Ruud Gullit is one of the most prestigious Dutch footballers and was famous for his total football abilities, a distinguished career took him to some of Europe’s top clubs, such as AC Milan and Chelsea, and he was instrumental in the Dutch success at Euro ‘88.
Born on September 1 1962 in Amsterdam to a Surinamese immigrant father, Gullit grew up in one small split room at the top of an apartment building. He formed his football skills on the streets and signed for a junior side at the age of eight. When playing for the youth side DWS, Gullit found himself on the radar of the Dutch Youth team, which included the likes of Ronald Koeman and Wim Kieft. Gullit was later approached by Ajax but turned them down for being ‘too arrogant’ and signed instead for HFC Haarlem.
Making his debut at the age of 16 to become the youngest professional footballer to have appeared in the Dutch top division. In his first season the club were relegated but thanks to Gullit’s contributions made an immediate return to the top flight the following season. For his efforts Gullit won the Player of the Year award. The next season Haarlem finished fourth and qualified for European competition for the first time in their history.
Gullit was now attracting attention from some of the Netherlands’ top clubs and in 1982 he signed for Feyenoord for £300,000. Playing alongside Johan Cruyff Feyenoord did the league and cup double in Gullit’s second season.
In his three years at the club he made 85 appearances and scored 30 goals. In 1985 Gullit moved to PSV Eindhoven, winning the league in 1986 and 1987. Once again he was named Dutch Footballer of the Year.
In 1987 under the stewardship of Silvio Berlusconi, AC Milan came calling and secured a move worth a then record transfer fee. Gullit formed a dynamite attacking force with Van Baston and Pietro Virdis.
Although he initially struggled to settle in Italy due to not speaking the language, Milan won the Scudetto for the first time in nine years in Gullit’s first season and the Dutchman himself won the European Footballer of the Year award in 1987 and dedicated it to Nelson Mandela, who was still incarcerated at that time as a political prisoner.
Years after being released, friends of Mandela who had spent time in prison with him remarked that after hearing Gullit dedicate the award to him assumed that he would later be stripped of it for his political statements. Sadly, they thought that the world was as repressive as South Africa at that time and that Gullit would be punished for his show of solidarity.
In 1989 Milan won the European Cup, thrashing Real Madrid 5-0 on the way to a final victory over Steaua Bucharest 4-0, a game in which Gullit scored twice. They retained the trophy in 1990 by beating Benfica.
After sustaining an injury to his knee ligaments Gullit’s career at Milan collapsed. He was fit for only two league games in the 1989-90 season and played in only the cup final. Gullit’s position was more and more of a peripheral one, and after he was omitted from the Champions League Final squad in 1993 his time at Milan was effectively over.
In 1993 Gullit moved to Sampdoria and won the Coppa Italia in 1994. He also scored the winner against his old club in a 3-2 victory before briefly being resigned by them. However, this was short lived and no with no miraculous comeback beckoning he soon returned to Sampdoria. In 1995 he left for a fresh start in England when he signed for Chelsea on a free transfer.
Glenn Hoddle played him as a sweeper before being moved into midfield, partly due to the fact that his skills at passing a ball from the defence was too much for his team-mates to handle. In other words, he had too much playmaking ability to be wasted back there, after seeing a pass travel to a fellow defender Gullit soon realised that they didn’t want the ball.
Gullit signalled the start of the influx of foreign talent into the Premier League and under Hoddle’s ‘foreign revolution’ Chelsea improved but couldn’t find consistent good form. When Hoddle took the England job in 1996 Gullit got his first taste of management, albeit as player-manager.
He made a phenomenal start by winning the FA Cup in 1997, Chelsea’s first silverware for 26 years, becoming the first foreign manager to win the prestigious trophy. Chairman Ken Bates controversially sacked Gullit in 1998 despite the club sitting second in the table. Understandably feeling hurt and betrayed Gullit’s mood wasn’t improved when Bates famously said of him ‘I didn’t like his arrogance – in fact I never liked him’.
Gullit took over at Newcastle United in 1998 in what was seen as a desperate attempt to prove to Bates that he had made a mistake in sacking him. Unfortunately things didn’t go well with high profile fall outs with the fans and the players – leaving Alan Shearer out of the line-up and changing captain Rob Lee’s squad number – alienating the fans even more and in 1999 he resigned only five games into the new season.
A series of disastrous management jobs followed – at Feyenoord he lasted only one season, whilst after joining LA Galaxy (seemingly appointed by David Beckham’s management company rather than by anyone at the club) in 2007 Gullit lasted just 10 months. Galaxy had a shocking start to the season and faced criticism from the players for neglecting tactics in training and showing a lack of respect to them. In August 2008 Gullit resigned citing personal reasons, although at that time Galaxy were on a seven game winless streak.
After spending time as pundit across many TV channels Gullit shocked everyone by taking the manager’s job at Terek Grozny, a Chechen side in the Russian Premier League. Gullit said he took the job for ‘adventure and the money’, although that money was being provided by the club’s president (and Chechen President) Ramzan Kadyrov who has a long list of war crimes against his name. Even the postman carries a gun in Grozny, so just what type of adventure Gullit wanted only he knows.
After being appointed in January he was out of a job by June after having virtually no impact on the team’s results and being criticised for being too busy partying to take his role seriously.
His international career began at the age of 19 although he saw no real success until 1988. After failing to qualify for the World Cup in ’82 and ’86, plus the Euros in ’84 a drastic turn of fortune came across in Euro ’88.
After the Dutch had seen off England and West Germany Gullit’s goal in the final won them the competition as the USSR could find no way back into the game. In 1994 after a couple of blazing rows with manager Dick Advocaat he walked away from international football.
Gullit was one of the most talented Dutch players to grace Serie A and has collected a full cabinet of medals, winning something at virtually every club he played for. Although his career as a manager has plummeted since his success at Chelsea there are clubs out there like Grozny and Galaxy who will want a big name to up their status and will offer him a job.