Football: `I work my socks off to get it right'

Under siege from the critics, under threat from the authorities, Gullit declares his passion for the job

RUUD GULLIT made a gesture like a wolf twitching its nostrils as he demanded of his inquisitors who had arrived at Newcastle's training centre in greater than normal numbers: "Do you smell blood, or something?" Lunchtime on Friday the 13th, appropriately enough, and a couple of hours before the Football Association announced they had charged him with misconduct. As the Dutchman contemplated a possible third successive Premiership defeat at The Dell today - or a possible 10 without victory if we delve into last season's records, too - he would be exceedingly disingenuous if he didn't acknowledge the presence of menace in the air on Tyneside.

Just short of a year ago Kenny Dalglish departed after the season was two games old, albeit after 19 months in charge and in somewhat different circumstances, which are still the subject of litigation, but Gullit has been in the game long enough to know that football club boards can often act precipitately. Indeed, frequently after a vote of confidence, similar to that which he has just been issued with by the chief executive, Freddie Fletcher.

Gullit reflected on his predecessor's departure. "Two games? Yeah, that's true. Now you know how quick it can be." He chuckled and attempted to lighten the gloom, before continuing more soberly: "I have everything in my life I want, so do I have to bother about this? You understand? Why should I? I know I love this job and I love football and this is just the downside of football. I have won everything in my life, even as a coach I have won, so why should I bother about this one episode in my life?"

He may be beleaguered, his team becalmed, but belligerence is not his way. He laughs, shrugs, turns on that smile of insouciance, but the body language is enough too convince you that the Newcastle manager is in a position that he does not relish and is not familiar with, that of failure.

"It's not always going to be sunshine in your life," said Gullit, with the defensive gesture of a man who doesn't really appreciate such close scrutiny. "That is normal. You know that. I love this job, I love this work, I love football. I always take responsibility for everything I do. Always.

"I know I have trophies in my bag. I have nothing to prove to anyone. Sometimes you can have a period in your life when things are not working like you want. Sometimes I have no grip on it because I can't do it myself on the pitch. I can only point out where the mistakes are."

And if he was to succumb to the wiles of an impatient board? "You just go on with your life, always. You carry on with what you're good at, and therefore I have nothing to fear. I have setbacks in my life all the time. I was rejected by Milan, I went to Sampdoria. Then when everybody said I couldn't play any more, I go on [he laughs to himself], I win a trophy... This is life. You always have another goal in your life."

The evidence is not compelling for the survival of a man paid pounds 1m a year, but who has still to sign a contract with Newcastle. The bookmakers will now only lay odds of 2-1 against him being in situ at the end of the season. At the moment there are only verbal slings and arrows directed at fortress St James' Park, with the faithful still possessing enough faith not to storm the ramparts and call for his head. But for how long? Last season an FA Cup final appearance was enough of a distraction, albeit a decidedly bleak one against Manchester United, to appease the malcontents among the extravagantly expectant faithful who can recall vividly, because it was only two years ago, the night their side defeated Barcelona. Over pounds 15m worth of close- season signings which include Keiron Dyer, Elena Marcelino and Alain Goma put the Geordies in sanguine mood again. Even the departure of Dietmar Hamann could be overlooked.

It was thought that Gullit's signings would bring stability to his defence if nothing else. Against Aston Villa the sending-off of Alan Shearer made referee Uriah Rennie the villain, not Gullit. But there could be no alibies for Monday night's abject performance against Tottenham, certainly not in the view of Chris Donald, founder of the magazine Viz, who told the local paper's Journal Jury: "Everyone seemed to be leaving the crosses for Marcelino - only he wasn't playing. In the second half the defence rattled like a netty [toilet] door in a gale, eventually falling off its hinges and leaving [Steve] Harper exposed, pants around his ankles, only too often."

The game at White Hart Lane was followed by a curious immediate post- match outburst. "There was no commitment there and I blame the players" followed by the most telling phrase: "It's nothing to do with me." Much can be misinterpreted, admittedly, when Gullit speaks English, but that last sentiment appeared to speak volumes about his attitude. It has also been suggested that he took his players to task on the coach back to Luton airport, an incident Gullit says has been exaggerated.

Nevertheless, since then he has engaged in a damage-limitation exercise, of claiming that he does, indeed, accept responsibility for his team. Yet the feeling still persisted at the Riverside on Friday of a club and a manager under siege. The players had been gagged from speaking to the media - "club policy" insisted Gullit - which is the usual sign of disharmony within a club. In such circumstances all manner of stories circulate. One suggested that Gullit might play today. He denies it categorically. "I am not fit. Anyway, I played long enough."

Yet if only some are accurate it reveals a club desperately requiring a couple of victories if the heat is to be taken off the manager, who still returns to Amsterdam in midweek. Although he is having an apartment built overlooking the Tyne he is still accused of lacking affinity with the city and the club. He is also said to be distant from the players, who do not appreciate his haughtiness.

"You don't understand what that means, distance," he declared. "First when I was at Chelsea I was a player and I was socialising with them. But when I became a coach I couldn't go with them any more outside the club, for example to a restaurant. That's distancing yourself. You can't do that, otherwise you have to make decisions involving people that you like. But in training you still laugh with each other. I discuss everything with the players. I have done that all my life, as a player and now as a coach."

There would be several dissenting voices to that claim. Despite Shearer signing a new contract, the feeling persists that all that he shares with Gullit is a once great reputation as a player. Shearer, who has hardly been oblique in letting it be known that he would like eventually to coach at the club, is known to be frustrated that he does not receive adequate service from the flanks. But it gets more personal than that. The fact that the England captain's best friend at the club, Rob Lee, has not even been allocated a squad number and trains with the juniors hardly helps the atmosphere.

On three occasions Gullit spoke of his faith in Shearer, as the striker who is "in good shape and the man to get us out of trouble". Yet the rumours persist of the dream scenario of Shearer as player-coach, with the currently unemployed Bobby Robson "coming home" to provide the father-figure role. Maybe. Meanwhile Gullit will persevere with that charm, streaked with arrogance, which so appeals to TV viewers but not necessarily to all footballers.

"You are as good as your last game," he said. "If you win the game you are the best. If you don't win, it will get worse and worse. I know that. It comes with my job. I work my socks off to get it right, and hope that it's going to work out. And after Sunday we shall see then." Management, he agreed, "is always harder than you think. You have to wait until new players get used to each other and if they click. Sometimes it takes some time." He is already finding that patience is not a commodity in huge supply in the Premiership; certainly not at St James' Park.

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