Football; Jordi has to wait his turn

WORLD CUP: Son of a famous father hoping to erase memory of Euro 96 and check Welsh ambitions in Cardiff tonight: Glenn Moore meets the Dutchman who is finding it easier to be picked by his national team than by Manchester United
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The Independent Online
Jordi Cruyff sat down amid the ancient splendour of a 10th century Welsh manor house yesterday and immediately looked at ease. And well he might: for once Cruyff had every reason to be confident that he was going to be in the team.

When the 22-year-old moved from Barcelona to Old Trafford this summer, he could never have anticipated that he would find it easier to get into the Dutch national side than Manchester United's first team. That, however, is the current situation.

Cruyff is in Wales for tonight's World Cup qualifier against the principality in Cardiff's Arms Park. Injuries, including one to his fellow Anglo-Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp, mean he is sure to start.

This is something he has failed to do for a fortnight for United. After years of competing with the likes of Romario, Hristo Stoichkov and Luis Figo for a place in the Barcelona front line, Cruyff must have felt he would find it easier at Old Trafford - even without his dad picking the team.

A quick look around the training ground would have revealed one striker chronically short of confidence, Andy Cole, another short of experience and muscle, Paul Scholes, and a baby-faced unknown Norwegian, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

That Norwegian is no longer unknown, he is keeping Cruyff out of the team. "No one knew him," Cruyff said yesterday. "I didn't and I don't think anyone else did.

"He has an excellent finishing touch, an impressive right foot. He is young, but he has a good future. If he can keep this up, he will be a big star. He is very quiet. He said himself: `It is like I am dreaming.' It is difficult to score goals all the time but while he is in, how you say, a hot streak, you have to let him play until it finishes." Cruyff can play on the left as well as centre-forward. He does not admit to a preference but, having noted "in this team most people would be happy to play anywhere," he adds that he scored both times he started as centre- forward.

"There is a lot of changing around. Nobody likes being left out and it can be frustrating when it is you but, when you look at the number of matches we play, it is logical. You cannot play 70 games, you'll kill someone, especially in English football where there is a lot of pace, a lot of work.

"The only player who is secure in the position is the big star [Cantona]. I have played in about 80 per cent (he has started seven and been substitute twice in 11 games] and I have no reason to think that will not continue. I can't get too frustrated while it is like that.

"It has not been difficult to adapt, not yet. There will be a time when things do not work out, but it has not been a problem so far.

"Training is very different here, it is more relaxed. We have a lot of games and the aim is to keep your energy for the game, give everything you have in the game.

"There is one difference English people probably cannot imagine - there is a lot more pressure at Barcelona with the media. Every day after training there are 50 journalists, every day you have to talk again and again. It is a lot of pressure on players.

"If you play good for six games and lose one - people judge you on that one - it is not the way it should be. People expect Manchester United to get good results but we do not have many journalists at training, in Spain you finish training at 12 and are still there talking at two.''

Jordi was particularly vulnerable to criticism at Barcelona because his father was the coach. This led to gratuitous references to nepotism (like the one in the fourth paragraph of this piece) and worse - being named after a Catalan saint was no defence. The situation became even more difficult when Johan Cruyff left amid acrimony in the summer. Even for a player who had grown up in the shadow of one of the finest footballers ever to pass the ball, this was problematic.

"It was difficult because of the way he left - with war. As they [Cruyff Snr and the club] could not strike each other directly, because they are not working on a daily basis, the easiest way was using me. I was the one in the middle. I don't think [Bobby] Robson [Johan's successor] had anything to say about it. It was the chairman against my father.

"It was a disadvantage [having his father as coach] because people think bad things, they think games are being played. They make stories up. But it was also an advantage because he knows me the best and he knows how to get the best from me. His advice is very important to me.''

Jordi was unsure if his father was coming to tonight's match - but he was glad that Ryan Giggs was not. "He would be the player creating most problems for our defence. He is very skilful, with great pace and good balance.''

Of those Welsh players who will play, he knew little. The Dutch had watched videos of the two wins over San Marino but, noted Cruyff, "you cannot learn much from such games.''

"Playing Wales is helpful for me because I will not have to change from the way I have been playing this season. I think it is also good for us. We know we have to get the points. It is better for us to have a difficult game, you get more motivated and more concentrated. If we have an easy game, we tend to relax. To lose here would be disastrous.''

That view accurately reflects recent Dutch football history, even - to an extent - the 4-1 Euro 96 defeat to England. "I was shocked, I thought we would win. That game changed my opinion of English players. It is difficult for me to think about the match but it is reality, they played a wonderful game.

"We did not bring enough of what was expected from us to Euro 96 - all of us, including me. Maybe what happened inside [the internal rows] was one of the reasons. In ten years' time we will look back and think - we could have won Euro 96. But so will England, it was a lost chance for us all.''

Is this match a chance to exorcise the ghosts? "I have had my personal revenge - not against England, but against Wembley in the Charity Shield. I now have a nice feeling about the pitch.

"I am enjoying it here. I am pleased I came. It is an attractive league, that is why so many players want to come to England. English football has its own style. They play with heart, no tactics. They go for goal together, they defend together, for attacking players it is very nice. But in Europe, the opponents think with their heads, that is why it is difficult for English teams.''