22 December 1973 saw one of those athletic moments whose sheer, singular excellence went on to change the nature of its game. A match between two of Spain’s greatest football clubs, FC Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid, was scoreless throughout most of the first half. Then, at the 44th minute, Johan Cruyff received a cross set to sail beyond the box; it looked to goalkeeper Miguel Reina like it was going to be a goal kick. Except Barcelona’s Dutch forward did something unexpected: Cruyff lept into the air, kicked the ball at neck height and redirected it past Reina — a thrilling and never-before-seen kind of goal.
Barça went on to beat its rival 2–1, and Cruyff earned his nickname, “The Flying Dutchman” or el holandés volador.
Once accomplished, the feat — known as “The Phantom Goal,” el gol imposible or any number of different monikers — has been repeated many times since. Still, someone had to be the first, and Cruyff became an instant legend, his kick engraved on the hearts of culers everywhere. He pushed the image of what was physically possible in the game, much like how Michael Jordan upped basketball’s stakes with the slam dunk or Wayne Gretzky opened up the ice behind the net.
Now, FC Barcelona is commemorating Cruyff’s goal with a one-of-a-kind NFT coming to auction on 29 July. Titled In a Way, Immortal, the digital artwork depicts Cruyff’s flying kick as a weightless, molten-gold statue, suspended in defiance of time and gravity. Forty Hollywood digital and visual artists collaborated on the three-dimensional image, which took over ten thousand hours to complete. Cruyff achieved notoriety in a sport that long eschewed instant replay — which was in its infancy in 1973 — yet the kick is nonetheless immortalized in the game and how it’s played 49 years on. Cruyff’s airborne switch from leap to kick is readily observable on film even without slow motion, inimitable in its grace and artistry.
It’s telling that FC Barcelona chose Cruyff for its first NFT: He is recognized today as one of the best players of the game, in no small part due to that history-making, game-changing goal he scored in his first season with the club. Still, as anyone who’s seen the videos of el gol imposible that still circulate online can attest, the pure beauty and thrill captured in In a Way, Immortal require no explanation.