GLENN HODDLE wanted to play down some of the hype but, off the field at least, Ruud Gullit-mania overwhelmed Stamford Bridge yesterday. On it, the dreadlocked Dutch international quietly and efficiently did most of what a big, expectant crowd demanded, but if Everton's striker Duncan Ferguson had done the same, Chelsea's new men, Gullit and Mark Hughes, would have been totally upstaged.
You had to be there to know it was real. Gullit at the Bridge, and not just in someone's testimonial. If Pavarotti had come to sing at the town hall down the road there would have been no more commotion. Hoddle himself went to Italy to sing Chelsea's praises to the Dutchman, and came back with what could be the bargain of the season, a crock of gold. Or an old crock with a dodgy knee: Gullit reckons his operation has been a success, but added after the game, "I'm back - I know I can't do all I could before, but we'll see."
These days, Gullit plays in exactly the position Hoddle could fill if he, too, wanted one more encore. He must be the most elegant sweeper ever to rub shoulders with the rush and crush of everyday players who largely people the Premiership.
Everton had hoped that their own close-season star signing, Andrei Kanchelskis, would share the stage. But until the transfer dispute with Manchester United is resolved he will remain professionally stateless. Everton had the platform of last season's FA Cup win and revival but were without their pounds 2.5m centre back Craig Short, and without Chelsea's enormous first-day expectancy. Not that they were any less aggressive for that. If Gullit needed a reminder that the English game is not like the classical Dutch version, it came quickly. Here he was making essential interceptions, setting up attacks under pressure, and seeing two names taken - all within the first 12 minutes.
It was Anders Limpar and Gavin Peacock who quickly found themselves in dispute with the referee, but Everton's Duncan Ferguson was the one who set the abrasive character of the game, reminding Gullit from the start that he could have chosen more comfortable countries in which to perform a farewell tour.
If anyone in the Chelsea side can benefit from Gullit's subtle forward passes it must be Hughes, but diligence in defence is going to be more important for the import. When Nigel Spackman was caught out, Paul Rideout and Limpar twice exchanged passes unchallenged before Limpar clipped the inside of the post.
For all Gullit's cool ingenuity in the roasting heat, it took Chelsea more than half an hour to turn it into danger, and then there was always Neville Southall to overcome. Indeed, Everton ought to have been ahead at half time but Ferguson was too fussy, trying to curl the ball low past Dmitri Kharin.
Though Chelsea were held up by Barry Horne's organisation of Everton's midfield all through the first half, Gullit later risked a gentle excursion or two into that area, and soon discovered few of his colleagues were on the same wavelength.
When it came down to it, his own comparative lack of pace could also be a discomfort, as it was when Ferguson took him on. Had Ferguson headed accurately from one of several inviting crosses from Andy Hinchcliffe early in the second half, Everton would have had the lead that, marginally, they deserved.
With the ongoing failure of Ferguson to capitalise on his opportunities, Everton allowed Chelsea to promote their best period of sustained attack, though the ball did not end up at Hughes's feet often enough.
Nevertheless, as Hoddle said later, when he did get possession he retained it and held the line superbly. David Unsworth never gives him a comfortable time - evidence last season's Cup Final - but others this term will be less miserly and surely Hughes will prove a significant asset. Yesterday he was only denied an opening to his Chelsea account when his most powerful drive of the day, five minutes from the end, was splendidly parried by his old frustrator, Southall.Reuse content