President Shimon Peres met Sunday with legendary Dutch soccer player and manager Johann Cruyff at the President’s residence in Jerusalem.
The two discussed prospects for peace as well as the establishment of programs to advance cooperation and understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. Cruyff’s son, Jordi, who currently serves as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s general manager, also attended the meeting.
“You were not only an outstanding football player but also a role-model who furthers peace in the world,” Peres told Cruyff.
Cruyff, who is considered one of the best attacking midfielders in modern history, led the Netherlands national team to the FIFA World Cup finals in 1974. He was named player of the tournament and received the World Cup Golden Ball. He played for Ajax and later Barcelona, winning several European Cups throughout his career. In 1999, Cruyff was voted European Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics.
In a career spanning twenty years, Cruyff scored 324 goals in club and international competition.
After his retirement from professional soccer, Cruyff returned to manage Ajax and Barcelona, reaching similar heights at both clubs as he had as a player.
“Football is one of the great ways to make peace among people,” Peres said. ”In football there is no discrimination; we don’t look at the color of the legs, we look at their speed. When a player like you arrives in our country the eyes of the children light up — Jewish, Arab or Muslim. There is a sense of belonging to a world where you compete to make everyone stronger and you respect the basic social laws.”
Peres also thanked Cruyff for a Jaffa court built by the soccer player’s foundation.
Cruyff said the playground was built for the benefit of children of all races and backgrounds, and said he hoped playing together would help kids overcome their differences.
“We created some playgrounds for the children to play together. We think that’s why football or any sport is so important: the rules are the same for everybody, people can enjoy, play well and be outstanding,” Cruyff said. ”We hope we can continue to make people happy and get them together.”
The president called on Cruyff to continue and expand his work in Israel and to help develop educational and sports enterprises.