Mark Wheeler dissects the latest media outburst from former Chelsea player/manager Ruud Gullit on his recent visit to London.

Former Chelsea boss Ruud Gullit flew back into the UK recently for a sports award ceremony. No sooner than his feet had touched the tarmac, stories appeared on the Internet with him slagging off Chelsea, the club that sacked him after he led the Blues to their first major trophy in 26 years. Gullit was quoted as saying: “I think Chelsea could have been one of the major clubs in Europe. But they decided to take another route and this is the consequence.” The “consequence” presumably being the fact that the club is out of Europe and the race for this season’s league title. The other “route” taken being one that did not involve him.

“I thought I had done something well and proved myself,” Gullit said. “After I was sacked it’s been going downhill ever since for the fans.” It is good of Gullit to think of the fans, although a cynic might say that he is just bolstering his own reputation with this remark.

Gullit would not cut the mustard as a skier though, as he has a tenuous grasp of the meaning of “downhill”. After Ken Bates sacked Gullit for wanting too much money – a concept which you could have been forgiven for thinking that the arch-capitalist Bates would admire – Gianluca Vialli won trophies in the European Cup Winners Cup, the European Super Cup, the League Cup and another FA Cup. All this on top of reaching the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League at the club’s first attempt – are you watching Arsenal?

However, it should not be forgotten that Gullit had done a major proportion of the graft before Vialli started collecting all the silverware that constituted Chelsea’s “downhill” success. When the Dutchman was sacked the Blues were already well into the Cup Winners Cup campaign and the semifinals of the League Cup. This is not to detract from Vialli’s unparalleled success though. The Italian goes down in the history books as Chelsea’s most successful manager of all time, no matter how much of his achievement he owes to his predecessor.

Unfortunately though, Gullit’s comments make him seem far from gracious towards his successor, an attitude that the media is only too happy to exploit and call bitterness. Gullit did little to dispel this assumption when he was asked to comment on Vialli’s sacking. His mildly cryptic statement “If you live by the sword, you die by the sword,” played right into the hands of the hacks who would have us believe that Gullit is the most arrogant man since Benito Mussolini.

Harking back to his well-documented fall from grace at Chelsea, Gullit remarked: “Football can be a very hostile environment, especially for a coach. It’s easier to sack the coach than the team.” Clearly, this is a thinly veiled reference to player power, which Gullit would appear to regard as being largely responsible for his dismissal. This theme came back to haunt Vialli with stories of players going behind his back to managing director Colin Hutchinson in the days before his expulsion.

That policy now appears to be out of favour under the new manager, Claudio Ranieri, who has a reputation for dealing swiftly with over-inflated egos. He seems to be continuing with this approach, given that Frank Leboeuf looks as though he is on his way to Monaco and Dennis Wise recently backed down from his threat of a transfer request.

Surely the correct way of doing things is for a football club to back its manager rather than to make a change at managerial level every time a group of senior players gets the hump. It may be a tired old cliché but no individual is bigger than Chelsea Football Club – not Ken Bates, not Frank Leboeuf, not Ruud Gullit, not anybody!

Harking back to the player power, Gullit said: “You know you have to live by that and it can be hard but it can also be successful, even though for me it was strange because it showed that even if you are successful it can still happen to you.” Maybe he and Vialli can agree on this, if nothing else.

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