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Meet our latest Weekend Wonder: Ruud Gullit
Daniel Passarella's elbow, the Rossoneri connection and the injury that nearly cost him his career: Ruud Gullit tells all

"Who wants to hear my Steve McClaren impression?"

"Who wants to hear my Steve McClaren impression?"

The word legend can frankly be overused. But let’s be honest: Ruud Gullit deserves it. You don’t win two European Cups, a European Championship, a European Player of the Year and a World Soccer Player of the Year without being a bit of a legend.

He started with HFC Harlem, before embarking on a glittering career with Feyenoord, PSV, AC Milan, Sampdoria and Chelsea.

In Britain, “utility player” usually means a willing but limited jack of all trades. Gullit was a master of them all; whether operating up front, in midfield or as a sweeper, the Dutchman epitomised his home nation’s ethos of Total Football.

Athletic, strong, quick and technically brilliant, Gullit was a 21st-century footballer playing ahead of his time. During his 19-year playing career he amassed a medal collection to shame most players (three league titles in Holland, three more in Italy, two European Cups…) and was named the European and World Football of the Year in 1987.

He won the latter a second time in 1989 after he and his compatriots Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard elevated Arrigo Sacchi’s Rossoneri to possibly the greatest club side ever constructed.

His international career wasn’t bad either: he captained Holland to their first and so far only major success, his thumping header helping to win the Euro 88 final.

In 1996 he signed for Glenn Hoddle’s Chelsea – a move cited by many as a turning point in the previously insular English game as a wave of talented foreigners re-educated a nation.

When Hoddle became England boss in 1996, Gullit was made player-manager and in his first season guided the Blues to an FA Cup triumph, the club’s first major trophy in 26 years.

However, the following season – with Chelsea second in the Premier League and in two cup quarter-finals – he was sacked after a bust-up at the club.

His subsequent reign at Newcastle United was equally eventful, but even shorter; after falling out with Toon legend Alan Shearer the writing was on the wall and he resigned just five games into the 1999-2000 season.

Gullit has since had short but unhappy spells in charge of Feyenoord and the LA Galaxy, but the connoisseur of ‘Sexy Football’ is now well-regarded as a pundit for Sky Sports and a Champion for Ford’s Feel Football programme.

Looking back on his impressive career, Gullit realised he was missing one priceless accolade: A Weekend Wonder profile. Here’s what he had to say...

How would you like to be remembered as a player?
In Italy they always remember me as the Black Tulip. I just want to be remembered as player who gave people joy to watch.

How would you like to be remembered as a manager?
As a person who gave special players a pleasure in what they were doing – and that they enjoyed training and playing for me.

If you were playing today, what team would you like to play for?
Barcelona. I like their playing style and the way they interpret the game. It’s very positive.

Which modern player would you most like to play alongside?
Ronaldo. I would like to see what he is like on the pitch. It would be interesting to strike up a feeling with each other. I know how it is when you are good player and you have a good feeling with your team-mates: you know what everyone is doing on the pitch, you spot each other without looking. That is exceptional. When I play games with my old mates at Milan, on the right-wing with Mauro Tassotti at right-back, we still have that connection with each other – it never goes away.

I play like
Nobody really. I had my own playing style.

Other people say I play like
I was never compared to anyone. I was totally different to anyone else playing at the time.

Best football achievement
Winning the European Championships with my country in 1988.

Worst moment in football
In 1989 an injury almost cost me my career. I was on the edge. It took me almost eight months to come back and for the first four months I wasn’t able to do anything. It took a lot of mental strength to get through it. I had to get away from football. I went to Amsterdam to get away from it all.

Football heroes
Johan Cruyff because of his elegance, and Johan Neeskens because of his will-power and strength in midfield.

Football villain
Daniel Passarella. In my first Milan derby he just elbowed me in the face. Players that kicked me were afraid of me, but all this did was motivate me even more. I used to turn to them and say “OK, I’m going to get you.” And I did – I got my revenge with the ball.

Team supported
I’m from Amsterdam and all my family supported Ajax, but I liked Feyenoord because they were the underdog.

Why I’m a Weekend Wonder
Because of my love for football. It’s an emotional game. It is something you enjoy with other people. It’s almost impossible to explain why; it’s a feeling, a lifestyle. Football is life. It gives people the chance to escape their everyday problems. If your boss has bullied you all week and you need to express yourself and your feelings, then football gives you that opportunity. It allows you to release some aggression and to be part of something special.

Check out Ruud's guide to Sexy Football.
 
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