By Matt Jones
Ronald Koeman officially opened Cruyff Court Everton with a penalty kick at The People’s Hub on Wednesday and expressed his delight at seeing the Toffees help to preserve the legacy of his idol, Johan Cruyff.
The new facility, which will be operated by Everton in the Community, will be free to use and is the 225th of its type worldwide in partnership with the Cruyff Foundation. There are five pitches in the United Kingdom.
Koeman, who watched on as local children and the Everton Amputee team took part in activities on the surface at the Everton Free School, agreed such inclusive spaces epitomise the mantras of Cruyff.
“It’s nice for the local community, for the people, for the disability people,” he said. “It’s really nice to have this pitch to do you exercises; young kids, older people. It’s for everybody in the community of the town. And still, better that it’s close to Goodison Road!”
Koeman is a Johan Cruyff Foundation Ambassador and was close to the legendary Dutchman, who managed him during their time together at Barcelona. Cruyff, who died of cancer in March last year, is regarded as one of the greatest players and coaches of all time, as well as a pioneer of the modern game.
The Everton boss told reporters he still seeks inspiration from memories of the great man all these years on.
“Sometimes when I need to make decisions I go back and ask myself what he would do in that time or what kind of decision he would make, because he was a really big inspiration,” said the Everton boss. “An inspiration for me, an inspiration for what he did as a coach.”
“He was the best Dutch player, of the world. He showed that sometimes on the pitch in the training sessions and you had no discussion because he showed you the direction to go!
“I was a good player, but to be a top player you need coaches like him.”
And what would Cruyff have made of the pitch? “He will smile,” Koeman added. “I spoke one year ago about Everton with him, before I signed for Everton and we spoke about the club because we knew the club was really involved in the community.”
Under Cruyff, Koeman played some of the best football of his career at Barcelona, with the defender forging his place in the Blaugrana’s iconic Dream Team.
The group’s highest point came in the 1992 European Cup final, when Barcelona beat Sampdoria 1-0 at Wembley. It was the Everton boss who fired home the winning goal that day with a trademark free-kick.
Koeman thinks that success, led by Cruyff, helped pave the way for the recent dominance enjoyed by the Catalan giants: “In 1992 it was the first European Cup for Barcelona and the first one is always a special one,” the 52-year-old remembered. “And after that they’ve won much more than that time. But I think it was the start, he was the man who changed the style of play in Barcelona and other coaches like [Pep] Guardiola, like [Louis] van Gaal, [Frank] Rijkaard made it even more complete than he did.”
Niels Meijer, who is an international director for the Cruyff Foundation, was delighted to see Koeman present to open the pitch: “He is an icon,” Meijer said of Koeman. “He is a big manager for Everton but most of all, he is a big friend of the Cruyff family, he’s a great ambassador for the Cruyff foundation. He is the only person who could have opened this today.”
Meijer continued, suggesting Cruyff would be proud of the pitch in the shadow of Goodison Park: “This is his [Cruyff’s] legacy. He was proud of being a successful football player and coach, but the most proud he was is in this kind of project, when every child has the possibility to be active no matter their culture, no matter their background, no matter their gender or age.”
The pitch is emblazoned with the Cruyff Foundation logo in the centre circle, with the “14 Rules of Johan Cruyff”—which include responsibility, respect and initiative—displayed for users of the facility to adhere to.