Questions unasked of a sublime talent

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Ruud Gullit - Portrait of a Genius by Harry Harris and Marcel van der Kraan; (Collins Willow, pounds 14.99)
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The Independent Online
Last August, shortly after Ruud Gullit had joined Chelsea, Harry Harris wrote in the Daily Mirror: "English football has been infiltrated by high-priced foreign players who have turned into even bigger flops. As many as 50 players have turned out to be duds . . . so selecting the top 10 all-time best is a relatively simple task."

For such a simple task Harris made quite a mess of it. He put Gullit ninth of ten on the list - four places behind Jan Molby. Harris did say that a near-perfect debut for Chelsea was evidence that Gullit was a candidate for a higher ranking. The title of his new book and the first sentence of the introduction ("Ruud Gullit is one of football's all-time greats") suggest that he has revised his opinions somewhat.

That is hardly surprising. Everybody that Harris quotes is unstinting in their praise of Gullit as a player and a person. Any doubts about his commitment, fitness and temperament are soon dispelled.

The only problem is that this book is rather like a tabloid newspaper - lots of quotes and anecdotes, and an impression that a considerable amount of material has been culled from the cuttings library. It is all colour, with precious little analysis. Harris does not appear to offer any original thoughts on, or insights into, Gullit. Or if he does they are lost in the wealth of material quoted from other sources.

For example, if you read between the lines of Gullit's fallings-out with PSV Eindhoven, Milan and the Dutch national side you begin to wonder if he is, in fact, deep down a very insecure person. Is he another Paul Gascoigne, one who can play only for a manager who makes him feel cherished? Harris does not really examine the question, never mind have a stab at providing an answer.

The book closes with opinions culled from assorted Chelsea supporters. Unfortunately, the all too prevalent obsession with celebrity fans means we are treated to pages of platitudes from John Major, Seb Coe, David Mellor, Tony Banks, and Clive Mantle (an actor in a BBC series, in case you are wondering) to name but some. Ordinary fans hardly get a word in edgeways.

However, this is not a bad book. Far from it. By the standards of football monographs, it is like a club that is comfortably in the top third of the table and on the fringes of a place in Europe. In fact, the book is rather like so many Chelsea teams of the past - it promises a lot, looks like it might deliver but, in the end, is not quite up to it.

The Chelsea faithful will undoubtedly lap it up. And people who know the bare details of the Gullit story will not be that disappointed. But if Gullit can write as sublimely as he plays then Ruud Gullit - the autobiography would be something else again.

Steve Hutchings