DCSIMG

Sexy football to sexy golf, Gullit shows his class

RUUD Gullit is getting used to being surrounded by Scots. Currently competing for the fifth time at the Alfred Dunhill Links tournament in Fife and Angus, the former Dutch international had to hot-foot it to St Andrews from a studio in London, where he spent Tuesday evening sitting between Andy Gray and Charlie Nicholas in a line-up of football analysts employed by Sky.

On one of the last occasions he was the filling in a Scottish sandwich was against Scotland for Holland in a friendly in 1994, when Gullit made his return to international football after what had been the latest in a series of bust-ups with the Dutch footballing authorities. This improvement in relations didn't manage to last so long as the summer of that year; Gullit walked out of manager Dick Advocaat's squad, just three weeks before the start of the World Cup in America.

No wonder, whenever Gullit made a hash of a shot yesterday, Alfred Dunhill officials looked on nervously, fearing a Sandy Lyle-like march back to the club house from one of the most recognisable celebrities in the pro-am field. In truth, Gullit looks almost as elegant with a club in his hand as a ball at his feet, and he finished in contented enough mood yesterday at four under par for the tournament.

The desire to follow his own path has impacted on Gullit's managerial as well as playing career, and means he has been able to accommodate another tour of the finest golf courses this corner of Scotland has to offer in what is a traditionally busy month in the football calendar. Apart from his duties as a pundit, he is essentially out of work.

Gullit has been grouped with former Milan team-mate Roberto Donadoni, someone else whose availability this week was perhaps unexpected. Donadoni left his post of Italy manager after a disappointing showing in Euro 2008, for which his side had qualified at Scotland's expense on an unforgettable night at Hampden 11 months ago. Gullit yesterday paused as he contemplated the last time he and Donadoni appeared together in sporting combat. "Hmmm, maybe a testimonial for (Demetrio] Albertini," he suggests, recalling the AC Milan v Barcelona legend-fest which celebrated the career of the midfielder in 2006. Gullit included Donadoni when asked by World Soccer magazine to name a team of world greats. Scots were conspicuous by their absence. No room, then, for Gray and Nicholas, his buddies on the studio stools?

"I think they deserved their place in world football," he says, diplomatically. "I have a lot of respect for what they did."

Such has been Gullit's peripatetic lifestyle over the last decade that it is easy to forget just what a footballing icon he himself once was. Gullit collected the world player of the year award in 1987, dedicating it to the then incarcerated Nelson Mandela.

His last three managerial appointments have barely seen him last a year, with the latest post, at David Beckham's LA Galaxy, brought to an end – due to what Gullit cited as "personal reasons" – after only seven months. His tenure at Feyenoord, his previous posting, lasted only one season. At Newcastle, he managed at least to clock up a year. A month after this anniversary, however, he was gone, the victim of poor form and a fall-out with the Geordie nation. Or at least with Alan Shearer, which amounts to one and the same thing.

Gullit isn't sure whether he will return to management again. His experience at LA Galaxy, where he struggled to assemble enough players to send out a reserve team, might have taken its toll. And Hollywood has nothing on the linksland at Carnoustie, St Andrews and Kingsbarns, where Gullit plays his third round with English professional Sam Little – currently struggling at five over par for the tournament – this afternoon. Is there anything Gullit can draw from his football career when standing on the first tee at the Old Course, golf's equivalent of the mouth of the players' tunnel at San Siro?

"There are no similarities," says Gullit. "The only thing, perhaps, is the strong mentality required. You must have the hunger and the willingness to win. And that's important: how hungry are you?"

It's a question he might ask himself now, as the father of six contemplates his next move. He has two children with his current wife Estelle, niece of fellow Dutch football legend – and also Alfred Dunhill Links competitor – Johan Cruyff. One thing is ruled out – a return to Newcastle United. Gullit is amused by yesterday's reports of caretaker manager Joe Kinnear's stormy first official press conference this week, and its X-rated content. "Everyone always wants to ask me about Newcastle," he says. "I just hope they can get back to where they want to be. First thing is first. Everything has to be sorted out upstairs. And then from there, it flows down."

The road to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 is blocked for Scotland by a familiar foe – Holland. The first of two meetings is an away date in March, and Gullit has identified a main reason why Scotland will always find it difficult to overcome his countrymen.

"Holland as a national team always do well, and we nearly always qualify because most of the players play abroad and play for big teams," he says. "They are used to doing well. So we don't need to worry about that. We have struggled a little bit in the past, but I am confident we will win the group."

He revealed that the dearth of Scottish players in the Premiership had dominated the off-screen conversation between himself, Gray and Nicholas. The sad fact is that there is not a single Scottish outfield player appearing regularly in the Premiership, although Manchester United's present injury worries should lead to an extended run for Darren Fletcher.

"There are not so many Scottish players in the Premiership anymore, and that is a sign," says Gullit. "Why that is has to be investigated. It is a fact. There is something going on there. Of course I would like Scotland to qualify for the World Cup, especially for their great fans. Everyone knows their passion for football."

The point is proved by the throng of autograph hunters waiting patiently by the 18th hole at Carnoustie, most not old enough to remember when Gullit's brilliant Dutch connection with Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten for Milan. Nowadays his colleagues are more likely to be called "Charlie" and "Andy". But then star quality, unlike the make-up on a pundit's face, cannot be rubbed off.

FACTBOX

1962: Born Surinam, 1 September.

1981: Makes international debut for the Netherlands against Switzerland on his 19th birthday.

1987: Signs for AC Milan in a world record 5.5million deal from PSV. Voted European and World Footballer of the Year.

1988: Helps Milan to Italian League title. Captains the Netherlands to European Championship triumph in West Germany.

1989: Scores twice as Milan win European Cup with 4-0 victory over Steaua Bucharest.

1990: Claims second successive European Cup winners' medal with Milan after 1-0 win over Benfica. Makes only appearance in a World Cup finals tournament at Italia 90 but Netherlands are beaten by West Germany in second round.

1993: Wins third Italian League title with Milan before joining Sampdoria.

1994: Makes international comeback against Scotland but walks out of training camp after rowing with former Rangers manager Advocaat three weeks before World Cup.

1995: Joins Chelsea on a free transfer from Sampdoria.

1996: Named player-coach at Stamford Bridge in succession to Glenn Hoddle.

1997: Guides Chelsea to FA Cup win with 2-0 defeat of Middlesbrough.

1998: Relieved of his duties at Stamford Bridge. Succeeds Kenny Dalglish as Newcastle manager.

1999: Leads Newcastle to FA Cup final but resigns after well-publicised fall-out with striker Alan Shearer.

2004: Becomes Feyenoord manager but leaves after one season.

2007: Succeeds Frank Yallop as manager of LA Galaxy.

2008: Resigns after a run of seven games without a win.

 
 
 

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