When testimonials go bad: the day Bayern turned up to teach Ajax a lesson

cruyff testimonial

The general convention at testimonials is for the occasion to be a celebration of a player’s career. Teams generally put on a show for the crowd, letting everyone have their turn. Scorelines usually end up 4-4 or 5-5, or maybe the player whose being honoured is allowed an unopposed shot at goal to win the game.

In 1978 55,000 packed into the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam for Johan Cruyff’s farewell match. But their opponents, Bayern Munich were having none of it.

They thumped their hosts 8-0!

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The crowd weren’t happy, voicing their anger at the final whistle and throwing things onto the pitch. But the Germans were unmoved. They were angry and wanted revenge for the treatment they’d received believing it was disrespectful.

There was no one to meet them at Schipol Airport and they were put up in a shabby hotel. Not exactly a generous welcome which only succeeded in winding the visitors up. Some of the senior Bayern players were already out for revenge anyway.

Their last visit to Amsterdam for the 1973 European Cup Quarter-Final had seen them on the wrong end of an embarrassing 0-4 stuffing.

A Bayern side containing the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeness, Gerd Müller, Werner Roth, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck and Sepp Maier were coaxed into Ajax’s lair under the most false of all senses of security. The Ajax spider of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Piet Keizer, Arie Haan, Jonny Rep and Ruud Krol merely encouraged them onto their Dutch web. The game was goalless at half-time but in the second half they set about their prey with the precision of a fishmonger gutting a fish.

Cruyff rounded off the score a minute from time as the humiliation was complete. The Dutch completed the job in the second leg as they went on to lift their third successive European Cup.

The legend of Cruyff and the Dutch ‘total football’ took the world stage a year later in the World Cup in West Germany. You’d have thought the revenge had been achieved when the Germans came from behind to win the trophy the Dutch so craved, and largely felt they’d earned.

Bayern would go on to emulate Ajax’s hat-trick of European Cup successes immediately after they’d had their comeuppance in Amsterdam.

Fast forward to November 1978, and fans got a taste of what was to come in the very first minute. As was customary in the days of the backpass, the Germans had passed the ball back to Maier in goal. He hoofed it downfield and beyond the Ajax defence. Müller watched it bounce then fired a scorching volley past Piet Schrijvers into the roof of the net. His celebration suggested he was not only pleased with his effort but also gave the impression this was just for starters.

The watching crowd were expecting to see 90 minutes of players largely strolling around, tapping the ball between each other and generally taking things easy. The Germans had obviously decided they were going to read from a different script and soon intercepted some rather timid passes.

As half-time approached the Germans again took advantage of some slack passing in midfield. Breitner played another long ball beyond the Dutch defence for Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to run onto.

The man destined to become as important for his country as Cruyff was for his, held off a challenge and slid the ball past Schrijvers.

At half time, the Dutch were a little shocked at the performance of the Germans and knew they needed to be tougher in the second half to give the fans the game they’d turned up to see.

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It made no difference as in the German dressing room they were even more determined to put their hosts to the sword.

They raced out for the second half and took their opponents apart. Breitner was particularly influential in midfield. A left-back in the 1974 World Cup, he’d retired from international football subsequently sitting out the 1978 tournament. His form in midfield for Bayern encouraged him back to the fold and was one of their best players in 1982.

He scored the third goal after some fine work in trying to set up Müller. Schrijvers came out feet first, but his passive clearance fell straight to Breitner who decided to finish the job he’d started.

Soon after they had a fourth. Martin Jol came on as a sub and he was involved in a slick passing move, backheeling to Bernd Dürnberger on the edge of the area. The ball then ran to Rummenigge who coolly flicked the ball with the outside of his right foot past Schrijvers for a second time.

The second half was barely 15 minutes old and Bayern had extended their lead by two. Within minutes of the re-start, it was three. Breitner played a neat one-two with Müller and rounded the hapless Schrijvers to pass the ball into the empty net.

This now had the hallmarks of an exhibition game for Bayern rather than an honour for Cruyff. He was merely a bit-part and seemed to have joined the 55,000 as a spectator.

Ajax were poor on the night but then there was some sympathy in that a testimonial game rarely contained any tough challenges or an attitude of win-at-all-costs. It was the Germans who displayed an aura of ‘we won’t be beaten’ and so were first to loose balls, quick to pounce on errors and frankly far more alert than their opponents.

Krol passed the ball from the back to Dick Schonaker, who was challenged from behind by Schwarzenbeck. He bundled him out of the way and sent Müller clear. ‘Der Bomber’ did what everyone seemed to do that night, rounded the keeper and passed it into the empty net. He had to fight off a challenge from a defender but the German’s determination to succeed was evidenced by how he was just not going to give the chance up. He didn’t care they were already 5-0 up, he wanted a sixth.

Fans of ‘The Fast Show’ will be familiar with the character ‘Competitive Dad’. A grown man who believed the best way to prepare his primary school son for adult life was to use his significant strength advantage and hand out an absolute tonking in any competition they had.

This was now the scene in the Olympic Stadium as German heads were held high amongst continuing slumping Dutch shoulders. It was as if the Germans felt the only way the pesky Dutch were ever going to learn something was to have their faces pressed down in the dirt.

Who did this Cruyff fella think he was anyway?

Consequently, the seventh wasn’t far away. As with his first goal, Breitner finished a move he’d created after his teammates couldn’t.

Krol came forward to try and create something for the home side, but again the Germans were too entrenched in the “thou shalt not pass” and regained possession. Their attacking attitude continued as they’d kept players in the Ajax half.

The home defence were outnumbered and mentally well beaten. Breitner sent Rummenigge clear on the right and by now he knew the drill. Wait for Schrijvers to come out and go to ground, then deftly lift the ball over him into the net. And so it came to pass.

8-0 to Bayern and they weren’t in the least bit embarrassed or shamed. They were loving it.

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Unfortunately for Cruyff, the whole testimonial affair didn’t go quite as planned. Bayern turned up and gave Ajax a damned good thrashing in a match advertised as the last chance to see the Dutch master in his home country before he retired.

Then complications with his retirement meant he spent a further two years at Ajax and one at Feyenoord.

He’d won eight Eredivisie titles at Ajax before leaving for Barcelona in 1973. After five years in Spain, he was expected to hang up his boots, hence the farewell game back in Amsterdam.

But this was the Ajax players offering the tin of Quality Street to the Germans only to find they steamed in and pinched all the good ones, leaving the Dutch with the green ones.

Whether this match was the turning point in relations between the two countries turning extremely sour during the 80s and 90s is unclear. It seems the Dutch had underestimated the pride their visitors held in themselves and what it was to be German. But perhaps they did that in 1974 too.

Either way, it was a most peculiar affair and ended up more as a celebration of German efficiency and attacking prowess rather than Cruyff’s genius and service to club and country.

The 1980s became characterised by a Breitner-Rummenigge partnership as the two formed a close understanding. The seeds of this were clearly shown in this match. In fact, you could say they began to German-eight!