Getting Chelsea's polyglot collection to blend is Ruud Gullit's task for the season, beginning with tomorrow's match against Southampton at The Dell. A taxing one, surely, even for a such a gifted multilingual communicator. It did not appear to worry the Dutchman unduly when we met over lunch this week. "I am very relaxed," he said. "I will not know how different it is being a manager until we lose a match. Then I will see if I can cope with it."
In the flesh, Gullit is just as engaging and expansive as he appears on television. He also has presence, that indefinable something which marks someone out from the crowd. Add the respect earned by his achievements, and you have a formidable combination.
It needs to be - Gullit has introduced afternoon training at Chelsea (as well as the customary morning session). While a common enough practice abroad, it is rare here and not many managers would risk such a drastic change to players' routines.
However, he is not, he insists, looking to change all English habits overnight. To illustrate, he referred to an incident during the recent Umbro Cup, when Chelsea played on Saturday and Sunday.
"After the first match I allowed them a beer. They did not ask for it but I said if someone wants a beer they can have one. On a normal Saturday they would have a beer. It depends on how you drink them, it is not so good if you have a lot of them but if you have a beer with your food it is OK. Everyone knows if you do not eat the proper things and drink the proper things you will get tired.
"Last year I told them what I was used to and they know I won all these things. I am not demanding things of them but now some players do it [change their eating and drinking habits] by themselves - some won't because they are used to it. That is OK. Everybody has their own way, but they must know their limits.
"These are not Continental ideas, they are my own ideas. I have my experience, I have played under many good managers, and I want to use that on the team." Those managers form quite a masterclass - Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Wim van Hanegem, Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello, Sven Goran Eriksson and Glenn Hoddle.
Sacchi's influence is clear in the way Gullit is looking to encourage a sense of responsibility on the field. Chelsea frequently lost leads last season and Gullit and Graham Rix, the first-team coach, have been busy both improving fitness and emphasising the need for discipline.
"It is the 'what if' principle," Rix said. "We want players to ask 'what if we lose the ball now - will I be in a position to do something about it?'. We want to play good, attacking football but we won't, for example, have both wing-backs bombing on at once so often."
"I want players to think first of what they can do for the team," Gullit added. "Everybody has an assignment. They have one for when we don't have the ball and one for when we do. It is like the pieces in a clock. If one piece is wrong, the clock does not work.
"It was the same with Milan. Every day the same thing, every day your assignment. The team move like that, the team move like that, the team move like that," Gullit said, stressing the repetition. "All of a sudden you could dream it, without thinking you did it. Then, when you had the ball you could explore yourself because you were not thinking about it. Then you make a dummy, you score a goal, everybody is happy. Simple, really - but only after the hard work has been put in.
"In the Umbro Cup, I let them play two different styles, each with their own assignments, and it worked for them," Gullit added. "So it is now easier for me as a coach to change things, they will accept it more easily. First you have to prove it works."
Shades here of the England players walking off the pitch after they had beaten the Netherlands in the European Championship. They exclaimed, in near awe, that everything Terry Venables had predicted would happen if they performed their own specific tasks had happened.
Gullit, when he recovers from last week's minor leg operation, will play in midfield. Chelsea are likely to play an adaptation of Glenn Hoddle's 3-5-2, though Gullit is still tinkering.
"I have to see in which formation they play the best," he said. "It was the same with Milan. Milan started with 4-3-3, then [Marco] van Basten was injured and we had to change something. It was against Verona, we played 4-4-2 and we played so good it was 'ah, we've found it'. The same with Chelsea, I want to see what they do the best. Being injured, though not good for me as a player, is good for me to see where I need to attend to things in the team. The team are more important than myself.
"This season is starting a new adventure. Every season excites me but this one is different. There is more to do, more everything. You must always look for challenges in life otherwise you will get bored."
Much of Gullit's positive approach comes from his father, who emigrated to the Netherlands from Surinam, where Gullit was born. "He worked during the day and went to night school for eight years," Gullit said. "It was not easy. He told me that to achieve things I would also have to work hard.
"The most important thing is talent, whether you are black or white. I was aware that I was black but for me it was a stimulation. If I played with 10 white guys and I was the only black guy, everybody would look at me and for me that was an advantage. If you feel attacked by the way you are different, you have a problem. You have to be positive.
"Sometimes with Milan they whistled at me when I was on the ball, but I took it as a compliment. I said: 'You are so afraid of me.' It made me feel good. You have to be positive because nobody is going to resolve it for you."
That can-do philosophy has taken Gullit a long way. He has won European Cups with his club, European Championships with his country. What will be success with Chelsea?
"If I see on the faces of the players that they are enjoying what they do, then I have achieved what I want." A noble ambition, but hardly enough to satisfy Chelsea's supporters and board. However, if the team are enjoying themselves it is likely to be reflected in their results.
Pre-season went well enough, Chelsea beating everyone from Ajax to Sampdoria. The new players have been encouraged to mix with English-speaking team- mates, even Gianluca Vialli having to share a room - despite offering to pay the extra to have his own. Vialli has also negotiated the customary exclusive tabloid contract - he must have been short of a few bob - and appears to be settling as well in London as Gullit.
"London is good for everything," Gullit said. "There are a lot of celebrities living here and people leave you alone. In Italy I had a lot of admiration, which is good, but they also affect your life. I have time to go to the shop and buy something now. In Italy I had to go to the front of the store and rush out. I am not complaining about it, but as a person I also desire sometimes to just go walking on a street, or sit on a terrace and watch the people go by. Here I can do that."Reuse content