At club level, in 1987 he moved from PSV to Milan for a world record transfer fee. Easily recognizable with his distinctive dreadlocks, he was part of the famed Dutch trio at Milan which included Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. Gullit won three Serie A titles and two European Cups with Milan. In 1996, he signed for Chelsea and a year later was appointed the club's player-manager. In his debut season, he led Chelsea to FA Cup success, the club's first major title for 26 years, and in so doing became the first overseas manager to win the FA Cup.
Gullit won the Ballon d'Or in 1987 and was named the World Soccer Player of the Year in 1987 and 1989. Normally an attacking midifielder, he was a versatile player, playing in numerous positions during his career. In 2004, he was named one of the Top 125 greatest living footballers as part of FIFA's 100th anniversary celebration.
Gullit was born Rudi Dil in Amsterdam to George Gullit, a Surinamese migrant who arrived in the Netherlands with Herman Rijkaard, father of Frank Rijkaard, and Ria Dil, his mistress, from the Jordaan district of Amsterdam. The family lived in one split level room on the top floor of a small apartment building. Gullit's father worked as an economics teacher at a local school, his mother as a custodian at the Rijksmuseum.
Gullit developed his football skills in the confines of the Rozendwarsstraat, and street football was instrumental in his formative years. Gullit's first team were the Meerboys, where he joined as a junior in 1970. At the age of ten, however, Gullit moved from the Jordaan to Amsterdam Old West where he played street football alongside Frank Rijkaard. Gullit joined the DWS club after his move, and came to the attention of the Dutch youth team, where he played alongside such future greats as Erwin Koeman, Ronald Koeman and Wim Kieft.
It was during his time at DWS that Gullit first took to using his father's surname, rather than his registered surname, as he thought it sounded more like a football player. He retained his mother's surname, officially, and continues to sign all contracts as Ruud Dil.
In 1978, Gullit signed professionally for HFC Haarlem under coach and former West Bromwich Albion player Barry Hughes. Gullit made 91 league appearances for Haarlem, scoring 32 goals. He made his debut for the club at just 16 years old, becoming at the time the youngest player in the history of the Eredivisie. In his first year at Haarlem, the club finished bottom of the Eredivisie, but bounced back the following season winning the Eerste Divisie. Gullit was named as the best player in the Eerste Divisie that season. In the 1981–82 season, Gullit was in fine form as Haarlem finished fourth and qualified for Europe for the only time in their history. In that same season, Gullit scored the goal he would later consider his finest: "Playing against Utrecht I went past four defenders and then the goalkeeper, and scored. It was an unforgettable goal for me." Hughes was so impressed with the young Gullit that he described him as the "Dutch Duncan Edwards".
The young Gullit was considered as a signing by English sides Arsenal and Ipswich Town, but managers Terry Neill and Bobby Robson turned him down. Neill later told that he considered £30,000 too much for "this wild kid". Gullit therefore moved to Feyenoord in 1982, where he made 85 league appearances, scoring 31 goals. At Feyenoord, Gullit found himself playing alongside Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, while the assistant manager was Wim van Hanegem, and they were to leave a lasting impression.
Gullit's first season saw Feyenoord miss out on major honours, but the following year they completed the league and cup double. Gullit was named Dutch Footballer of the Year in recognition of his contribution to Feyenoord's success. At Feyenoord, Gullit occupied an increasingly advanced role in midfield, having played predominantly as a sweeper at Haarlem. While at Feyenoord, Gullit became the focus of a race row as manager Thijs Libregts was alleged to have referred to Gullit as "blackie" and criticised him for being lazy, though Libregts defended himself by claiming that it was merely a nickname. While playing for Feyenoord at St Mirren in September 1983, he was racially abused and spat on by Scottish supporters. Gullit called it "the saddest night of my life".
