Only three players have won the Ballon D’Or (European Footballer of the Year) award three times since it began in 1956. Two of these players where Dutch – Johan Cruyff (1971, 1973 and 1974) and Marco Van Basten (1988, 1989 and 1992) – the third player was French midfielder Michel Platini who won the award in 1983, 1984 and 1985.
In 1999 the winners of the Ballon D’Or between 1956 and 1999 voted for the player of the century. Johan Cruyff came third behind Pele and Maradona. While Van Basten was placed eighth. The four players between Cruyff and Van Basten where Di Stefano, Platini, Beckenbauer and Puskas.
Johan Cruyff was the star of the Dutch ‘Total Football’ philosophy which was devised by Rinus Michels. He was the central player in the Ajax team that won the European Cup in three consecutive seasons between 1971 and 1973. He played 229 games for the club between 1964 and 1973 before moving to Barcelona where he made 143 appearances between 1973 and 1978. With Cruyff in the team Barcelona won La Liga for the first time since 1960.
For Holland Cruyff scored 33 goals in 44 matches. In the 1974 World Cup Finals in West Germany Cruyff was central in Holland’s road to the final. On the way to the final they defeated Argentina 4-0 (2 goals), East Germany 2-0 and Brazil 2-0 (1 goal). The final began dramatically as a 13-pass move ended in Cruyff winning a penalty which was converted by Neeskens. West Germany hadn’t touched the ball. Germany finally came back to win the Final 2-1.
Marco Van Basten made his debut for Ajax as a substitute replacing Johan Cruyff in a 5-0
win over NEC Nijmegen in April 1982.
Van Basten was arguably the greatest goal scorer of his era. He scored 128 goals in 133 appearances for Ajax before moving to AC Milan where he netted 128 in 147 games. In the 1985-86 season he scored 37 goals for Ajax in 26 matches earning the European Golden Boot award. He was part of a Dutch trio with Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit that dominated Italian and European football in 1988-89 and 1989-90 winning the European Cup in both seasons.
He helped Holland to the European Championship crown in 1988 with one of the most memorable goals in international football – a powerful volley from a narrow angle in the final against USSR. Earlier in the tournament he had scored a hat-trick against England and the winning goal in the semi-final against West-Germany.
In 1993 his career was unfortunately cut short at the age of 29 due to ankle injuries.