The transfer stunned the footballing world 25 years ago this week. Ruud Gullit, a former Ballon d’Or winner, had signed for mid-table Chelsea. Never had a player of such world renown arrived at Stamford Bridge.
The move ushered in a completely new era at the club at a time when fashion for the game in England was blooming, aided by increased television coverage. Under the guidance of Glenn Hoddle, Chelsea were seeking to win major trophies and compete with England’s best for the first time since the early Seventies. The arrival of Gullit on a free transfer from Sampdoria went a long way to achieving that.
In an interview with BBC Sport website published yesterday, the Dutchman reflected on that seismic move two-and-a-half decades on, and the impact it had not only on Chelsea, but the league as a whole.
‘When I joined Chelsea, in June 1995, the Premier League was very different to the way it is now,’ noted Gullit.
‘I wasn't the first overseas player to come here, but I was one of the first to arrive with a big name, from a bigger league, such as Serie A.
‘Looking back, that summer was probably the time the Premier League really began to change into the competition it is now, and it had to. Italy was the king then - all the best players were there. English football was very basic in comparison, and the English wanted to have people from outside so they could try to get their game back again to the highest European level.
‘Dennis Bergkamp, David Ginola, Juninho. They all came at the same time as me. The way I saw it, it was an adventure. Personally and professionally, I needed to leave Italy after eight years with AC Milan and Sampdoria and, with the Premier League taking off, England just seemed the right place for a fresh start, at the right time for me to do something new.’
In the article, Gullit dismisses some of the accusations levelled against him at the time, namely his ‘legs had gone’ and he was joining Chelsea for a last payday. He admits he didn’t know much about the club or the area, but it didn’t matter because Hoddle, who he would replace a year later, was in charge.
‘Glenn had to sell Chelsea and their ambition to me - he said they were at the start of a journey too - but what was most important was that it was Glenn. In the eyes of the Dutch, he was the best English footballer ever but in England he was not appreciated. In the Netherlands, we said 'oh my god, he was a player meant for us, not for you'.
‘He had first phoned me up a few months previously to say he wanted to sign me and because I saw him as a player who played skilful football, I knew for sure he would not be a manager who would want to play the long ball and that was a very important factor in my decision.’
Gullit had spent much of his career turning out for AC Milan at the enormous San Siro, so he was in for something of a shock when he pitched up in SW6 to find a ground undergoing major redevelopment, and a training facility shared with university students.
‘When I came for the first time to see Stamford Bridge, I was like 'what the hell kind of stadium is this?' I was used to playing in the best stadiums in the world, but here there were only two stands. The place wasn't just a building site, it was a total wreck. You had to walk around on planks of wood.
‘The training ground too, was very different to what I was used to. Chelsea's facilities now are world class but then they were based at Harlington, which was a school. There was nothing there - just five little locker rooms, and the only thing in any of them was a wooden bench and a hook. That was it.
‘But I loved it. It was almost like I was going back to when I had just started playing, when I was nine years old. It was fantastic.’
Also in the BBC Sport article, Gullit discusses his adaption to English football, a close encounter with Vinnie Jones, his love for the Chelsea fans and his team-mates, and his best and worst moments at the club.