A look back at the career of Ajax’s legendary defender Ruud Krol, one of the most talented players to play the game at club and International level.

  • By Chaka Simbeye
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000 krolIn July 2011, it is midday in South Africa as Orlando Pirates have just come off the back of a treble-winning season to end their eight-year trophy drought and Dutch legend Ruud Krol is at the helm. At mid-season very few fans of the Soweto-based team expected such a glorious end to their season. In fact, the mid-season was so gloomy fans were calling for the Dutchman’s head but Krol kept it, galvanised his team and led them to a triumphant end. However, the Dutchman was coming to the end of his contract and differences with demanding Pirates chairman Dr Irvin Khoza, lead to Krol’s departure. The treble-winning Dutchman was left to pack-up his ‘orange-shirt’ and move on. A testament to the culture in football as a successful playing career and Krol’s own successes at Pirates could only translate to very little with his superiors.

Born in Amsterdam, the right-footed defender went on to play for his hometown club Ajax where under Rinus Michels; the roots for a new age in football had been sewn. He eventually found his position at left-back which was an example of his fine abilities to use his athleticism and understanding of the game to adapt which is one of the attributes he is most fondly remembered for. This was immense in Ajax’s new fluid style of ‘Total Football’ where Krol was given the freedom to surge forward and use his pin-point crossing ability to create goals.

As with his aforementioned athleticism, Krol also possessed a tall frame with stalky legs which made it a difficult task to dis-possess him when he was on the move speedily prodding the ball up the right flank with the grace of a swan in water. But, as an Amsterdam native, he was drawn to the wild nightlife and the women that came with it and this was the biggest hindrance to his career. To be a part of this exciting brand of football being played, he had to be focused solely on football most of the time and with help from a teammate, he achieved this.

Ajax had begun their ascent to the top of European football and Krol by 1971 had become an integral part of this but was unable to participate in the first of three consecutive European Cup titles as a broken leg kept him at home as Ajax went to Wembley to dominate and beat Panathanaikos. However Krol did participate in Ajax’s second and third European Cup Final under the Romanian manager Stefan Kovacs and these were most significant to the history of Dutch football as Ajax established themselves as powers in European football. There was also the small bonus as they beat Inter Milan and Juventus who were the leading Italian football teams at the time as decades before in the post-war years, the Dutch and Ajax seemed a pariah in European football and in 1972 and 73 the pendulum had finally swung in their favour. Not to mention the added bonus of beating Inter Milan at De Kuip, the home of rivals Feyenoord.

At international level, he was a vital cog of Rinus Michel’s renaissance of ‘Total Football’ for the Dutch National Team at the 1974 World Cup in Germany. He continued to play the role of marauding full-back but in this system, Krol had the security of the scrappy Wim Van Hanegem covering for him when he roamed forward and this allowed him to press higher for the ball, placing an even firmer grasp on the control of his flank. The Dutch finished first in the first group stage of the World Cup beating Bulgaria and Uruguay and drawing against Sweden, the rest of the world was enthralled with their fluid style and began to take notice of ‘Total Football’, if they already hadn’t. In the second phase of group games, the Netherlands beat Argentina, South America and then eventually Brazil, the game against Brazil was infinitely special as the roots of ‘total football’ began with the use of the South American side’s 4-2-4 formation as the humble students from thousands of miles away had become the masters. All that was left was the World Cup Final against West Germany, the hosts which would be an especially tough tie for the Dutch. The crowd at the Olympicstadion was filled with German supporters wearing German colours and waving German flags. However, the two teams and sets of fans shared a mutual respect for eachother as before the game when the announcer was introducing the teams; every Dutch player’s name was met with a roar of cheers from the crowd. The Dutchmen came out flying and within the first two minutes, Johan Cruyff was fouled in the box after a skilful run and the Dutch had earned a penalty which Johan Neeskens converted. The Dutch were firmly in the driving seat but struggled to create clear-cut chances and were eventually punished when they conceded a penalty of their own in the 26th minute and Paul Breitner duly equalised. Before half-time, things got worse as clinical German forward Gerd Muller slotted in a second at the second time of asking after Krol blocked his first shot. The Germans put in an incredible defensive shift, singling out Cruyff in particular and Muller’s goal turned out to be the winning goal. The Dutch had fallen at the final hurdle and not for the last time!

