(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
At times, Jordi Cruyff has seemed almost aloof.
He didn’t make much of an effort to disguise his disdain for the media when he held the occasional press conference and was apparently not too concerned he might come off as arrogant.
In his eyes, his only responsibility was doing the best job possible as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s sports director, and speaking to journalists was one of the least important parts of it.
Cruyff has never been one to show much emotion, but that is slowly beginning to change, finally giving a glimpse of the way he truly feels towards Maccabi over the past week.
The now 43-year-old probably planned on spending two or three years at Maccabi before moving on to bigger and better things. He surely never imagined that he would still be in Tel Aviv five years after arriving in the summer of 2012. He has, however, become part of the fabric of the illustrious club, and even though he has rarely spoken about it, clearly Maccabi is far more than just a stepping stone to him.
Cruyff revolutionized the club in his five years as sports director, and perhaps just as importantly, decided to make his first steps as a head coach with the yellow-and-blue.
It has been far from plain sailing so far. Maccabi came through four rounds of qualifiers to reach the Europa League group stage, but in three group games has picked up a single point and amassed a goal difference of 0-5.
Tel Aviv won only four of its first eight Premier League games, with a 2-1 loss to 10-man Hapoel Beersheba last week raising real concern whether the yellow-and-blue has what it takes to reclaim the championship after two years.
That left Cruyff having to answer serious questions regarding his future at the club, something which was unthinkable not that long ago.
“I will never be a problem for Maccabi Tel Aviv,” said Cruyff. “I love this club too much to be stubborn and to think only about myself. I’m very critical of myself and if I ever feel that it is me I will be the first one to admit this.”
Maybe it is the strains of being a head coach or the relief of having returned to winning ways on Sunday, but Cruyff was never more open regarding his feelings and connection with the club as he was after the 5-2 win over Hapoel Acre.
For the first time, Cruyff addressed the reports that connected him with a move to Spanish powerhouse Barcelona over the summer and spoke candidly about his relationship with club owner Mitch Goldhar and his right-hand man at Maccabi, Jack Angelides.
Cruyff gave an unequivocal answer when asked whether he was forced into becoming the team’s coach by Goldhar.
“Do you really think that somebody can force me to do a job I maybe don’t want to do? I don’t think I have any necessity from anybody in my life that I’m going to be forced to do something I don’t want to do,” said Cruyff. “You read the reports that I was linked to Barcelona last summer, [which was] officially said by the president of Barcelona. If we took this step, it is because we both wanted to do it and because we both believe it is the right step for myself and for the club.
“The only thing I can say is that we have always had a good relationship,” added Cruyff. “We have a good personal and professional relationship and without that I probably wouldn’t be here for six years.”
Cruyff also spoke for the first time of his sense of gratitude towards Goldhar and the club for their support during the final months of his father’s life. Jordi’s father, soccer legend Johan Cruyff, passed away at the age of 68 last March.
“The club have always been very supportive towards me. When I had my father’s situation that I felt very bad that I was not near him in those months because I had to work here. I have always had personal support from both Mitch and Jack and for me that is more important than any club, any work and any professional thing. They were there when I needed it as a person and that is something I don’t forget.”
The victory over Acre released a lot of pressure and Cruyff is confident the team will register a significant improvement once he has a full squad at his disposal. That is likely to happen following the international break that begins next week. Maccabi hosts Astana in the Europa League on Thursday and faces Hapoel Ra’anana in local league action on Sunday before having 17 days to rest and train.
“I think we are on the right track. We have four games in 12 days and we have done two in good style I think,” said Cruyff. “Now we have a must-win game on Thursday and another must-win game next Sunday. Then we have a very happy break. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to have a break because it will allow us to finally get the squad together. I think that from there on this team is only going to get better and grow.”
It may have taken more than five years and a change to a position in which he is obligated to speak to the media on a regular basis, but it seems that we are finally getting a look at the real Jordi Cruyff.
He still treats the media as a distraction, but recognizes that as a coach it is a significant part of his job. His recent openness should only help him as he aims to lift the team, giving Maccabi fans a valuable insight to his emotions towards their club.
Cruyff may not have arrived in Tel Aviv as a life-long supporter, but he is also far from being an indifferent foreigner. He has come to care about the yellow-and-blue as much as the team’s fans do and that is all anyone could ask for.