As for me, Johan Cruyff died on a Thursday at 1.35pm. This Wednesday marked the fifth anniversary of that sad day, so it could well be 3:35 or 5:35 on a Friday, who knows: actually, I only remember precisely what the minute hand was reading when the news was communicated to me. Also that I was in a waiting room at the Álvaro Cunqueiro Hospital and that Pablo’s mother had just arrived, so I turned to a self-service machine to avoid the spectacle of holding back tears in front of her. In that way I was caught by the call from Amaya Iríbar to order me a column on the news of the day. And there she is to deny it, but I think I answered something like “A column about what, Amaya”. Until that moment I had not heard of the death of the Prophet and I imagine that I would be left wondering what good it is for one to declare oneself his apostle almost daily if, when push comes to shove, he is not there to be one of the first to get depressed.
As is often the case in these cases, a fan’s first impulse is to burn it all down: you get home, eat something light, sit down at the keyboard, and start collecting late bills from the idol’s declared enemies. The war unleashed around his figure had been so bloody that the bile oozes through the pores of the skin at the slightest stimulus, especially when the bar of the spurs is placed on the end point of life, in the farewell to a stranger that has made you immensely happy. Doubts about the nature of the text lasted me half a minute because I immediately realized the real challenge I was facing: how to explain to poor Pablo that Cruyff had died.
So little is known about coma that one always chooses the simple way: to continue as if nothing had happened, to think that that body lying on a bed is that of your friend lazily asleep, nothing that one should treat too seriously. But there it is, too, the fear of screwing it up, of ending up doing what you shouldn’t and interfering with the fragile healing process. Telling a comatose cruyffista – and unrepentant, of course – that Johan has died, that he will never enjoy his analyzes and statements again, that imitating his unmistakable accent at gang dinners will no longer have the same grace, nor did it seem the best of motivations to help him wake up.
The fact is that, when it was my turn to go to the room, the first thing I did was turn off the television, explain to his mother my theory about the null benefits of her son finding out about Cruyff’s death, and read him some pages of the sports press of that day: it was about keeping him informed but not overly informed. “Remind me to talk about one thing when you wake up”, I told. And I went home ready to purge the sadness that one feels when, waiting for good news about a loved one, he learns of the physical death of the myth, of the idolized stranger. I like to think that this was the last lesson that Johan Cruyff left me almost exclusively: that life, too often, is not much more than a sum of pending conversations, if not impossible.