RUUD GULLIT

Just a few men in Chelsea history can be said to have heralded a completely new era at the club but Ruud Gullit was undoubtedly one.

When the former European Footballer of the Year was signed in the summer of 1995 from AC Milan, never before had a player of such world renown arrived at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea were making a well-timed push to escape mid-table, trophy-less mediocrity as a new TV age and fashion for the game in England was blooming. Gullit and Mark Hughes, signed soon after, were the big hopes to make that happen.

After just one season during which he played sweeper, in midfield and up front Gullit was already being talked about as a candidate for Chelsea's greatest player. Although league position did not improve from the previous year, the team were unfortunate not to make the FA Cup Final and were clearly going in the right direction, to such an extent that on the final day of the season, the Stamford Bridge crowd implored the club to appoint to the charismatic Dutchman to the newly vacated manager's position instead of the mooted George Graham.

Gullit said yes and oversaw a marvellous period of player recruitment. Although player/manager, his time on the pitch was infrequent as long-existing knee injuries resurfaced, but his side thrilled and at Wembley in May 1997 they beat Middlesbrough 2-0. Gullit became the first overseas and the first black manager to win the FA Cup, and Chelsea's long 26-year wait for a trophy was over.

The following season saw more quality players arrive and results were initially very good, although come the start of 1998 a dip and problems with the team coincided with disagreements on a new contract and the football world was shocked by his sudden dismissal.

Gianluca Vialli, a Gullit signing, took over and the team won the League Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup in the season that remained.

Unflappable on the ball, tall, strong with a great range of passing and a bullet header, when he took to coaching his side played with verve and freedom. Gullit's description 'sexy football' that quickly became famous had not originally been used to describe Chelsea, but it was wonderfully applicable to both the football he played for us and that of the players he managed.