Johan Neeskens is number 36 in 90min's Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time series.


No one likes being second. Hardly anyone remembers second after first. To truly go down in history, you have to be first.


But the exception can be found in Johan Neeskens, christened 'Johan Segon' (Johan the Second) by Barcelona fans during his time at Camp Nou in the 1970s, a really subtle nod to his teammate and compatriot. For the sake of privacy, let's call him J Cruyff. No, that's too obvious, let's say Johan C.

The Second followed his path from Ajax to ​Barça, the two sporting institutions most rooted in style and philosophy - Cruyff and Neeskens were adored at the latter so much that they played for a Catalan XI to mark the end of the Franco era. And while the most obvious connotation of Total Football is the thought of the former, it was the latter who best embodied it, the truly complete player - his passing, his dribbling, his defending, his goalscoring, his surprising aerial prowess, his success, his legacy.


Cruyff was pure beauty, and Neeskens was a little closer to an elegant beast - when Blaugrana fans weren't calling him 'Segon', they switched gears to 'El Toro' (Bobby Haarms' suggestion of 'a kamikaze pilot' didn't quite catch on). Their styles worked in tandem - where Cruyff wanted to keep possession, Neeskens wanted to be the one to win it and progress it. He was fine being the Second as long as he was first to the ball.


His relentless pressing style and desire to always play full throttle, even if it came at someone's expense (usually his opponents'), made him hard for managers to control him. “When I walk onto the field, I always want to win and get the ball - I am not concerned about myself," Neeskens once said, presumably while looking like a bandaged Terry Butcher crossed with a smiling Scott Brown after receiving a two-footed tackle at Aberdeen. But, you know, with nice hair.


And it was probably a pain in the backside for Rinus Michels and co. to ensure he could actually survive matches and seasons, but it only enhanced his legacy in an era where football was becoming a truly global sport. 

Take for example the World Cup, broadcast all over the world and the only real chance for other countries to have a good look at the best players from elsewhere. 1974's edition may have been the apex of Neeskens' career, dominating from start to finish. You know, if you ignore that his penalty in the final was cancelled out by Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller, but it was his tournament, and cemented his place in football folklore.


For all of his honours, his legend, it's hard to believe his path to the top didn't even start in the Dutch capital - Neeskens wasn't brought up with Ajax DNA - but rather earned his spurs at hometown club RCH Heemstede. In Amsterdam and Catalonia, they were building fine-tuned total-footballing machines, and the missing cog was up in North Holland.

If he played in the age of more advanced technology, where pretty much every professional football match across the globe has footage readily available, then you'd find hours and hours worth of Neeskens compilations on YouTube - 'Johan Neeskens | Goals, Skills and Assists | El Toro UNCUT (HD)', if you will.


Imagine a player somewhere between N'Golo Kante and Mousa Dembele when his knees still worked, then imagine if you threw him in Call of Duty's pack-a-punch machine - you'd probably get one of the 50 best players of all time, right? Makes sense.


So here's to you, Johan Neeskens - the best 'second' there ever was.


90min's 'Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time' can be found here