Piet Keizer – until Cruyff, he was the man

Photo: Press Association
Photo: Press Association

IT IS always sad to hear of the passing of a football great and Piet Keizer’s death is a reminder that the heroes of a golden era are gradually leaving the playing field of life.

Keizer didn’t really figure in World Cup 1974, having played in just one of the Netherlands’ seven games in West Germany, a goalless draw with Sweden in Dortmund. In fact, his football career ended just a few months later, in October 1974 following a disagreement with Ajax manager Hans Kraay.

But Keizer played in all four of Ajax’s European Cup finals between 1969 and 1973. He won 34 caps for the Netherlands between 1962 and 1974. He was a skilful left winger who linked-up well with the more celebrated Johan Cruyff and was arguably more popular than the legendary number 14.

Keizer, unwittingly, played his part in Cruyff leaving Ajax for Barcelona. With countless column inches being devoted to Cruyff’s possible move, the Ajax players voted on who should be their captain. Cruyff was very upset by this, considering that he was, after all, the club’s best player. Keizer won the vote and Cruyff immediately rubber-stamped a move to Spain. It was the start of the break-up of the most dynamic European club team seen since Real Madrid’s side of Di Stefano and Puskas.

When Keizer first came on the scene, his individual brilliance set him apart from his team-mates at Ajax. In 1964, he suffered a serious head injury after a collision with a goalkeeper and this sidelined him for a considerable period of time.

When he returned, a new star had emerged in the form of Cruyff. The duo formed a lethal partnership, but to some extent, the new man put Keizer into the shadows.

Keizer, who was often considered to be something of a prima-donna in his early career, didn’t always have a good relationship with Ajax’s coach Rinus Michels. They didn’t speak to each other for 18 months and when Michels departed for Barcelona, Keizer danced on the table in celebration. They were later reconciled.

Nevertheless, Keizer was a pivotal figure in the brilliant Ajax team of 1971-73. It was his lethal cross that created the first goal in the 1971 European Cup final against Panathinaikos at Wembley. He made almost 500 appearances for the club, winning six league titles, three European Cups and five Dutch Cups.

Never at ease with the media, Keizer turned his back on football after retiring in 1974. But there were many Dutch fans of a certain age who considered him to be the better player in the eternal argument of Keizer or Cruyff. Both are worthy of their place in football’s pantheon.

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