One of the best midfielders in the world in the 1970s, Neeskens is listed as a Jewish soccer player by the Encyclopedia Judaica. A member of the Dutch National team, which reached the World Cup Finals in 1974 and 1978 (the only two times the Netherlands played in the final), Neeskens played for club teams Ajax and Barcelona before playing in the NASL (North American Soccer League).
Known as "Johan the second" (the great Johan Cruyff was the "first"), Neeskens was praised for his unyielding spirit, hard work, ability to play outstanding defense and offense (thus making him an ideal midfielder), terrific ball control with either foot, and a powerful shot. In 1974, Neeskens scored the fastest goal in a World Cup final when he converted a penalty kick in the second minute of the match against West Germany. The Netherlands lost the game, 2-1. Neeskens appeared 49 times for the Dutch National team and scored 17 goals in his career.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Sept. 15, 1951
Before becoming world famous for his feats with club teams Ajax and Barcelona, Neeskens played for his local club, RCH in the Dutch League. After two seasons with RCH (he joined the squad at the age of 17), Neeskens tranferred in 1970 to Ajax Amsterdam, one of the top club teams in the world. Teamed with Johan Cruyff, Neeskens helped lead Ajax to two Dutch League titles (1972 and 1973), two Dutch Cup titles (1971 and 1972), a World Club Championship (1972), and three consecutive European Cup Championships (1971-73).
The same year he joined Ajax (1970), Neeskens also made his debut for the Dutch National Team, where he became a key member of the "Total Football" team. For the next decade, Neeskens was a mainstay at midfield for the Netherlands' "Total Football" team. Total Football was a revolutionary way of playing that allowed the players -- who could adapt to many positions -- the freedom to improvise and move around the field. In the 1970s, the Dutch became one of the most feared teams in Europe.
At the 1974 World Cup, Neeskens scored five goals in the tournament. In the semifinals against the defending champions, Brazil, he scored the first goal of the game (a 2-0 Dutch victory) on a chip shot. Neeskens then scored the first goal of the World Cup final against West Germany on a penalty kick (in only the second minute of the match). Unfortunately, the Dutch team became overconfident and lost the lead, and the Germans scored twice in the first half. The Dutch desperately tried to catch up in the second half, but came up empty (Neeskens missed one shot by just inches), and the Netherlands lost the final, 2-1.
After the 1974 World Cup, Neeskens left Ajax for another world power: Barcelona in the Spanish League. Again joining his namesake Cruyff (who also played for the Dutch National Team), Neeskens spent five seasons with the Spanish club and scored 53 goals in 219 career games. He helped lead Barcelona to the Spanish Cup title in 1978 and the European Cup the following year. In 1978, Neeskens also helped his National squad return to the World Cup final. Although he did not score in the tournament, he was an important player in the midfield. The Netherlands lost in the final to Argentina, 3-1 (Argentina was the host nation).
In 1979, Neeskens followed the lead of other European soccer players (such as Cruyff) and moved to the United States to play in the NASL (North American Soccer League). Although the league did not receive much international respect, Neeskens' new team, the New York Cosmos, was considered one of the best in the world. With talent such as Neeskens, Franz Beckenbauer, and Carlos Alberto, the Cosmos won the NASL title in 1980 and 1982 (finished second in 1981). A member of the Cosmos for six seasons, Neeskens was an All-Star in 1979, 1980, and 1982, and scored 17 goals in 94 career games. Unfortunately, the lavish spending of the Cosmos (they signed Neeskens for $300,000/year) ultimately caused the downfall of the NASL as teams tried to keep up and eventually folded.
In 1985, Neeskens returned to Europe to finish out his career. He played for a couple of seasons for various teams in the Netherlands and Switzerland before turning to coaching. After serving as player/manager for FC Baar in Switzerland, Neeskens led FC Zug, FC Stafa, and FC Singen. In 1997, Neeskens became an assistant manager of the Dutch National team and was on the sidelines at the 1998 World Cup (where the Dutch team finished fourth). In 2000, he became the manager for the Dutch club NEC, a position he still held in the 2002-03 season.