Football: Cruyff set on showing an act worth following: Dutch technician in plea for skills

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

VICTORY for an attacking team, and by that he meant his own Barcelona side, would be good for the game, Johann Cruyff said on the eve of the Spanish club's European Cup final date meeting with Milan in Athens tonight.

At his pre-match news conference, the Dutch coach stressed the importance of winning in style because 'a lot of people copy the winners.'

'The technical qualities in football in general are going down very quickly,' said the master technician, who led both Ajax and the Netherlands to the heights in the Seventies. 'We have to be careful and try to change that. If we can prove that an attacking technical team wins against a running team, that has to be good for football.'

Cruyff's comments did not go down very well with his opposite number in tonight's final, Fabio Capello, but he was quick to make it clear that no slur was intended.

'As a spectator, I prefer the Milan of a few years ago,' the Dutchman said. 'But as a coach I prefer this team because they have won more titles.

'There is no question of a lack of respect for Capello. I have a great respect for what he does. Milan don't have great technical qualities but they have other resources. They are a very good team.'

It will hardly be doing the game any harm for Milan's attack to be boosted next season by the return to fitness of Cruyff's compatriot, Marco van Basten.

The striker, who has been left a spectator by an ankle injury he suffered a year ago, has made a cautious return to training this month, raising expectations at the club that he could be ready to start preparing for next season with the first-team squad at the end of July.

'There are positive signs of recovery,' Milan's managing director, Adriano Galliani, said. 'Marco is improving day after day. We have high hopes.'

There must be a question over van Basten's ability to recover the level of form that brought him the European player of the year award three times and took him to the top of the scorers' list in Italy twice since he joined Milan in 1987. His injury has required two operations but improvement in the joint was entirely in nature's hands. has come about slowly.

Galliani, who accompanied the team to Athens, said a recent examination showed a growth of ankle cartilage which is essential for Van Basten's full recovery.

'Unfortunately I'll have to follow the final from the stands,' he said after a light work-out at the Olympic stadium, where the final will be played. ' But I'm growing confident about my comeback.' And cannot wait to be back in action, by the sound of it.

He will find new and as well as familiar international class players among the squad when he meets up with them on the training ground. Milan have re-signed his compatriot, Ruud Gullit, after his year away at Sampdoria showing showed the Rossoneri what they were missing.

Giovanni Stroppa has also returned after three seasons with Lazio and Foggia, while Gianluca Sordo, like Stroppa a midfielder, has joined from Torino to link up again Gianluigi Lentini, who made the same journey in 1992, burdened by the tag of 'Italy's most expensive player.'

In line with the austerity plans which are part of Berlusconi's policy in his political life, Milan has not simply opened up the coffers and thrown its millions at other clubs to prise away their prized possessions. This time, players have had to be sold as well.

That has meant an early exit for the French striker Jean-Pierre Papin, who has already settled his immediate future by signing for Bayern Munich after spending an unsatisfactory year in northern Italy.

Brian Laudrup, the Danish international who is dependent on the Croatian Zvonimir Boban failing a fitness test if he is to make be included in tonight's starting line-up, is expected to return to Fiorentina, and Brescia are preparing to welcome back the Romanian forward Florin Raducioiu.

European preview, page 34

(Photograph omitted)