The former Netherlands, Barcelona and Ajax star was diagnosed with lung cancer in October, but “died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family” read a statement on his official website.
"It’s with great sadness that we ask you to respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief," added the statement.
As a player, Cruyff was the embodiment of Dutch "total football", a fluid style of play focused on ball possession and rapid passing, and involving all members of the team in both attack and defence.
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His death comes less than six months after he announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
And it had seemed for a while that he would beat the disease: just last month, Cruyff gave an update on his condition, saying that he felt like he was "2-0 up at half-time" in his fight. Those words now seem all the more poignant, and make it all the more difficult to believe that one of sport's all-time greats has passed away.
Unparalleled playing career
He emerged as one of the world's greats in the early 1970s when he helped Ajax Amsterdam win three European Cups in a row from 1971-73, and he was named European Footballer of the Year in 1971, 1973 and 1974.
His manager at Ajax Vic Buckingham, an Englishman, made no bones about how good his star player was: "He's God's gift to football".
He joined Barcelona for a then-world record transfer fee of £922,000, and quickly led them to their first La Liga title in nearly 15 years in 1974.
He was also a key player in the great Netherlands team that reached the 1974 World Cup final, when a global audience saw him perform the now-famous "Cruyff turn", in which the player tries to deceive a defender by hooking the ball behind their own leg before swerving away in the direction of the ball.
Those skills made him an iconic player across the world. France and Manchester United superstar Eric Cantona was inspired by both Dutch football and Cruyff in particular as he grew up, and described his hero with an incredible compliment: "If he wanted he could be the best player in any position on the pitch."
Mangerial greatness and legacy
After his years as a player, Cruff went on to excel as a manager, initially at Ajax and then at Barcelona.
He started well, winning two KVNB Cups and the UEFA Cup while with the Dutch giants - but it was his time at the Catalan club that defined his coaching career.
Under Cruyff Barcelona became indisputably the greatest side in Europe. They won four consecutive Liga titles between 1991 and 1994, and also claimed the European Cup, Copa del Rey and European Cup Winners' Cup during his tenure.
Johan Cruyff sits in the dugout while with Barcelona in 1991
Image credit: Reuters
He left in 1996 and was widely tipped to take over at Arsenal. Instead, the Gunners ended up with Arsene Wenger, and Cruyff stepped away from the game's sharp end to become something of a visionary and philosopher of football.
And what a philosophy it was: Pep Guardiola, a player who Cruyff brought into the first team at Barca, described it in staggering terms as he spelled out how Cruyff's successors have all used the same blueprint: "Johan Cruyff built the cathedral, our job is to maintain and renovate it."
Image credit: Eurosport
Additional reporting via Reuters
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