In 1985, Gullit moved to PSV for 1.2 million Dutch guilders and wound up scoring 46 goals in 68 league appearances for the team. Gullit was again named Footballer of the Year in 1986 as he helped PSV capture the Eredivisie crown, a feat they repeated the following year. It was at PSV that Gullit really began to establish himself as a world class footballer and his distinctive, dreadlocked appearance made certain that he would catch the eye of Europe's biggest clubs. Gullit was also singled out for criticism by large numbers of Feyenoord supporters, who branded him a "wolf" and accused him of moving to Eindhoven for money.
Silvio Berlusconi signed Gullit for Milan in 1987, paying the then world record transfer fee of 18 million guilders as a replacement for Ray Wilkins. Among his teammates at that club were compatriots Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, along with Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi. Gullit's exploits with first PSV and then Milan helped him win the Ballon d'Or award in 1987 which he dedicated to Nelson Mandela.
When he arrived at Milan, Gullit initially struggled to settle as he spoke no Italian and was unused to living in a foreign country. Gullit's first season at Milan, however, saw the club win the Scudetto for the first time in nine years, under coach Arrigo Sacchi. He was initially used on the right of an attacking trio alongside Van Basten and Pietro Virdis, but after an injury to Van Basten it was changed to a front two. The following season Milan built on their domestic success by adding the European Cup to their list of honours. Their scintillating 5–0 demolition of Real Madrid in the semi-final second leg came at a cost, as Gullit suffered an injury and required surgery to be fit in time for the final. That performance was followed by a 4–0 victory over Steaua București in the 1989 final, with Gullit scoring two crucial goals. The following year, Milan retained the trophy as they defeated Benfica in the 1990 final. However, serious injuries sustained to the ligaments of his right knee limited Gullit's playing time and he managed just two domestic games in the 1989–90 season before appearing in the cup final.
In 1990–91, Milan's pursuit of a third consecutive European Cup was cut short by Marseille at the quarter-final stage. Having drawn the first leg at the San Siro, Milan trailed to a Chris Waddle goal with little time remaining when the floodlights went out. After a short delay the lighting was restored, but Milan had returned to their dressing room and refused to return to complete the game. UEFA awarded Marseille a 3–0 victory and expelled Milan from all European competitions for the following season.
While Milan continued their domestic dominance by winning Serie A in both 1991–92 (a season in which they went undefeated) and 1992–93, Gullit's position was an increasingly peripheral one. This was demonstrated by his omission from the 1993 Champions League final, as under the UEFA rules clubs were only allowed to field three foreigners.
In 1993, Gullit moved to Sampdoria and led them to victory in the Coppa Italia in the 1993–94 season. He also scored the winner in a 3–2 victory over Milan.
Gullit was briefly re-signed by a very impressed Milan in 1994, but quickly returned to Sampdoria before the culmination of the 1994–95 season. During his time, he served under manager Sven-Göran Eriksson and the two had a strong understanding and mutual respect. In his brief time at Sampdoria, he scored 15 goals.
In July 1995, Gullit signed for Chelsea on a free transfer. Initially played as sweeper by manager Glenn Hoddle with limited success, Gullit was moved to his more familiar role in midfield, where he scored six goals. The signing of Gullit, alongside the likes of Mark Hughes and Dan Petrescu, propelled Chelsea to the semi-final of the FA Cup but their league form was disappointing.
Gullit had some difficulties adapting to the style of play at Chelsea: "I would take a difficult ball, control it, make space and play a good ball in front of the right back, except that he didn't want that pass. Eventually Glenn said to me, 'Ruud, it would be better if you do these things in midfield.'" His adjustment, however, was rapid and he ended the season by being named runner-up to Eric Cantona as Footballer of the Year.
Gullit has since often stated in interviews that it was in London he enjoyed his career the most and felt happiest: "Every time I played for Chelsea, I thought, 'Nice game, beautiful stadium, great crowd, I'm playing well.' It was the only time I really had fun." In moving to Chelsea, Gullit played an important part in the "foreign revolution" as numerous high-profile international stars, such as the Italian superstar Gianfranco Zola who became a Chelsea legend, and the Dutch magician Dennis Bergkamp, joined FA Premier League clubs and helped to increase its worldwide profile.
In 1981, on his 19th birthday, Gullit made his international debut as a substitute for the Netherlands national team against Switzerland, a game the Dutch lost 2–1.
Gullit's early international career was marred by disappointment as the team failed to qualify for the 1982 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 1984 - the Netherlands missed out on the latter tournament on goals scored as Spain, needing an 11-goal victory to qualify, trounced minnows Malta 12–1 in their final qualifying game.
There was further frustration in 1985 when the Dutch missed out on qualification for the World Cup at the hands of neighbours Belgium in a play-off. Having lost 1–0 in Belgium, the Netherlands appeared to be set for qualification in Rotterdam as they led 2–0 until a late Georges Grün goal put Belgium through on away goals.
Gullit, however, was one of the key players for the Netherlands as he helped his country win Euro 1988 under coach Rinus Michels. Having lost their opening game of the tournament to the Soviet Union, the Netherlands beat England and the Republic of Ireland to reach the semi-finals. After defeating West Germany 2–1 in Hamburg, the Netherlands faced the Soviet Union again in the final. Gullit opened the scoring with a well-placed header and Marco van Basten scored an incredible volley to cap a 2–0 win. Gullit was thus the first Dutch captain to hold aloft international silverware.
The Dutch travelled to the 1990 World Cup as one of the favourites, but the team failed to perform as expected. Gullit's knee injuries clearly hampered his play, and his only moment of brilliance was a superb dribble and shot against Ireland which helped the Netherlands qualify for the second round. There they met West Germany in one of the most exciting games of the tournament, though the game was marred by an altercation between Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler. The Germans gained revenge for their defeat at Euro 1988 by beating the Netherlands 2–1 and going on to win the tournament.
1992 saw the Netherlands again among the favourites for silverware in Sweden at Euro 1992. Gullit appeared in imperious form against Scotland in their opening game of the tournament as he supplied Dennis Bergkamp with an easy goal. But after drawing with Russia and beating Germany, the Netherlands suffered a shock exit on penalties to Denmark, who ended up winning the championship's Henri Delaunay Trophy.
In 1993, Gullit and Netherlands manager Dick Advocaat began what was to be a long-running dispute which ultimately ended Gullit's international career. Advocaat's decision to play Gullit on the right side of midfield in a game against England at Wembley, rather than his usual central position, upset Gullit and this was exacerbated by his substitution for Marc Overmars. Gullit refused to play for the national team following this but later changed his mind and agreed to return, facing Scotland in May 1994. Shortly before the 1994 World Cup, Gullit walked out of the pre-tournament training camp and would never play international football again. In December 2013, while appearing on Dutch television program Studio Voetbal, Gullit and Advocaat stated they were both at fault in the matter and regretted it.
A complete and versatile player, Gullit epitomised the ethos of Total Football as he was naturally adept in several positions, and was capable of aiding his team defensively as well as offensively due to his work-rate and tactical intelligence. Normally deployed as an attacking midifielder or as a second striker, he was capable of playing anywhere in midfield or along the front-line, on either wing or even in the centre, and could also play as a sweeper. Regarded as one of the greatest players of all-time, his foremost attribute was his athleticism, as he used his strength and speed, combined with his technique, to great effect; he was also excellent in the air, as he was tall, powerful, and an excellent jumper. Yet, unusually for a man of his stature, Gullit was an elegant player, who also possessed outstanding natural balance, poise, technical ability, and dribbling skills, which gave a graceful style to his game. Gullit also was noted for his intelligence, creativity, vision, and spatial abilities, qualities that helped him score goals early in his career and enabled him to play in a deeper role as a playmaker late in his days, where he was known for creating chances for teammates. Gullit thus combined physical presence with flair, mental acuity, formidable technique and natural touch, to become an iconic figure in world football. Despite his talent, Gullit struggled with injuries throughout his career, which later affected his fitness.
Gullit's brilliance prompted George Best to comment in 1990, "Ruud Gullit is a great player by any standards. He has all the skills. He's not afraid to do things with the ball. And he looks as if he's enjoying every second of it. By my reckoning that's what makes him an even better player than Maradona. Both have the key quality you will find in all the best players: balance. You just can't knock them off the ball. It was the same with Pelé, Beckenbauer and Cruyff."
In the summer of 1996, when Glenn Hoddle left Chelsea to become manager of the England national team, Gullit was appointed as a player-manager, becoming the first Dutchman to manage in the Premier League. Gullit made a promising start to his managerial career when in the first season as a player-manager he guided Chelsea to an FA Cup triumph in 1997, the club's first major trophy in 26 years. The club also finished at a creditable sixth place in the Premiership.
The following season, with Chelsea in second place in the Premiership and proceeding to the quarter-finals in two cup competitions, he was sacked, allegedly for a disagreement with the club's board over compensation, though Gullit himself disputed this. He was replaced by Gianluca Vialli, a man he had helped to bring to the club, and who went on to guide them to UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and Football League Cup glory over the remainder of the season. Gullit's last appearance as a player came in the first leg of that season's League Cup semi-final against Arsenal, but Gullit was sacked before the second leg. After Gullit's controversial sacking by Chelsea, chairman Ken Bates famously said of Gullit, "I didn't like his arrogance – in fact I never liked him."
In August 1998, Gullit was named manager of Newcastle United two games into the new league season. Fans remained supportive despite a poor run of results, although a well-publicised contretemps with the team's top scorer Alan Shearer and captain Robert Lee did not put him in a favourable light. Gullit even refused to assign Lee a squad number, giving Lee's number 7 to new signing Kieron Dyer. In a match between Newcastle and local rivals Sunderland following the latter's return to the Premiership, Gullit left the usual starting strikers Shearer and Duncan Ferguson on the bench. Newcastle lost 2–1, and Gullit resigned three days later, five games into the 1999–2000 season.
Before the start of the 2004–05 season, Gullit took charge of Feyenoord, quitting at the end of that season without winning any trophies, being replaced by Erwin Koeman. Feyenoord had finished a disappointing fourth in the Eredivisie, behind Ajax, PSV and AZ.
On 8 November 2007, Gullit became head coach for the LA Galaxy, signing a three-year contract. His US$2 million per year salary was the highest ever given to a Major League Soccer (MLS) head coach. Gullit arrived as replacement for Frank Yallop who was let go after Galaxy failed to make the 2007 MLS playoffs despite having a record signing David Beckham on the roster.
From the start, Gullit's time with Galaxy was troublesome. Not well-versed in the intricacies and specifics of the MLS such as salary cap and draft rules, the Dutchman never adapted well to the North American league. The ill-fated January 2008 acquisition of left back Celestine Babayaro (who was brought in on Gullit's personal wishes before getting dismissed quickly and unceremoniously without even getting a chance to play any competitive matches due to extreme lack of commitment in pre-season) set the tone for the league campaign that was about to start. After getting blown out 0–4 in the season opener, Gullit clashed with midfielder Peter Vagenas, who criticized him for completely neglecting set play practice during training.
As the season progressed, Gullit would clash with just about every player, notably Landon Donovan and Abel Xavier, the latter who criticized the Dutchman's managerial style claiming he did not have respect for most of the players. Eventually, it also came out that Gullit's very appointment came in controversial fashion as Galaxy general manager at the time, Alexi Lalas, got bypassed in the process, with the decision coming straight from David Beckham's personal handlers: his management company 19 Entertainment and his personal manager Terry Byrne.
On 11 August 2008, Gullit resigned as coach from the Galaxy, citing personal reasons. This came following a seven-game winless streak. General manager Lalas was fired on the same occasion.
On 18 January 2011, Russian Premier League side Terek Grozny announced that Gullit has agreed to sign a year-and-a-half contract and become the head coach for the Chechen side. Upon signing, Gullit told Sovetsky Sport, "I'd like to believe that I can bring joy into the lives of the Chechen people through football...Of course, I won't deny that I'm getting lots of money from Terek." Gullit was sacked by the club on 14 June 2011, having only won three games as manager. The club also said Gullit had a "party lifestyle".
All competitive league games (league and domestic cup) and international matches (including friendlies) are included.As of 2 May 2015
In 1988, Gullit scored a No. 3 hit with the anti-apartheid song "South Africa" in the Dutch Top 40 together with the reggae band Revelation Time. Previously, he had a modest hit in 1984 with the song "Not the Dancing Kind".
After his spell at Newcastle, Gullit spent several years working as a football commentator, having previously coined the term "sexy football" during his spell as a BBC pundit during Euro 1996 which was at a time Gullit was still playing professionally for Chelsea. Gullit used the term to describe teams, such as Portugal at that tournament, who played attractive football with an emphasis on the defense-penetrating pass-and-move game.
By 2006, Gullit had a talk show on Dutch TV, where he has interviewed, amongst others, Nelson Mandela. When Gullit was named winner of the Ballon d'Or in 1987, he dedicated the award to the then imprisoned Nelson Mandela. At the time, Gullit was signed to Milan and the Italians raised their eyebrows: "Nelson who?" Gullit tried to explain and they said, "Oh, a footballer with political beliefs." Gullit has since in interviews said that he met Mandela after he was released and that Mandela had said to him, "Ruud, I have lots of friends now. When I was on the inside, you were one of the few."
In 2007, Gullit recalled, "Four months ago I visited Robben Island and met three guys who were cell-mates of Nelson Mandela. They remembered me dedicating my award in 1987 to Mandela and they said they couldn’t believe what I had done, and were sure the football authorities would withdraw the award. That's what apartheid did to them, it made them believe injustice was a normal part of life."
Gullit also appeared as a pundit for ITV during the 2006 World Cup and works as an analyst for Champions League games on Sky Sports and Al Jazeera Sports. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Gullit worked as a studio analyst alongside former players Jürgen Klinsmann and Steve McManaman for ESPN. He subsequently worked as an analyst for Al Jazeera Sports during Euro 2012 alongside Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables, among others.
In 2013, Gullit and many other former footballers were brought into EA Sports's FIFA 14 as "Legends" cards in FIFA Ultimate Team; his card is one of the highest rated in the game.
In 2014, Gullit joined BBC's Match of the Day as a studio pundit and first appeared during the 2014–15 season.
Gullit has been married three times and has six children, two from each of his marriages. He is a self-declared Feyenoord supporter.HFC Haarlem
Eerste Divisie: 1980–81
KNVB Cup: 1983–84
Eredivisie: 1985–86, 1986–87
Serie A: 1987–88, 1991–92, 1992–93
Supercoppa Italiana: 1992, 1994
European Cup: 1988–89, 1989–90
UEFA Super Cup: 1990
Intercontinental Cup: 1990
Coppa Italia: 1993–94
UEFA European Championship: 1988
FA Cup: 1997
Dutch Footballer of the Year: 1984, 1986
Dutch Golden Shoe: 1986
Dutch Sportsman of the Year: 1987
Ballon d'Or: 1987; Runner-up 1988
World Soccer Magazine World Footballer of the Year: 1987, 1989
UNICEF European Footballer of the Season: 1987–88
Onze de Onze: 1987, 1988, 1989
Onze d'Argent: 1988, 1989
UEFA European Championship Team of the Tournament: 1988, 1992
FIFA XI: 1991
Premier League PFA Team of the Year: 1995–96
Chelsea Player of the Year: 1996
UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll: #13
Golden Foot: 2011, as football legend
A.C. Milan Hall of Fame
The Best of The Best – Player of the Century: Top 50
World Soccer: The 100 Greatest Footballers of All Time
FAI International Football Awards – International Personality: 2008