Global Dispatches: The Netherlands — The Rake and Organized Chaos

April 7, 2011 Updated: March 7, 2012

WOERDEN, The Netherlands—Dutch people are not comfortable with heroes, especially when they are Dutch, and even less when they are still alive. Our greatest (soccer) hero all-time, Johan Cruijff, is still alive … and kicking.

Johan Cruijff is regarded as one the greatest soccer players in history and had an extremely successful career as a player for Dutch club AFC Ajax, Barcelona, and the Dutch national team in the ’60s and ’70s, and later as coach back with both AFC Ajax and Barcelona in the ’80s and ’90s.

After his active career he seems to prefer to spend most of his time away from publicity. This, as a matter of fact, only adds to his aura of being an untouchable, eccentric genius.

No matter what, when Cruijff speaks, people listen. When he acts, people watch. Never mind his speech is far from standard, with some of his statements even becoming Dutch proverbs: “Sometimes something must happen, before something happens.”

And when nothing happens, Cruijff does something to make things happen.

His beloved club AFC Ajax, named after a legendary Greek warrior hero, has been performing poorly over the last decade and hasn’t been able to win a national title for seven long years. Its reputation as a world-class team and youth training institute is melting like snow under the sun.

This long stretch of miserable performances caused Cruijff to step into the spotlight and perform with the air, precision, and power that we knew him for as player and coach.

Within a couple of weeks, he single-handedly caused the entire management and board of supervisory directors of Ajax to step down. As far as I know, he accomplished this by writing a report and a column, making some phone calls, and answering some media questions. Things are definitely happening now.

The report starts with a quote that reminds one of a quote by the founder of Taoism, Lao Tze, in his seminal work Dao De Jing: “On the way to organized chaos, on the way to success,” then “you need both quality and result; result without quality is boring, quality without result is senseless.”

In the report, the poor youth program is identified as the main cause for the disappointing quality and results. The current structure of the youth program is likened in form to a rake. The rake possibly also hints at the stiffness of that system and how many talents slip through the rakes’ teeth.

Anyway, this “rake” needs to be transformed into “organized chaos.” But good advice and organized chaos come at a price. Cruijff only gives advice when it is actually followed—otherwise what’s the point in giving advice?

In practice, it means that some people will be fired and replaced by people that share Cruijff's vision.

“How to fight a half-God?” said one of the directors on his way out.

The Dutch public is still divided on Cruijff’s input and intentions. It is almost like a national issue of having faith or not. Is he a visionary or a rambling old man?

I personally think we should cherish our heroes and take their advice. Even if the goals don’t work out as hoped—to become the best club in the world—I am sure it won’t be boring anymore. After all, these meager years might prove to be good for something.

“Every disadvantage has its advantage,” as Cruijff often says.