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'Total Football' pioneer: Johan Cruyff remembered

Story highlights
  • Former clubs including Barcelona and Ajax pay tribute to Cruyff
  • Players past and present, from Gary Lineker to Xabi Alonso, acknowledge legend

(CNN) Many play the game, few change it.

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, who died Thursday aged 68, was one of the few.

Having innovated the Cruyff turn, and led the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final playing a revolutionary style of soccer dubbed 'total football', the Dutchman is widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time.

Cruyff won the European Cup with Ajax three times in succession in 1971, '72 and '73, before collecting a wide array of titles with Barcelona and Feyenoord.

The Dutchman "did more to make the beautiful game beautiful than anyone in history," said former Barcelona player Gary Lineker, who was managed by Cruyff.

Such was his talent, Cruyff was awarded the European Player of the Year award on three occasions.

Cruyff's career in management -- he coached both Ajax and Barça -- was equally successful.

He came close to lifting the World Cup, with world governing body FIFA describing Cruyff as "the best Dutch footballer of all time."

"Only a few players have earned the right to be named in the same breath as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini and Diego Maradona," said FIFA, "and Johan Cruyff is definitely one of them."

Dutch icon Johan Cruyff has died at the age of 68. Cruyff, who represented Holland 48 times as well as starring for Ajax and Barcelona during a glittering career, passed away on Thursday after a battle with cancer. A statement on Cruyff's website read: 'On March 24 2016 Johan Cruyff (68) died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard fought battle with cancer.' Cruyff, who won three European Cups and eight Dutch titles with Ajax, was diagnosed with lung cancer last October. #RIP #Cruyff #Netherlands #Holland #Oranje #KNVB #Ajax #TotalFootball #legend #WorldCup #FCBarcelona @onsoranje @afcajax @fcbarcelona

Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso was another that placed Cruyff in the pantheon of sporting greats.

Arsenal, a team known for its commitment to playing the game in a stylish way, also paid tribute to the Dutch football egend.

Another Cruyff devotee, Belgium captain Vincent Kompany eloquently expressed his feelings on Cruyff's unforgettable influence.

Even Sergio Ramos, despite playing for Barcelona's bitter rival Real Madrid, acknowledged the Dutchman's greatness.