Krol resumed his career in his native Amsterdam and the next four years weren’t as successful as the previous four behind him, Neeskens and Cruyff left Ajax for Barcelona as they were headhunted by Michels. Krol embarked on a period in his career where he assumed more responsibility both at club level and international level. He took on the captain’s armband at Ajax and then at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, where the Dutch were wrote off due to the retirement of talisman Johan Cruyff. At this point, Krol had completed his evolution from marauding fullback to the deepest-lying defender as a sweeper in the Dutch defence. It was less of a test of his athleticism and more on his understanding of the game and he passed with flying colours. The Dutch began by conceding 0 goals in their first two games as they put three goals past minnows Iran and played out to a goalless draw with Peru who were clearly more comfortable playing closer to home. Then came the match against Scotland which will be forever remembered in World Cup folklore, before the game some hilariously dubbed it as ‘Alcoholism vs. Total Football’.

However the Scotsmen came out swinging like a pugilist with nothing to lose against a much more formidable opponent. They lobbed the ball and got forward at great speed and through a quickly taken free-kick Krol was caught napping as a Bruce Rioch was allowed a free-header which was only denied by the crossbar. After a long goal kick and some calamitous Dutch defending, Kenny Dalglish had the ball in the back of the net but his goal was ruled out as he was adjudged to have fouled Krol. In the 34th minute, the Dutch won a penalty due to a questionable foul and Rensenbrink put them ahead. Jongbloed failed to catch a Dalglish cross and Joe Jordan could’ve made it 1-1 but the post prevailed, Krol and his defence very much struggling deal with the Scottish aerial onslaught. Just before half-time, the pressure tolled as after a cross which Jordan knocked on for a Dalglish volley which rifled past a hapless Jongbloed into the top of the goal as Scotland equalised. In the Second-half, Scotland kept on punching as there were acres of space unaccounted for behind the Dutch defence as the Orange continued to look stifled whenever the ball was in the air. The Scots won a penalty as Souness was taken down with a shot on goal. Adam Gemmill stuck the ball in the corner where Jongbloed just couldn’t reach as Scotland took a deserved 2-1 lead. Scotland killed the game of as Adam Gemmill left three defenders helplessly sliding on the ground and chipped the ball over Jongbloed with some incredulous skill and poise any Dutchman would have been proud of. The only that could’ve ruined a valiant and elegant Scottish performance was a marvellously placed Johnny Rep long shot to make it 3-2. Although, the Dutch lost 3-2, they went through in second place via goal difference and the skin of their teeth but the hearts they stole with their football four years earlier had been stolen by the courageous Scotland. The Netherlands and Happel gave the perfect reaction too their loss by disposing of Happel’s native Austria 5-1 in the first game in the next group stage before a hard-fought 2-2 draw against West Germany who they lost to in the final 4 years earlier. The Dutch then beat Italy 2-1 after a late Haan goal after Brandt scored an own goal before cleaning the Dutch slate with his equaliser a few minutes later. It was in true Krol-esque style as Krol had become the first player to score an own goal and a goal for his team, 4 years before. Again, just like 4 years earlier the Germans were in the final against the hosts Argentina but lost 3-1 after dragging the hosts into extra time as Nanninga scored a late goal to make it 1-1 in the last 10 minutes. For the second time, Krol and the Dutch had fallen victim to the curse of the hosts.

Krol left Ajax two years later for the Vancouver Whitecaps but after 16 games, he came to the realisation that he could still play at the highest level and joined Napoli for the next four seasons. In 1984, he joined Cannes and retired two seasons later which was fitting as he was incredibly fond of cinema and Cannes has a prestigious annual film festival. After some stints in Egypt and South Africa, Krol now finds himself at Esperance in Tunisia as we can only hope that the ‘man in the orange shirt’ finds his way in management just as he continued to adapt and progress in his playing career.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)