I remember with total clarity the moment I decided Johan Cruyff was the coolest bloke on the planet.
It was during the World Cup in 1974, and The Daily Mirror had been dispatched to visit him for a profile piece. Cruyff had just performed his legendary Cruyff Turn, the most audacious dribbling trick of all time, and the world’s press had dubbed him “Pythagoras in boots” because of his style, philosophy and massive footballing brain.
I don’t even remember what he said. But I do remember every little detail of the picture.
As you do between crucial World Cup matches, Cruyff decided not on extra training under the cruel German sun, but instead opted for a relaxed game of cards, a ciggie and a bumper glass of iced Martini Rosso.
Holland’s George Best wore a low-cut, plain black V-neck jumper, worn with nothing underneath, and a giant pair of porn star sunglasses.
Legs astride a bar stool covered in cards and piles of money, he wore cream flares and black leather flip flops, while a rectangular silver pendant hung nonchalantly from a chunky silver chain. But the accessory that topped them all was a fat, white continental ciggie, elegantly dangling from the corner of his couldn’t-care-less mouth.
If Adidas did Steve McQueen, this man was it. Cruyff was Richard Ashcroft while he was still in nappies. And just like the way Cruyff played the game, he made it look so, well, effortless. Never mind total football: this guy was total cool.
Holland may well have ended up the perennial under-achievers in ‘74, but in the style stakes, JC was untouchable.
There was commercial worth in this, and so it was that five years later in 1979, while playing in Barcelona, Cruyff teamed up with Italian designer Emilio Lazzarini and released his own clothing label, Cruyff Sports. Their bread and butter were classic sneakers, although there were also a few dodgy shell suits, worn by Marco Van Basten and Denis Bergkamp (but please don’t hold that against him).
Over the following years, Cruyff nailed the Burberry trench coat look, totally owned the black polo neck – never easy unless you’re a black jazz pianist or a secret agent – made oversized man bags musthaves and was the only man ever to wear an Adidas tracksuit top zipped down to midships with a bare chest underneath and not look like a drug dealer. Hell, he even looked good in floral shirts and flares the size of yachting sails.
But the pinnacle was when he opened the Cruyff Shoetique in Amsterdam. That’s right, not boutique, but Shoe-tique.
Selling premium, hand-made Italian loafers in luxe materials like lizard skin and with genuine silver clasps, they’re the most stylish item designed by any footballer, ever. Rare as rocking horse manure, they occasionally pop up on ebay and are known to reduce grown men of a certain age to tears.
Mark Powell is a Soho tailor par excellence.