Ruud Gullit returned to Stamford Bridge earlier this week to help draw the FA Cup third-round fixtures, and the Dutchman took some time out of his duties to speak to the official Chelsea website.
Gullit, who led us to FA Cup glory as manager in 1997, initially joined the Blues as a player in 1995, when he was recruited by Glenn Hoddle, who is currently recovering from illness.
Gullit provided some insight into his time working under Hoddle at Chelsea, as well as speaking about one of our current midfielders who has caught his eye of late.
When the signing of Gullit was announced in June 1995, Chelsea supporters couldn’t believe their luck.
A true footballing superstar, a Ballon d'Or winner and a player who had collected a host of honours, including the European Cup, at club level, as well as helping the Netherlands triumph at the 1988 European Championships, was moving to Stamford Bridge. The Blues had finished 11th in the season which preceded Gullit’s arrival, but the feeling within SW6 was that brighter times lay ahead.
Buoyed by an FA Cup final appearance in 1994, and progression to the last four of the European Cup Winners’ Cup a year later, the mood among supporters was positive, and in Hoddle there was a real sense we had the right man at the helm.
For Gullit, the fact Hoddle was in charge at the time was pivotal in terms of him making the switch from Sampdoria to Chelsea.
‘My decision to join Chelsea was mainly because of Glenn,’ says Gullit. ‘I wanted to move away from Italy and everyone was saying I was crazy to go to Chelsea, but for me it was the right moment to do something different and go to the Premier League.
‘It was the right time for me to come. Living in London was fantastic and I had a manager in Glenn who understood the type of football I was playing.
‘He was trying to get that across to the team and obviously Mark Hughes came just after me as well, so it was a really fun time. I had one of the best periods of my career at Chelsea, I really enjoyed it.'
Gullit’s class was in evidence immediately, the Dutchman producing a superb individual display on his debut, a goalless home draw against Everton on the opening day of the 1995/96 campaign, and he scored his first goal for the Blues just six games in, a stunning right-footed volley in a 3-0 win over Southampton.
Initially, Hoddle had deployed Gullit in a sweeper role, but as the Dutchman explains, the nature of English football meant he was soon pushed further forward, and it was from that position he scored a wonderful solo goal against Manchester City, our opponents at the Bridge today (video below).
‘When I came here I understood what Glenn wanted to do, which was play the European way,’ Gullit recalls. ‘I remember at the start of my Chelsea career he played me as a sweeper, and long balls kept coming over for the opposition strikers. I brought the ball down on my chest and played it to one of the other defenders, and they were saying: “What are you doing?”
‘That was when Glenn said to me: “Ruud, can you do me a favour and play in midfield please?” He said he knew what I was trying to do, but you couldn’t play that way over here at that time. So I said to him that was fine, I’d play in midfield.’
It was Hoddle’s ability as a player which ensured he had always been held in the highest regard by Gullit.
‘Glenn was a fantastic player,’ he says. ‘We [the Dutch] were the nation who loved him while he was playing, in England he wasn’t really appreciated.
‘It must have been very frustrating for him to be the best player, and not be recognised as the best player. But when he went abroad, to Monaco, that’s what happened and he was appreciated more.’
Turning his attention to the current Chelsea side, Gullit has been impressed with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who scored his sixth goal of the season at Wolves on Wednesday, and like during his own playing days at the club, he understands what the manager is aiming to achieve in terms of playing style ahead of the visit of the league leaders tomorrow.
‘Loftus-Cheek is a very good player,’ he said. ‘I’m a big fan and I would like to see him play a bit more so I hope he gets some more time on the pitch.
‘Man City play good football and Maurizio Sarri also wants to play the kind of football which we all love. What he is trying to do is fantastic.’