The glory days are back for British soccer. Thanks to the money poured into the game by television, Britain has come to rival Italy as a magnet for international stars. Brian Glanville portrays the Dutchman who is the glamorous emblem of the soccer renaissanceby Brian Glanville / December 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in December 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
Ruud Gullit has enjoyed a King’s Road honeymoon since he arrived last season-a deus ex machina-at Chelsea football club, to play, and subsequently to manage. With his famous dreadlocks, his sporting talents, his polyglot charm, Gullit has enraptured London. Last month he acted with typical poise and dignity during the public mourning for Matthew Harding, the Chelsea director; so many other football stars would have been at best trite, at worst an embarrassment.
Of his prowess as a player, there has never been any doubt; he is one of the great footballers of his age, a glorious amalgam of technique and power. The Gullit of today, now 34, clearly cannot have the pace he once did, not least after a series of operations on his right knee which cost him a whole season with AC Milan in 1989-90, and which could so easily have ended his career. That he should come back to the field at all was remarkable. That he should do so to such effect was even more so.
Under full galleon sail, there have been few more exciting players; and very few more versatile. After a season with DWS Amsterdam and then three with Haarlem, it was with the Feyenoord club of Rotterdam that Gullit made his name; there he blossomed as a sweeper, playing behind the defence, but always ready to make forays upfield. But by the time he was transferred to PSV Eindhoven in 1985, he was best known as a midfield player, a stupendous sight when, dreadlocks flying, he launched his huge frame upfield. For such a big man-indeed, for any man-his touch was delicate, and he used his height to dominant purpose when the ball was in the air.
Arriving so unexpectedly in London after eight years in Milan and Genoa, Gullit delighted football reporters by the way he would slip into the press room-quite unbidden-to hold court after Chelsea’s games at Stamford Bridge. Speaking very serviceable English, which he learned at school (his Italian is perfect), Gullit would chat away in a most engaging manner, often laughing, always amenable-a welcome change from the grudging suspicion of so many English players and managers. All this makes you wonder why, after he had left Sampdoria of Genoa in 1995, a Genoese journalist should describe him, caustically, as “an opportunist,” comparing him unfavourably with the Englishman, David Platt.