Ruud Gullit is an icon. A legend. The first and only skipper to lead a Dutch national senior team to silverware.
Sadly for Gullit, his resume reads: former top player, former reggae wannabe, serial groom (and womaniser), icon, and failed coach.
He tried many things: musician, political activist, tv personality, fashionista, entrepreneur but he will always be remembered for his dreadlocks, big strides and sensational runs.
He played almost on every position in the team, defence, striker, winger, playmaker, midfielder… He had highs in Oranje and lows in Oranje. He had a father-son relation with Michels and a hate relation with Michels.
Time for a definitive talk. Thank you VI Magazine.
1988 was 25 years ago. What is your best memory of the whole tournament?
Ruud Gullit: “In all honesty, the whole post-final ceremony, the cup ceremony, the celebration… It’s al a blur to me. I never know whether it’s my memory or the memory of seeing the images on tv… Weird. The warmest moment for me, was the last day in Holland, before we went to Germany. We had this farewell tv program. And suddenly, when some guy is playing the piano, Michels starts to sing. Loud! Like an opera singer. The man could sing!! Amazing. No one knew. And he sang Droomland ( Land of Dreams) like a pro. It really touched me. We all saw Michels in a different light, suddenly. It sort of increased the respect and love we had for the man. It might have made a difference….who knows…. But I recall that memory often, that was a moment of magic. I tried to find that on YouTube but have never found it, although it was televised…”
Did Michels need that extra from this group?
“Of course not. He had status and personality and charisma. he had this tough image though. Disciplinarian. But we saw his softer side that night. And he wasn’t tough to us, actually. I heard stories from Cruyff and Van Hanegem, so I asked Michels one day: You are not that difficult as the older players said you’d be. He laughed and said: that is because you guys are pros. These guys were rebels. Michels had to drive to the Leidseplein (big square in Amsterdam with clubs and pubs) to chase the players from the cafes at night. We didn’t do that so much. “Those players needed a tough hand. You don’t.” I took that as a big compliment. Michels was a coach who could adapt to circumstances. He observed his players and customised his approach.”
Was that first game, the 0-1 defeat against the USSR, a big setback? Were you concerned?
“Not at all! That was actually the best game we played! We dominated and attacked in 4-3-3 for 80 minutes. We simply didn’t score. Marco was getting stronger and stronger and I knew Marco would get his chance. I was playing pretty dramatically, that game. Nothing against Bosman, he played really well and was a super striker, but Marco was super fit, and from another world. And Marco was soooo eager. And I had this tremendous click with Marco on the pitch. Watch the England game and you’ll see that I am constantly looking for him. I was weak, he was strong and I played in service of him. I didn’t have that so much with Bosman, who is a different striker. Sad for the lads who had to make way, but to me it was clear that Marco was the man who could make the difference.”
So what was wrong with you?
“I was just spent. So tired from that first season in Italy. I was done for. The game against West Germany, that was when I started to feel my strength return. And the USSR final was my strongest game. And Michels saw it. He forbade me to take free kicks. Koeman was the first man for free kicks, until the finals. Then Michels changed that back. For me a signal that I could go full throttle in the finals. I had the backing and confidence of the coach. He was smart like that.”
Was there really a chance that Marco van Basten would have pulled out of the tournament beforehand?
“I don’t think he really would have. I know he was upset and angry that he was benched, playing with number 12. He did talk to Cruyff and later with Michels. Marco is a real striker. And therefore selfish. Almost funny. If he hadn’t scored for a while he would become nasty. He would scold people for not playing the ball correctly. He would blame everyone. And I would put him in his place and laugh at him. That is how you needed to work him. But most players feared him. Marco can be tremendously dominating. Bullying. You need to break through that mask and than it’s a very nice lad. We played for amateur club AFC together, after our career. It was good fun. But he would be so professional and eager and fanatical. Marco is top drawer and demanded everything around him to be too. His team mates feared him, the opponents feared him, the referee, hahahaha. Everyone played for fun, but Marco plays to win, hahahaha.”
Did Marco not get annoyed with your lose and somewhat undisciplined style?
“I’m sure yes. We are really opposites. But we we complimentary towards one another. And the combination of his personality and his qualities made him the best of the world. And make no mistake: he was mean. He was a bastard on the pitch. No one could bully him. I see this in Sneijder. And Van Bommel had it too. This is why Van Bommel and Van Basten clashed I think. Similar personalities.But Marco is the role model as a striker. The 100% perfect specimen. And every striker at Ajax after him got this baggage on his shoulder. Even Ibrahimovic, one of the best of the world now, was seen as a disappointment at Ajax, compared to Marco….”
