Football: Gullit sunk by clock-watchers stuck in another time

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The Independent Online
PRESUMABLY because it would be bad for his image, Ruud Gullit has not attempted to justify his manipulation of conventional wisdom. Coach, not manager, represents a sea change in English football, but the Dutchman carried it a stage further.

Encouraged by Chelsea to believe that the team and its method was his sole responsibility, Gullit spent a great deal of time on profitable extra- curricular activities. Gullit was so seldom seen at Stamford Bridge outside regular working hours that people began to wonder if he knew exactly how to get there.

One of the questions raised by the reverberation of Gullit's sensational departure is are English clubs entirely comfortable with divisions in authority commonplace elsewhere in Europe?

With this in mind the suspicion held here is that Chelsea's robust chairman, Ken Bates, found Gullit's excessive wage demands convenient. It is easy to imagine that, when the team no longer performed to his satisfaction, Bates reverted to type, a self-made man who expects his employees to be available at short notice.

Shortly after Gullit was shown the door, I went over the situation with Jack Charlton, who managed Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle before achieving great success with the Republic of Ireland, qualifying them for two World Cups and a European Championship.

Charlton's independence is legendary. Stipulations of agreement with Middlesbrough were that he would not be required to attend board meetings on a regular basis or be denied time for recreation. Although Charlton put more of himself into the job, including assistance with development, he has some sympathy with Gullit's apparent determination to maintain a life outside football.

"I think there is probably more more to it than Ruud's asking price," Charlton said. "My guess is that Chelsea expected more of Ruud's time than he was prepared to give."

If Gullit's attitude was extreme, an unavoidable conclusion is that clubs are still stuck with the notion of manager as factotum.

At the end of a long working day, Tottenham's most successful manager, Bill Nicholson, did not leave without first checking that all the lights were out. Astonishing as it now seems, Nicholson felt responsibility for all matters, including the electricity bill.

Doubtless, this never occurs to Tottenham's present coach Christian Gross, or David Pleat, who was recently appointed director of football.

Time was when managers were rarely seen at the training ground - and then only to cast a beady eye over proceedings. Team talks were brief and uncomplicated. "It's easier to play against 10 men than 11" is one of the instructions I remember.

The coach as deity has become a trusted metaphor, guaranteed to get a cackling response at sporting functions. Speakers used to tell the story of Mrs Clough complaining one night: "God, your feet are cold." Clough replied: "You may call me Brian, dear."

A pretty safe bet is that Gullit will soon replace Clough in that joke, but aloofness from their players does not in itself justify comparison. Clough's frequent absences were made partly to make his men nervous, partly to remind them that they were nothing without him.

Gullit was coming from a different direction, one that the majority of Premier League clubs still find difficult to comprehend. He saw himself solely as supervisor, selector and strategist. Probably, to Bates' eventual irritation, he did not hang around after training and matches. He did not scout players and was seldom seen watching future opponents.

A personal point of view, one nobody is required to share, is that Gullit took liberties. However, his sacking raises the possibility that English clubs will never warm to delegation.

Coaches and managers themselves doubt it. "I like the idea and it would take a lot of hassle out of my life," one said this week. "But try telling that to my chairman," one said this week. `More European bollocks,' that's what he'd say to me."

This was, more or less, how a great England inside-forward, Raich Carter, thought about planning when installed in management. Now there was an ego for you, every bit the equal of Gullit's. Carter sat beneath an oil painting of himself dismissive of the thought that his team would benefit from information. "What's the point of speaking to them," he once said. "They can't play."

Gullit never went that far, but his ego may have suggested something similar.