FOOTBALL Chelsea sign Gullit

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For a club in the fashionable quarter of London and with a celebrity cast of supporters, Chelsea have in recent years lacked star quality where it matters most. That began to change yesterday, however, when they beat their Premiership rivals to the first big transfer splash of the summer: Ruud Gullit, he of the dreadlocks and Serie A fame, will strut his stuff at Stamford Bridge next season.

What is more, he is happy to take a backward step, claiming that Glenn Hoddle's willingess to use him as a sweeper swayed his decision their way when he was being courted by a host of clubs. A free transfer from Sampdoria, he nevertheless does not come cheap; the cost to Chelsea if he stays for the duration of his two-year contract is likely to be around pounds 3m in wages and signing-on fees.

The 32-year-old, who has been hampered by serious knee injuries in the past, is likely to be only the first major capture of the close season for Chelsea whose influence in the transfer market has been strengthened by the funds made available by their wealthy director, Matthew Harding. Having also tried, and failed, to lure Paul Gascoigne to Stamford Bridge, Hoddle has the scope to do more business.

The Chelsea manager flew to Italy a fortnight ago with the club's managing director, Colin Hutchinson, to open negotiations with both Gullit and Gascoigne. Hoddle returned there last Friday to speak with Gullit again before jetting off to Florida on holiday, confident he had got his man. On Monday Gullit's representatives telephoned Hutchinson to say that was so and yesterday the deal was done.

Sources in Italy say it is likely the player who in 1987 commanded a record pounds 5.5m fee when he joined Milan from PSV Eindhoven has insisted on a one-year esape clause similar to the deal Jurgen Klinsmann had at Tottenham.

The Dutch international said that after eight years in Italy he was ready for a new challenge and his admiration for Hoddle as well as the invitation to revert to the libero role swung him towards west London. "I started my career as a sweeper and I think my skills are more suited to that position," he said. "Yes, I scored a lot but I don't have the killer instinct in front of goal."

Gullit said his fitness was not in doubt and suggestions that he wanted to pick and choose his games in the hurly-burly of English football were laughable. "Somebody took it the wrong way because I joked that if there was a good soul concert in London I would be unavailable.

"I am very fit and by playing sweeper I can control the speed of the game. If you have possession of the ball you don't have to run around chasing after it."

The signing is a coup for Hoddle and his assistant, Peter Shreeves, who with Tottenham and Wales has had first-hand experience of Gullit's genius. "Glenn has always wanted to play with a sweeper and there's no better man for the role," Shreeves said.

Paul Ince, the England and Manchester United midfielder, has ruled out a lucrative move to Internazionale. In an interview in United's official club magazine, he says: "I think if I was going to Italy I would have gone last year when I had the contract dispute with the club. Now I don't think about it. I've signed a three-year contract and there's no reason for me to go.

"The Italian game is too slow," he added. "I like the game to be thick and fast with everything going on around me. I've watched the Italian games on a Sunday afternoon and they're boring until the last quarter when things start to quicken up.

"You also get a lot of diving, which would annoy me. Because of the way I play, I would probably get booked all the time."