It was not merely his distinctive dreadlocks hairstyle which made him stand out from European football in the mid-Eighties to the mid-Nineties, he was one of the outstanding players on the continent. Ruud Gullit was born in Amsterdam in 1962. There he was discovered by Haarlem’s trainer Barry Hughes as a teenager playing on the streets with none other than Frank Rijkaard, and as a result he began his career with Haarlem. The teenage prodigy’s football intelligence and skill allowed him to excel in his position as sweeper. In fact, his devastating performance against Feyenoord convinced the Rotterdam club to buy him. Once at Feyenoord Gullit was growing into the young talent in Dutch football. He also benefited from the guidance of Willem van Hanegem and later of Johan Cruijff, who had also moved to Feyenoord. Cruijff encouraged Gullit to move up the field to attack. The two made a deadly partnership and Feyenoord developed into the top club in Holland. At the national level Gullit was considered the best of the young players who had taken over the national team.
After Cruijff’s retirement from playing, Gullit was lured to PSV Eindhoven, which was in the process of rebuilding itself. He played an instrumental role in this effort as the club rose to the top of the national league and Gullit became recognised as one the European game’s outstanding players, but he left the club before it attained European success. In 1987 Gullit had been sold at a £6.5 million world-record price to AC Milan, where he began to play as an all-out attacker.
In 1988 Gullit captained Holland to victory in the European Championship, where he opened the score in the Final, and won the European Cup with AC Milan. He would later win it again with Milan. But as the decade drew to a close, Gullit began having serious knee troubles and in the 1990 World Cup he was not in full-form. The team delivered a miserable showing but his goal against Ireland was one of sheer class and deadly effectiveness. His touch was back to defend Holland’s title in the 1992 European Championship, but despite a strong performance by Gullit, Holland went out in the Semi-Finals. After the tournament Gullit left Milan to play for Sampdoria in Genoa. After a season he came back to Milan but it only lasted a few months and then he returned to Genovese club. Gullit had continued to play for the national team but quit in 1993 after differences with the trainer. He returned briefly but then his international career ended anti-climatically with his withdrawal from the national team just prior to the 1994 World Cup.
In 1995 Gullit left the Italian league after eight years and moved to England to play for the London club Chelsea. Here he returned to his old position as sweeper and was quickly recognised as one of the Premier League’s leading stars and perhaps the leading tactician. Gullit also became a regular personality on the BBC where his commentary and expert insight was in popular demand. At the time Chelsea was being coached by player/trainer Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle retired in the summer of 1996 to take over England’s national team. Gullit was then approached by the club’s management to fill the role of Hoddle as player/trainer. Gullit accepted and thus became the first Dutch trainer in England’s top league.
During his career Gullit was twice selected as European Footballer of the Year and once as World Footballer of the Year. He also captained Oranje to its only international title to date. His recent entry into coaching suggests that the last has not been seen of Ruud Gullit. Surely his future will continue to be intertwined with Dutch football and perhaps there will another challenge for him with Oranje. Aside from his great footballing and tactical skills, Ruud Gullit can also remembered for his frank outspokenness and his contributions to his heartfelt causes.