The Gullit Redemption

Date:14th September 2016 at 4:28pm
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Sampdoria host AC Milan on Friday knowing that both sides are shadows of their former selves. While Andrea Poli may be able to make his former teammates miserable, it would cause negligible shockwaves compared to one Rossoneri old boy who stunned his former side 23 years ago.

At the turn of the 1990s, AC Milan were not just the best team in Italy, but without question the dominant force in world football. They tussled for the former crown with Sampdoria, who were enjoying the best spell in their history. Games between the two took on a status that it is difficult to imagine now.

Although the Blucerchiati had their moments, Milan eventually rose to the top. As with most Rossoneri success, the bedrock of their side came in the form of a small cohort of countrymen.

In the early 1950s, Milan had been awestruck by the prowess of Sweden’s finest with the Gre-No-Li trio tearing up the record books. They tried to repeat the trick in the early 1980s, though silverware was less forthcoming.

Under the auspices of Silvio Berlusconi, the Rossoneri had abandoned their British experiment, brushing Mark Hateley and Luther Blissett under the carpet in favour of a more flamboyant vintage.

In that context, it is worth remembering that Ruud Gullit arrived at Milan ostensibly as a replacement for Ray Wilkins. Fair to say that the three Dutchmen who arrived in Milan in the late 1980s were to have more of an impact.

Serie A titles arrived in number and, more importantly, European Cups. Challengers came but were swatted aside; first Napoli and then Sampdoria. Both landed blows on the Rossoneri, but both were eventually steam-rollered as Berlusconi’s team resumed the trophy trail.

By the summer of 1993, a change was coming. Van Basten and Gullit were beginning to lose some of their sparkle due to injury, each featuring in just 15 games of 1992/93. Van Basten was to soldier on with the Rossoneri, but never played for the club again, his career over.

Both Rijkaard and Gullit opted to leave the club, the latter taking a step down by embarking on a loan move to Sampdoria. Even amongst a team that contained such names as Roberto Mancini and David Platt, Gullit was the star.

His former side started the season like a train. For all the Blucerchiati’s good form throughout the opening weeks, Milan looked imperious. With 9 games gone, the Rossoneri were top of Serie A, level with Parma and a point ahead of Juventus and Sampdoria.

They were set to visit the Marassi on Halloween, hoping to avoid their former hero coming back to haunt them. By this point, Milan had led Serie A for a record 72 consecutive weeks – a number of them with the Dutchman in the side.

Yet Gullit was already proving to be something of a big game player with his new employers. He had given Sampdoria the lead at Juventus, only to see the Bianconeri overturn their disadvantage to earn a 3-1 win. He and David Platt had both scored in the victory at Napoli.

The signs were ominous as the newspapers talked of the revenge that the Dutchman might be looking to inflict upon his former team. Matches of such significance do not need the extra narrative to draw in the crowd, but to draw the focus of the nation, the story goes some way to help.

It is impossible to know if Gullit was driven by revenge – certainly, he denied being so after the game. What is indisputable is that he was driven. However, it was Milan who started the game in top gear, looking like the Rolls Royce of a team that they were.

Demetrio Albertini put Fabio Capello’s side ahead before Brian Laudrup’s only goal for the club extended the lead.

And then Gullit stepped up.

His first intervention came after a teammate skewed a shot to the wing. Gullit looked offside on the left flank, but worked himself some space and floated in a cross for Srecko Katanec to nod into the bottom corner.

A neat turn from Roberto Mancini earned him a penalty and a supporting role. He converted to bring Sampdoria level.


Twelve minutes remained when Gullit was played through to the edge of the box. He took a touch before lashing the ball into the net past the despairing Mario Ielpo. Gullit wheeled away, his delight as apparent as his catharsis.

With that blow from the Dutchman, the great Milan were slain. Their run at the top ended at 72 games; though they did win the title.

His point made, Gullit’s successful season continued as the Blucerchiati climbed to third. He returned to Milan in 1994, only to move back to Sampdoria after 8 games.