World Soccer: As Feyenoord coach, you deal with players from totally different backgrounds and cultures, and who speak diverse languages. How do you cope with that?
Ruuud Gullikt: I don’t find it much of a problem. At most, it requires an extra individual approach. But even if I had an exclusively Dutch squad, this kind of individual approach would still be necessary. Every person is unique and has his own character, his own cultural background, beliefs, eating habits, humour, and so on. Only the language barrier is sometimes a problem with certain players, especially those from Asia, for example. You can make them take Dutch lessons, but in practice that seldom happens.
How does the situation compare with 15 years ago?
Things were different in my day. When I went to play for AC Milan, I went straight to have Italian lessons on my own – even though it might not have been really necessary because football is a language in itself. The better the player, the easier he just ‘understands’ his foreign team-mates automatically.
That’s all changed, of course, since the Bosman case. If that had been handled more carefully at the time, and if people had considered the consequences better, then things would have been totally different. At that time, only the really major players were ever transferred to foreign countries. Since then, anyone can go anywhere, with a real over-abundance of average players as a result.
What do you think of the idea of bringing the maximum number of foreigners in a team back down to three?
That’s a great idea, but it won’t help much. You can’t roll back the Bosman case – and even if you could, you would have to totally rewrite European legislation. You can only introduce a limit of three foreign players from outside the European Union, not within it, since that’s against the law. Now that the EU has gone through another round of expansion with a large number of new countries, such an initiative for European clubs hardly makes any sense at this point.
Has football changed a great deal since you stopped playing?
The influence of business has increased enormously. It’s become much more commercial. We deal with much larger sums of money and much more is at stake. For many clubs, being able to play in the Champions League has become vitally important.
Just look at Borussia Dortmund, for example. The fact that this club is now having problems seems to me to be simply because of the one year that they did not qualify for that tournament. They had been banking on the income from playing in the Champions League, and when that disappears, the fall can be hard and fast. Clubs that don’t play in the Champions League have to jump through more and more hoops.
How about putting together a fantasy team from all the players that you’ve played alongside in Holland, Italy and England?
I would put Hans Van Breukelen in goal, Mauro Tassotti, Franco Baresi, Marcel Desailly and Paolo Maldini in defence, Rene Van der Gijp, Frank Rijkaard, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Donadoni in midfield, with Johan Cruyff and Marco Van Basten in attack.
On the bench: Willem Van Hanegem, Jan Heintze, Ronald Koeman, Roberto Mancini, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Ivan Nielsen, Ronald Spelbos and Sebastiano Rossi. It’s always difficult to choose your favourite team because even though you can put together a great reserve bench, you still always overlook some players you also count among your favourites. Maybe not everyone in Europe knows Rene Van der Gijp, but he was my colleague at PSV, a right-half who sent me incredible crosses for two seasons. But everyone knows the rest of these names.
*This is an excerpt from an interview with Ruud Gullit. The full interview appeared in the February 2005 issue of World Soccer. To subscribe to the magazine, click here