Dreadlocked, supremely talented and deadly in the air, Ruud Gullit cut a dash with the Dutch national side, while also featuring for the star-studded AC Milan side of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s alongside compatriots Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten. He was widely recognised as one of the finest players of his generation and was a huge inspiration to many.

  • By David Lee Wheatley
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gullit aGullit was born Ruud Dil in Amsterdam on 1st September 1962 to father George Gullit, a Surinamese migrant, and mother Ria Dil. Street football was important in Ruud’s formative years and he began playing alongside future international team-mate Frank Rijkaard after moving from the Jordaan district to Amsterdam Old West. He signed for the DWS club after his relocation and came to the attention of the Dutch youth team where he featured with future stars Ronald Koeman, Erwin Koeman and Wim Kieft. It was during his time with DWS that Ruud first used his father’s surname, as he thought the name sounded more like a football player. He officially retained his mother’s name away from the football pitch.

In 1978, Gullit signed professional forms with HFC Haarlem. At the time of his debut as a 16-year-old, he became the youngest player at that time to have played in the Eredivisie. In his first season Haarlem suffered relegation, but bounced back the following year. Promotion was followed by a full international bow at the age of 19 against Switzerland. In the 1981-82 season, Gullit was in fantastic form as he helped Haarlem to 4th place in the top-flight, leading to qualification for Europe for the first time in the club’s history.

A move to one of Holland’s ‘big three’ beckoned in 1982 and Gullit duly signed for Feyenoord for around £300,000. In his second season, Feyenoord swept all before them to win the league and cup double. Ruud was also named Dutch Footballer of the Year in recognition of his contribution to the team’s success. The maturing Gullit was beginning to play in a more attacking role after occupying the sweeper position earlier in his career and he managed 31 goals in 85 league appearances during his time in Rotterdam.

PSV came calling in 1985 and Gullit joined for around the £400,000 mark, a move that was wholly unpopular with Feyenoord fans. His time in Eindhoven was a massive success, as the Philips-backed club won the Eredivisie crown two seasons running and Gullit began to truly establish himself as a world-class operator with 46 goals in 68 league games plus another Dutch Footballer of the Year accolade in 1986 to his name.

Big European clubs were certainly taking notice of Gullit and AC Milan forked out a then world-record fee of £6 million to take him to the glamorous world of Serie A. For his achievements at both PSV and Milan, the majestic Dutch international was named European Footballer of the Year for 1987 and Milan won their first Scudetto in nine years at the end of the Dutchman’s first season in Italy.

It was a golden period for Gullit, as he went on to lead Holland to glory in the European Championships of 1988. Gullit’s supreme balance and devastating aerial ability were pivotal to that success and it wiped away painful memories of the failures to qualify for Euro ’84 and the World Cup in 1986. Ruud scored in the 1988 Euro final in a 2-0 victory over the USSR and therefore became the first Dutch national captain to hold aloft an international tournament trophy.

The title of European Cup winner was added to Gullit’s impressive list of honours when Milan swept Steaua Bucharest aside 4-0 in the 1989 final, despite the powerful attacker picking up a knee injury in the semi-final win over Real Madrid. Ruud only managed two domestic appearances during 89-90 due to serious knee ligament problems before he featured in another European Cup final against Benfica. The reigning champions AC Milan retained the trophy with victory over their Portuguese rivals.

Holland went into the World Cup finals in 1990 as one of the favourites, but they fell at the second round stage to eventual winners West Germany. Gullit was still clearly troubled by his knee and it largely hampered the forward’s ability to drive his nation on to greater heights at Italia ’90.

While going for a third consecutive European Cup, Milan met Marseille in the quarter-final when a floodlight failure during the second leg caused uproar amongst the Milan players, who refused to return to finish the match. Marseille were awarded the tie and Milan expelled from European club competition for the following season. In response, Milan went undefeated in Serie A to win the league in 1992 and followed that up with another Scudetto in ’93. Gullit was omitted from the 1993 Champions League final squad due to the 3-foreigner rule employed at that time, forcing him to consider his future.

Sampdoria came in for Gullit in 1993 and he showed he still had lots to give when taking the Genoa-based club to victory in the Coppa Italia. He also sensationally scored the winner in a scintillating encounter with former club AC Milan in the league. He briefly re-signed with the San Siro outfit in 1994, but quickly returned to Samp during the same season.

It was during the same period that a long-running feud began between Netherlands national team manager Dick Advocaat and Gullit, resulting in several spats and the versatile Dutch star’s eventual international retirement from the national team after walking out of a pre-World Cup training camp in 1994. It was an ignominious end to his international career and one that cost him a last opportunity to play at a World Cup finals.

The English Premier League was fast overtaking Serie A as the main destination for international star players and in 1995 it was west London side Chelsea that convinced Gullit to move to the English game and to Stamford Bridge in a bid to augment their already strong squad.

Starting out at sweeper with limited results, Gullit moved to more advanced role as an attacking midfielder and he quickly became familiar with the style of play in England, which eventually saw him come second to Eric Cantona as the English league’s Footballer of the Year. Gullit enjoyed his time in London immensely and when Glenn Hoddle left as manager for the England job in 1996, it was Ruud who stepped up to become player-manager of the Blues.

Gullit inherited a squad full of stars and he led them to FA Cup glory in his first season in charge, which was Chelsea’s first domestic trophy in 26 years. He was inexplicably sacked as manager in his second term, with the club sitting second in the Premier league and through to quarter-finals of two cup competitions. His final Chelsea appearance as a player came in the first leg of that season’s League Cup semi-final against Arsenal, but he was binned as boss before the second leg was played.

The skilful brilliance of Gullit drew comparisons with some of the game’s greatest players and it was often a topic of great debate as to who was the best player in the world during the late 80’s between Argentine legend Diego Maradona and Dutch superstar Gullit.

Personally, I couldn’t separate them!