Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Watcha gonna do when Gullit-mania takes over you!

It was the summer of 1988 that I first saw Ruud Gullit.  I was a 12year old living in Essex who worshipped football, and when I turned on the TV to see Holland play in the European Championships I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I had never seen someone with a hairstyle like that, let alone someone play football with that hairstyle…and boy could he play football.

When Holland won the Euro’s that year, Ruud Gullit was the captain.  He was the driving force.  Was he a forward? Was he an attacking midfielder?  I couldn’t work it out.  All I knew was that he was immense.  I was fixated, I was mesmerised.  Holland had other great players in that side, Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten, but for me Ruud was the main man, with his dreads rotating and whiplashing whenever he headed the ball, it was a sight to behold.  Van Basten may get the plaudits for scoring one of the best goals ever in the final against Russia, but Gullit’s thunderbolt header in the 1st half was just as good.

Whilst the tournament was going on and England went crashing out, Holland and especially Gullit were the talk of the school playground.  With my hard-earned paper round money, I saved up and bought this cap.  Looking back I probably looked a complete tit, but at the time I didn’t care.  I had Gullit-mania!

I discovered that he played for AC Milan in Italy, but how could I get to see Italian league games?  In 1988 there was no internet, so I couldn’t pester my dad into streaming a game on the computer.  Thinking about it, there were not many things the Spectrum 128K could do, but it did have a built in tape deck. 
Thankfully AC Milan were a supreme side in the late 80s/early 90s and appeared in the later stages of the European Cup which was shown on ITV late at night, so I would tape Midweek Sports Special, and watch the games at 630am before doing my paper-round. I was an obsessed child.
They had the watertight defence with Franco Baresi marshalling a young defence, which included a youthful Paolo Maldini.  The midfield starred Albertini, Donadoni and Gullit’s international team-mate Frank Rijkaard.  The flair was added by Ruud Gullit and the goal power from Marco Van Basten.  There is a strong argument that the AC Milan side of 1987-1992 could be the greatest club side of all time.  AC Milan’s 5-0 destruction of Real Madrid in the European Cup semi final of 88/89 season is one of the best performances ever, by any club side.

However this victory saw the beginning of Ruud’s injury problems, would he make it back in time from an operation to be ready for the final against Steaua Bucharest.  Of course Ruud would.  Not only did he play, but he scored two goals as AC Milan waltzed past the Romanians in the final 4-0.

Then in 1990 it happened.  There was a chance I could see Ruud Gullit every week on my TV.  British Sky Broadcasting was introduced, and they had a sports channel which showed live Italian games, week in week out.  My dad was well up for getting satellite TV, however my mum was a tougher nut to crack, as my dad and I watched too much sport already.  My dad worked his magic, and in November 1990 the Clark’s got satellite TV.  The first programmes we watched were the Flintstones and the Dog Olympics, BSB didn’t have many programmes!!
However I was in heaven, my chance to see Ruud every week, be it live on a Sunday afternoon after I had graced the pitches of the Southend & Junior U15 leagues, or the multiple highlights programmes they used to show during the week.  However, disaster was going to strike, not only was Ruud seriously struggling with ligament trouble, severely limiting his time on the pitch, when he was fit, his route back to the starting line up, was being blocked by restrictions on the amount of foreigners Italian sides could pick in their team.  Milan being a footballing superpower, had the choice of selecting three from these guys:- Marcel Desailly, Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten, Dejan Savicevic, Zvonomir Boban, Jean-Pierre Papin and finally Gullit.
Ruud was left out of the 1993 Champions League final against Marseille, and that was the final nail in the coffin for his time at AC Milan, and he was sold to Sampdoria.  Gullit went there with a point to prove, and when Milan played in Genoa, Gullit rolled back the years, and turned in a barnstorming performance. He scored the winner in a 3-2 victory for Sampdoria and led them to an Italian  Cup victory as well.  Ruud was such an iconic and influential figure, his mere presence led his team-mates to greater efforts.

