Championship League Focus: Jordi endures pressure of father's fame: Barcelona boast another Cruyff capturing the imagination of supporters. David Winner reports

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The Independent Online
WITH a shock of blond curls, his clever running, close control, sweet passing and goal scoring, the swift, slender 20-year-old revealed by Barcelona at the start of the season would have caught the imagination whatever his name.

But for Jordi Cruyff, son of Johan, the normal pressures to succeed are surpassed by those that go with his name, however he might try to play them down. 'I want to be judged on my own performances, not as the son of a famous father,' he told the Dutch magazine Voetbal International recently.

'That's why I asked people in Spain to call me Jordi, not Jordi Cruyff or Cruyff.'

The comparison is inevitable, though Jordi, who is likely to be on the substitutes' bench for Barcelona against Manchester United at Old Trafford tonight, looks more like Michelangelo's David than his Dutch master father.

He is taller and his hair cascades in curls while Johan's lank dark locks used to hang across his forehead.

On the pitch, Johan was lean, taut and commanding and could move like a greyhound. Jordi is a quieter presence; more of a golden retriever. Yet he plays in his father's midfield attacking position and when he turns suddenly and leaves a defender for dead, if you half close your eyes . . .

Jordi was born in February 1974, a few months after Johan moved from European champions Ajax to Barcelona. His parents returned to Amsterdam for the boy's birth but named him Jordi after Catalonia's patron saint. At the time the name was banned by the Franco regime and Cruyff's gesture to Catalan national feeling was hugely popular in the region.

When Cruyff returned to Ajax in 1981 his only son joined the club's famous youth training system and stood out as a clever, technical player with two good feet.

When Jordi was 14, Johan returned to Barcelona as manager and his son went into the club youth system. His development was hampered by homesickness for Amsterdam.

Two miserable years followed and he nearly stopped playing altogether. 'My family wouldn't let me give up. When you think or talk about it, you really think you can't do without football. There are people around you who have expectations of you. You can't let it pass.'

In the last four years, under his father's guidance, he has finally begun to blossom. He matured, learned to cope with the physically intimidating aspects of the Spanish game and last season did well in Barcelona's second team. Three months ago, during Barcelona's traditional pre-season tour of the Netherlands, Johan sent Jordi into the first team. He scored hat-tricks against Groningen and De Graafschap and a sensation was born.

When the Spanish league season opened, he headed an important goal against Santander and secured a decisive penalty. With such illustrious strikers as Hristo Stoichkov and Romario at the club, though, Jordi is now back on the substitutes' bench.

The Spanish football federation allows Jordi to hold double nationality, which means that as long as he does not play for the Netherlands he is considered Spanish and thereby avoids being one of Barcelona's foreign players.

So far, he has refused to play for either country's youth or under-21 teams, preferring to wait until a first-team chance comes before making his decision. At the moment, Spain looks favourite, the Netherlands not helped by the handful of their fans who barracked Jordi in pre-season matches because of his father's refusal to lead the Dutch World Cup squad in the United States.

Yet life in the spotlight at Barcelona brings its own problems. Stories about him have become a staple diet of the local sports press, and, in the charged atmosphere surrounding one of the world's biggest clubs, even the most innocent of remarks can provoke a vicious reaction.

What next? Jordi rejected pre- season offers from other Spanish First Division clubs and aims for a regular place with Barcelona in the next two years. Meanwhile, he puts his faith in his father: 'He is the boss. He only wants the best for me and the team. He will never throw me to the lions if I'm not ready for it.'

(Photograph omitted)

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