Sports journalist about meeting between Verstappen and Cruijff: ‘It ended up being an entire afternoon’

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Sports journalist about meeting between Verstappen and Cruijff: 'It ended up being an entire afternoon'

On March 2, 2016, football legend Johan Cruijff met a recently 18-year-old Max Verstappen. The meeting, just a few weeks before Cruijff died, was organized by sports journalist Jaap de Groot, who proudly looks back on the way he introduced both sporting greats to each other.

De Groot is one of the best-known sports journalists in the Netherlands, and always maintained a good relationship with Johan Cruijff. For example, he was responsible for Cruijff’s column in De Telegraaf, and in 2018 he came up with the scoop that Formula 1 would return to Zandvoort in 2020. That was ultimately a year later due to the corona crisis. We have now completed three Dutch Grands Prix and three Verstappen victories.

Meeting Cruyff

Verstappen himself has regularly indicated that he has or had no real examples, except for father Jos Verstappen, but Johan Cruijff was also a special sports icon for Verstappen. In 2016 a meeting happened by chance. “I coincidentally received a text from Raymond Vermeulen, Max Verstappen’s manager,” De Groot shares in the GONZO podcast. “I asked him where he was, and he said he was in Barcelona (for the winter tests, ed.).”

For De Groot, one plus one was two at that moment. ‘I just had a conversation with Johan (Cruijff, ed.). He talked about being fascinated by Max Verstappen. I said: Johan, Max is in Barcelona. Would you like to go to Max tomorrow – that was on March 2, 2016 – to say hello? He said: I would love that!’ De Groot shares about how the meeting was set up.

Cruijff was already seriously ill at that time: ‘He had a bit of a swollen head, and he spoke a bit softly, but he thought it was fantastic. So I texted Vermeulen and asked if it was possible. He said: Max would love it too, because Max is also fascinated by Johan. It was actually going to be half an hour, but it ended up being the whole afternoon,” says De Groot.

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Netherlands Zandvoort Max Verstappen
Verstappen celebrates with the Dutch fans.

The sports journalist is secretly proud that he introduced the two athletes to each other. ‘I also thought it was a nice transfer for myself, from one icon to another icon. The baton was passed on from generation to generation, because I estimated Max to be at the same level as Johan, although he will deny that adamantly, but it is true,” is the compliment to the Formula 1 world champion.

Dutch party in Zandvoort

De Groot explains that it was not that easy to conquer a place on the calendar. ‘The historical importance of Zandvoort was taken into account in the dialogue with the FOM (Formula One Management, ed.). Zandvoort has really proven itself, they have been a game changer for Formula 1, with the supporters and the party at Zandvoort. That spread all over the world, and it was an example for FOM. Zandvoort has strengthened its position in those three years. There are three days of celebration there. I spoke to Toto Wolff, and he said: ‘I’ve never experienced this before. The FOM’s doubts are now gone. Even if you are in Chile or Alaska: when you see that, you want to be there. They paid 20 million a year, and Qatar, for example, pays 50 million a year.’

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