Ruud Gullit is a Dutch football manager and former footballer who played professionally in the 1980s and 1990s as a midfielder or forward. He was the captain of the Netherlands national team that was victorious at UEFA Euro 1988 and was also a member of the squad for the 1990 FIFA World Cup and Euro 1992. At club level, in 1987 he moved from PSV to Milan for a world record transfer fee. Easily recognizable with his distinctive dreadlocks, he was part of the famed Dutch trio at Milan which included Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. Gullit won three Serie A titles and two European Cups with Milan. In 1996, he signed for Chelsea and a year later was appointed the club’s player-manager. In his debut season, he led Chelsea to FA Cup success, the club’s first major title for 26 years, and in so doing became the first overseas manager to win the FA Cup.
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In 1981, on his 19th birthday, Gullit made his international debut as a substitute for the Netherlands national team against Switzerland, a game the Dutch lost 2–1. Gullit’s early international career was marred by disappointment as the team failed to qualify for the 1982 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 1984 – the Netherlands missed out on the latter tournament on goals scored as Spain, needing an 11-goal victory to qualify, trounced minnows Malta 12–1 in their final qualifying game. There was further frustration in 1985 when the Dutch missed out on qualification for the World Cup at the hands of neighbours Belgium in a play-off. Having lost 1–0 in Belgium, the Netherlands appeared to be set for qualification in Rotterdam as they led 2–0 until a late Georges Grün goal put Belgium through on away goals. Gullit, however, was one of the key players for the Netherlands as he helped his country win Euro 1988 under coach Rinus Michels. Having lost their opening game of the tournament to the Soviet Union, the Netherlands beat England and the Republic of Ireland to reach the semi-finals. After defeating West Germany 2–1 in Hamburg, the Netherlands faced the Soviet Union again in the final. Gullit opened the scoring with a well-placed header and Marco van Basten scored an incredible volley to cap a 2–0 win. Gullit was thus the first Dutch captain to hold aloft international silverware. The Dutch travelled to the 1990 World Cup as one of the favourites, but the team failed to perform as expected. Gullit’s knee injuries clearly hampered his play, and his only moment of brilliance was a superb dribble and shot against Ireland which helped the Netherlands qualify for the second round. There they met West Germany in one of the most exciting games of the tournament, though the game was marred by an altercation between Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler. The Germans gained revenge for their defeat at Euro 1988 by beating the Netherlands 2–1 and going on to win the tournament. 1992 saw the Netherlands again among the favourites for silverware in Sweden at Euro 1992. Gullit appeared in imperious form against Scotland in their opening game of the tournament as he supplied Dennis Bergkamp with an easy goal. But after drawing with Russia and beating Germany, the Netherlands suffered a shock exit on penalties to Denmark, who ended up winning the championship’s Henri Delaunay Trophy. In 1993, Gullit and Netherlands manager Dick Advocaat began what was to be a long-running dispute which ultimately ended Gullit’s international career. Advocaat’s decision to play Gullit on the right side of midfield in a game against England at Wembley, rather than his usual central position, upset Gullit and this was exacerbated by his substitution for Marc Overmars. Gullit refused to play for the national team following this but later changed his mind and agreed to return, facing Scotland in May 1994. Shortly before the 1994 World Cup, Gullit walked out of the pre-tournament training camp and would never play international football again. In December 2013, while appearing on Dutch television program Studio Voetbal, Gullit and Advocaat stated they were both at fault in the matter and regretted it.
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A complete and versatile player, Gullit epitomized the ethos of Total Football as he was naturally adept in several positions, and was capable of aiding his team defensively as well as offensively due to his work-rate and tactical intelligence. Normally deployed as an attacking midfielder or as a second striker, he was capable of playing anywhere in midfield or along the front-line, on either wing or even in the centre, and could also play as a sweeper. Regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time, his foremost attribute was his athleticism, as he used his strength and speed, combined with his technique, to great effect; he was also excellent in the air, as he was tall, powerful, and an excellent jumper. Yet, unusually for a man of his stature, Gullit was an elegant player, who also possessed outstanding natural balance, poise, technical ability, and dribbling skills, which gave a graceful style to his game. Gullit also was noted for his intelligence, creativity, vision, and spatial abilities, qualities that helped him score goals early in his career and enabled him to play in a deeper role as a playmaker late in his days, where he was known for creating chances for teammates. Gullit thus combined physical presence with flair, mental acuity, formidable technique and natural touch, to become an iconic figure in world football. Despite his talent, Gullit struggled with injuries throughout his career, which later affected his fitness. Gullit’s brilliance prompted George Best to comment in 1990, “Ruud Gullit is a great player by any standards. He has all the skills. He’s not afraid to do things with the ball. And he looks as if he’s enjoying every second of it. By my reckoning that’s what makes him an even better player than Maradona. Both have the key quality you will find in all the best players: balance. You just can’t knock them off the ball. It was the same with Pelé, Beckenbauer and Cruyff.”
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Gullit won the Ballon d’Or in 1987 and was named the World Soccer Player of the Year in 1987 and 1989. Normally an attacking midifielder, he was a versatile player, playing in numerous positions during his career. In 2004, he was named one of the Top 125 greatest living footballers as part of FIFA’s 100th anniversary celebration.