Back to the Euro 1988. In 1990, the same generation disgracefully left the World Cup early. In 2010, Oranje won silver in South Africa and left the Euros in 2012 without a single point. Is that typically Dutch?
“I’m sorry to say it, but yes. Its that Dutch hardheadedness. The “we know it all” mentality. In a squad, you need hierarchy. And this hierarchy exists almost naturally if a team has not had success yet. The lesser players want to follow the stronger players. As it is the road to success. Once success hits, all the players in Holland start to think they can be a leader. And you get groups and cliques and issues. Towards 1990, we suddenly got many captains. Suddenly I read interviews where waterbearers – with all due respect – started to moan about the privileges of the Three of Milan and all that. WTF? Or some players started to talk about the fee we’d get if we would win the World Cup… That stupid behaviour.”
Body language 101
You and Marco were very critical towards Van Marwijk and the Oranje squad in the run up to the 2012 Euro. You saw it coming?
“Of course! The dynamics were not good. You could see and hear it. Marco and I had deja vues. It was just like in 1990. Bert van Marwijk was not amused. He felt he deserved support. But this was us, trying to help. We were not slamming him, but giving constructive advice. He should have used those signals. There was that endless debate about Van Persie vs Huntelaar. Clarity, Mr Van Marwijk! The sooner the better. Afellay had a privileged position without have played a game and earlier Bert had said that he only took players along with rhythm. Another mistake. Rafael van der Vaart couldn’t get a look in after a couple of great qualification games as holding mid. Etc etc. The body language of players showed you there was discontent. This was a no hope mission.”
What should Van Marwijk have done?
“Clarity early on. Look at Louis van Gaal now. “This is my system, these are my players, this is how things will go.” And stick to it. Consistency. He kept his cards to his chest too long. Even in the prep phase of the tournament he was experimenting with the strikers. When players share their discontent with the media, it’s too late. The damage is done.”
And the 1990 run up was similar?
“Actually, worse. At least Van Marwijk was by then still the accepted coach. The players all like him a lot. We wanted Cruyff. We made a case for him and we even did the Federations dirty work by axing Libregts. And the Federation promised us Cruyff, but Michels blocked that. Said horrible things about Johan. Calling him a psycho. My God. I knew then and there it would be a disaster. Nothing against Leo Beenhakker. He had the balls to take it on, but he said something like “this is not my squad” and I knew for sure we were in trouble. We also heard, when we got back in the trainings camp from our Europa Cup finals against Benfica, that the other players were annoyed with us… The vibe was bad. I stayed most of the time in my room. I actually was ready to leave.”
When? During the World Cup?
“Yes. I felt like shit. So did Marco. We were both fed up. After the first group games, I went to see Beenhakker. Marco was there and Ted Troost (adviser to Marco and Ruud) was there as moderator. And I have to say, Leo was good in that meeting. Listened, sympathised and we sort of got a common ground which made me stay. I saw some positives in that meeting. And in the first game after that meeting, against Ireland, I scored and I felt there might be a way beyond all this. In that first knock-out game against Germany we played really good. We dominated, were the better team. Until Frankie spat Voller in his neck. And hour later, we could pack our bags.”
Did you ever talk to Rijkaard about this incident?
“Not really, what is there to say. Frankie knew he as wrong. He doesn’t need me to tell him that. And that was not the reason why our campaign failed. It was doomed from the start. The mentality of the players, the Federation not giving us Cruyff, the horrific training camp. I think Johan was the only one with enough clout to have pulled us all in. He would have been so tough on the water-carriers and would have had a simple and effective tactics and line up. I can still get mad when I think how the people back then screwed us over with this….”
Rijkaard and Voller made up and earned some money doing so (for a good cause, actually… they donated their fee)
Watch this space for Pt 2 soon. In which Gullit talks about the “racial rift” in 1996, his coaching career and the chances of Oranje in Brazil.
Ruud Gullit said he didn’t know about Michels’ voice. In 1974, however, the Oranje squad was sent off to Germany with a young Michels being hoisted onto stage to sing with typical Amsterdam singers (operette) Willy Alberti (father in law of Soren Lerby) and Johnny Jordaan. The Ode to the Westertoren, a famous Amsterdam landmark.
Dreadful music, really, but at the end of the clip, Michels is asked on stage and you can hear his tremendous voice.