Milan ate humble pie in the summer of 1994, and they re-signed him from Sampdoria, however the return to Milan never really worked out, as injuries had affected his pace, and Gullit was having to play at centre back or sweeper, and by the end of the season, Gullit had been loaned back to Sampdoria. At the end of the season, Gullit needed a change of scenery, and he was being heavily linked to a move to the Premier League.

As a Spurs fan, I was hoping that Spurs would be in for him.  However those hopes were dashed, as our complete numpty of a manager Gerry Francis, decided he did not need a new centre back, Christ we had Colin Calderwood and Stuart Nethercott, why on earth did we need Gullit;-) Gerry definitely did not entertain the idea of having a sweeper either.  The man was clueless.  He ruined Spurs, but that’s a story for another day.
Ruud swaggered into Chelsea of all places, playing under a man who knows a good footballer when he sees one, Glen Hoddle. My dad being a lifelong Chelsea fan was ecstatic, and I had to put up with Spurs lumbering on under Gerry Francis, with footballers like Andy Sinton, Clive Wilson and Chris Armstrong.  From 1995 to the present day, my dad has rubbed my nose in it, about Chelsea’s dominance over Spurs, in fact he’s bloody loved it.

During this period I couldn’t show how much I loved Ruud Gullit as a footballer, I had to hate him, it was part of the deal of being a football supporter.  But secretly, I still adored him.  He was like a Rolls Royce, either playing sweeper or centre midfield for Chelsea.  The players loved him, the fans loved him. I hate to say it, but he was the King of the King’s Road.
When Glen Hoddle was made England manager in 1996, there was only one candidate for the Chelsea job, and Ruud Gullit became their manager in the summer of 1996.  From that moment in time, Chelsea as a club have not looked back.  Gullit was an icon for European footballers, and they were queuing up to join him at Chelsea, Roberto Di Matteo, Frank LeBoeuf and most importantly Gianfranco Zola joined in his first season.  Chelsea won the FA Cup in his first season in charge, the club’s first major trophy in 26 years.  Gullit became the first non-British manager to win a major trophy in England.  Chelsea had arrived. Meanwhile Spurs plodded on.
Ruud Gullit has always been a confident man, some may say bordering on arrogant, and this may have led to his falling out with Ken Bates at Chelsea.  There was probably a clash of personalities, however you could probably list on one hand, the amount of people who get on with Ken Bates, and one of those is Mrs Bates.  With Chelsea in 2nd place in the league, and in the quarter finals of both cups, Gullit was sacked by Bates, and replaced by Gianluca Vialli. 
Spurs at this time, were being managed by Christian Gross, a completely clueless manager, who was brought in by the Apprentice’s Alan Sugar.  Alan Sugar was a terrible football chairman, he made one bad managerial decision after another. Could we hope that Sugar would finally make a wise choice, and appoint Gullit, to play the sexy football us Spurs fans craved.  Don’t be so ridiculous, we ended up with George ficking Graham, the man with a marble mural of the Arsenal crest in the entrance to his house.  Ruud took his brand of sexy football to St James Park, but it never really worked out for Gullit at St James Park, I don’t think his heart was really in it.  He missed Chelsea too much.  He also dropped Alan Shearer in a must win game against Sunderland.  Newcastle lost, and Gullit was sacked.  However you have to admire Gullit’s balls for making a decision like that.

After leaving English football, Gullit flitted around Europe and the US taking managerial jobs, but he never really settled anywhere.  He fell out with owners left, right and centre.  Being a manager wasn’t his style, he was too much of a maverick. 

However the last few years of Gullit’s time in professional football as a manager, should not cloud what a truly fantastic footballer he was.  It certainly changed the life of a young boy in Essex, and for that I will always be fond of Ruud Gullit.

Chris Clark © 2014    @Chrisclark1975

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