BRUSSELS (AP) — Wim Suurbier, a defender who helped establish the free-flowing “Total Football” on the great Ajax and Dutch national teams of the 1970s, has died, his former club said Monday. He was 75.
Suurbier, who died over the weekend, won three European Cups with Ajax and played in two World Cup finals with the Netherlands — losing both.
In a story about Suurbier’s death on the Ajax website, the Dutch club called him “the first modern back of the Netherlands.”
No cause of death was given.
For all the creativity of players like Johan Cruyff, the tactical system that earned Ajax its three European Cups also needed its smart, fast and dependable defenders. And although Suurbier never came close to having the talent of Cryuff, he became an early template of the current-day right back with his unlikely speed roaming the full length of the field.
“He was as fast with his legs as with his mouth, but he had a heart of gold,” said Ruud Krol, his defensive teammate.
Born at the end of World War II, Suurbier’s timing as a professional perfectly crossed the paths of Cruyff and coach Rinus Michels.
The combination of the greatest Dutch player and the greatest Dutch coach produced the freedom-loving “Total Football,” a revolutionary change in tactics with players interchanging roles, pressuring the opposition all over the field and constantly moving with mesmerizing fluidity.
Suurbier felt right at home in the white-and-red strip of Ajax and the orange shirt of the national team, closing down opposing forwards before driving forward along the sideline with speed few could match.
For a few years, no team or coach had a clue how to counter “Total Football,” allowing Ajax to win three straight European Cups from 1971-73. Suurbier was there all along.
Then came 1974, Dutch soccer’s most exhilarating and traumatic year. With long hair and untucked shirts, they cruised through the early stages of the World Cup in West Germany, entertaining the the world with dazzling performances.
Moments ahead of the final, Suurbier and his teammates were still joking and making light of the momentous occasion. They led West Germany 1-0 after a minute, but then it all fell apart as the methodological Germans came back to win 2-1.
Suurbier stuck with the national team for four more years, and he came even closer to winning the World Cup in 1978. The Dutch hit the post in the final minutes of regulation time, when a goal would have given them the title. In the end, they lost to host Argentina 3-1, and Suurbier’s international career was over.
He later joined Cruyff at the Los Angeles Aztecs in 1979, but his career was sliding. He stayed in the United States for more than three decades, working various coaching jobs and even as a bartender.
As reliable as he was on the field, Suurbier was known for being a happy-go-lucky character off it. He is remembered as much for his pranks about disappearing socks, and worse, as about the trophies he won.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports