Back in Ruud Gullit’s playing days, a “lethal strike” was a thing of beauty: a wicked volley or devious dodge-and-shoot to score another goal for AC Milan or the Dutch national side. At his new team, lethal might mean exactly that for enemies of the team president – dead, kaput, pushing up daisies and if the relatives complain, they might just suffer the same fate.
The 48-year-old was a brilliant player in the ’80s and then a moderately successful manager with English teams Newcastle United and Chelsea and less happy stints at Feyenoord and Los Angeles Galaxy.
Granted, being a top-flight football manager is an iffy business. Job prospects in the big European leagues might open up only once or twice a year, and the competition is fierce. So many canny football minds go off to places like Saudi Arabia, Japan, or Uzbekistan, often to take the helm of teams with ample backing from local entrepreneurs – teams that have ambitions to buy their way to success.
Sportswriters are treating Gullit’s announcement that he is joining Terek Grozny, the team presided over by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, as just another quixotic move by a peripatetic manager. The AP described his new home base as “the formerly war-torn province” – and it’s true that formal hostilities have ceased. Semi-official killings, abductions, and arson have not; nor has Kadyrov shown any sign of moderating the strict Islamic dress code he personally imposed on the province’s women.
Now, I generally am one of those who believe that sports and politics shouldn’t mix. But taking a job at Terek can’t easily be justified as a case of exporting one’s football expertise to a needy country. Even mid-table Russian teams like Terek can afford high quality coaching and players (the team also this week promised to bring in one of the world’s best strikers – say it ain’t so, Wayne) – but very few teams anywhere have a bona fide megalomaniac local leader and suspected murderer as president. If Gullit has any sense of self-respect he should clear out of Grozny now.