Johan Cruyff: How a former Sheffield Wednesday manager gave the late, great Dutch master his break
The football world is mourning the passing of Dutch master Johan Cruyff, who passed away aged 68.
Cruyff was one of the greatest players to have graced the game, his name thrown up alongside the likes of Pele, Best, Eusebio and Maradona as the best ever. An effortlessly cool, calm, skilful footballer, who mesmerised opposition defences with a mere flick or THAT turn which would take his name.
And it was a would-be Sheffield Wednesday manager who helped fire Cruyff onto the world stage and offer an influence that would stretch throughout his playing and managerial career.
Buckingham, who died in January 1995, was a genuine football pioneer way back in the 1950s. In an age when English football was dominated by the rough and tough, where physical presence often won over skill and craft, it was Buckingham who encouraged a short passing game, where flair and entertainment was given greater importance than ever.
Taken by that, having cut his coaching teeth at Bradford Park Avenue then spending five years at West Bromich Albion, Ajax lured the former Tottenham player to Amsterdam where Buckingham first spotted a prodigious talent in a 12 year old Cruyff.
After two years the Englishman would leave Amsterdam and take over at Wednesday, replacing Harry Catterick who had moved to Everton. During this three year spell at Wednesday between 1961 and 1964, Buckingham's side were never out of the top six of the First Division and reached the quarter finals of the Inter-City Fairs cup, where they were narrowly edged out on aggregate by Barcelona, whom Buckingham would later manage himself. However the Owls were about to be tainted by the controversial betting scandal which saw players David 'Bronco' Layne, Peter Swan and Tony Kay, by then at Everton, banned for placing bets on games they were involved in.
Though there was never any allegation towards Buckingham, the belief at the time among the board at Hillsborough was that the manager didn't have a firm grip on the players and he was relieved of his duties almost immediately before news broke of the scandal.
Somewhat disillusioned by the English game and saddened by events in Sheffield, Buckingham returned to Holland and Ajax where the team he had previously presided over had aged. That led to the emergence of a 17 year old Cruyff, given his Ajax debut on November 15, 1964
The future legend would go on to make 275 more appearances in two separate spells for de Godenzonen, scoring 204 goals.
Buckingham said of Cruyff: "Left foot, right foot, anything - and such speed. God's gift to mankind, in the football sense… and such a nice kid, as well."
The respect was mutual and the Dutchman held his English early mentor in such high regard that Buckingham was named godfather to one of his children.