They are no longer in European competition and are free to concentrate on the league.
April sees them with a relatively easy run of fixtures with five games against teams in the bottom seven. But they also have the small matter of a game at Camp Nou next Wednesday.
Games of the week
The top four should ease themselves back after the international break by winning this weekend, with Real Madrid at home to Alaves, Barcelona at Granada, Sevilla hosting Sporting Gijon and Atletico Madrid at Malaga. With fifth-place Villarreal at home to Eibar, sixth-place Real Sociedad hosting Leganes and seventh-place Athletic Bilbao at Osasuna, most of the top face most of the bottom this weekend.
Player of the week
David Silva was the stand out player as Spain outclassed Israel 4-1 in Gijon to remain top of their World Cup qualifying group. The Manchester City midfielder put his country ahead with the best goal of the game and was the driving force. No Spain player has scored more than Silva for their country in qualifying.
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Published: March 28, 2017 04:00 AM