Ruud Gullit and Dutch Excellence
Cruyffian ideals permeate every aspect of the game, but few players have oozed Total Football quite like Ruud Gullit. The majestic Dutchman dominated in an era defined by great defenders, and he paved the way for an entire generation of world-class offensive players.
Rapid Rise to Fame
An imposing attacker—who actually started out as a sweeper—Gullit made his professional debut for HFC Haarlem at just 16 years old. The youngster impressed, and after playing an instrumental role in Haarlem’s recovery from relegation, he helped the club qualify for the UEFA Cup, the predecessor of the Europa League, for the first and only time in its history.
His inspired form earned him a move to Feyenoord, where he got to play alongside Johan Cruyff. After a successful time in Rotterdam, which saw him take on an increasingly attacking role, Gullit was snapped up by PSV Eindhoven, with another trophy-laden stint in the cards. His 46 goals in 68 domestic league games confirmed his status as one of the best players of his time, but his magnum opus was yet to come.
Becoming a Rossoneri Legend
In 1987, he signed for AC Milan for a world-record fee. It was a fitting move, seeing that the Rossoneri were undergoing a Dutch revolution, acquiring Marco van Basten that same season and Frank Rijkaard the following year.
Gullit won the 1987 Ballon d’Or off the back of his prolific last season with PSV, and after taking some time to acclimate to his new surroundings, he became unstoppable despite going up against the meanest defenders Serie A had to offer. The physical but exceptionally technical forward helped AC Milan win its first Scudetto in almost a decade, and he spearheaded the Rossoneri to a European Cup the following season, a magical run that included a legendary 5–0 thrashing of Real Madrid along the way.
Recurring injuries ultimately robbed him of his explosiveness, but he managed to prolong his career by playing in a more withdrawn role. In 1993, he left Milan as one of the greatest to have ever donned the famous red and black.
His tremendous form also translated to the international stage. At the 1988 European Championship, he captained the Oranje to its only piece of silverware to date, knocking out host nation West Germany in the semifinal before breezing past the Soviet Union.
Ruud Gullit’s rise to prominence heralded a new golden age of Dutch attackers. With Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Roy Makaay, and Ruud van Nistelrooy, a new breed of world-class offensive players was already waiting in the wings, ready to dominate Europe.
Illustration by @inakivector.
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