It’s OK,” Johan Cruyff said, patting me reassuringly on the arm. We sat on a small couch at the old Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam in September 2014. “I don’t do many of these long ones any more,” Cruyff murmured after I had offered a small apology for making him endure yet another interview. The 67-year-old was in his home town for the day, having flown in from Barcelona. He shrugged nonchalantly. “We will do this one properly. I can see you have lots of questions.”
Cruyff pointed at my stained sheet of paper, over which I had spilt a cup of coffee a few hours earlier, and looked quizzically at my spidery scrawl. I had written down 42 questions. “42?” Cruyff said. “You know I have a flight to catch back to Barcelona tonight?”
I knew he was joking and so I turned over the page to reveal another six questions on the back. “Oh … so now it’s 48?” Cruyff said, grinning. “Let’s see if we have enough time for the first page.”
Of course neither of us knew then that in 18 months Cruyff would be dead. When I heard the news on Thursday I dug out our interview. I liked hearing the way in which, after our comic start, Cruyff ignored convention. As the interviewee, he began by asking me a question. Had I enjoyed the day?