World Cup finalist and three time European champion with Ajax Johan Cruyff died Thursday morning, aged 68, from complications due to  lung cancer. He died in Barcelona, surrounded by his wife and three children.

A heavy smoker all his life, Cruyff had been diagnosed with lung cancer in October of 2015.

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Believing he would beat the diagnosis, the legendary Dutchman released a statement in February from a Spanish hospital stating "I feel like I'm up 2-0 at halftime". A haunting statement and a testament to how positive he was until the very end of his life. His death came just merely six months after doctors pronounced his diagnosis, as the former Ajax man sought medical attention for a heavy cough he endured for some time prior to seeking treatment.

Johan Cruyff in 1974/Photo via Wikipedia.
Johan Cruyff in 1974/Photo via Wikipedia.

A legend as big as the legacy he left behind

Considered to be the most talented player of his generation, Cruyff epitomized what has come to be known as Dutch "total Football", a style of play in which the entire team moves in tandem up and down the pitch in a fluid like motion. A midfielder who lived and breathed his nation's football, Cruyff brought Holland to its first ever World Cup final in 1974, only to lose out to the host nation West Germany.

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He eventually retired from the national team in 1977 after helping his country qualify for the World Cup in Argentina. The product of an Ajax youth system, which produced such fellow countrymen as Clarence Seedorf and Marco Van Basten, Cruyff found continental success with the team of his youth, bringing three consecutive European Cup triumphs to the godonzenen (Dutch for "the Gods"). Making 240 appearances for his club and scoring an astonishing 190 goals in total, the Dutch legend went on to play for Barcelona in the latter part of his career winning both the league and the cup with the Catalan side.

Individual honors and managerial career

Winner of three consecutive ballon d'or awards from 1971-1973 as an Ajax player, Cruyff's glory days were coming to an end by the 1980's, following an odd stint in the now defunct North American Soccer League. But his managerial career would be as glorious as his on the pitch days. Returning to his boyhood club, Cruyff would manage an Ajax side that housed future legends such as Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkard, and Aron Winter.

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Taking the Cup Winners' Cup of 87' and the Dutch League, Cruyff then went on to coach Barcelona in the early 90's, bringing almost every single trophy to the Catalan titans including their first ever European Cup, now the Champions League. The Dutchman even went on to serve as an advisor for Barça president Joan LaPorta, who remained his close friend up until the end.

A proponent of the philosophy of short passing and an aggressive attacking style, Cruyff's career as a club manager was as distinguished as his days on the pitch.

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As the 90's came to a close, health issues combined with a string of failed business negotiations would hamper the rest of Cruyff's managerial career.

The 'Cruyff Turn'

Cruyff had been a strong family man all his life and is survived by his wife of almost 50 years, Danny Coster, and their three children. The Dutch legend will live on in the hearts and minds of all fans who enjoy the beautiful game. Known for the famous "Cruyff Turn", the Ajax and Barcelona man would torment defenders with his fast paced style of man to man box play.

A center forward most of his career, Cruyff would drop out as a creative play maker when needed as dictated by total football philosophy. Epitomized by his fast pace, quick dribbling, tenacious man marking, and offensive vision, Cruyff was living proof of the success of unorthodox tactics. In a generation that saw Franz Beckenbauer, Danielle Passarella, and Rivellino, Cruyff by far stood out among the rest with his brand of sensationalism on the pitch. For a player who gave everything he could to global football, Johan Cruyff will truly be missed.

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