The worst football transfer in the world?

Ex-Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit now runs a Chechen warlord's team. Does he know what he's getting into?

Shaun Walker@shaunwalker7
Thursday 20 January 2011 01:00

It's a long way from Chelsea to Grozny, but in one of the most extraordinary appointments in recent sporting history, the legendary Dutch footballer and former Chelsea boss Ruud Gullit has been unveiled as the new manager of Terek Grozny, the Russian premier league club from the country's restive region of Chechnya.

The outlandish appointment will lead many to suspect that thoughts of his wallet have got in the way of Gullit's ethical radar. His direct boss will be Ramzan Kadyrov, the former rebel fighter who is now the Moscow-backed President of Chechnya.

Accused of all manner of human rights abuses, Mr Kadyrov is also the president of the football club. He said yesterday that he was excited to welcome the Dutchman to the club and expected that with him in charge, Terek had a serious chance of winning the Champions League.

Mr Kadyrov has been keen to use football to boost the image of Chechnya in Russia and the world. When the country won the right to host the 2018 World Cup last month, he quickly stated that Grozny was a perfect football venue and should be added to the list of host cities for the tournament.

Nobody took him particularly seriously. Grozny, which was ravaged by two wars with Moscow over the past 15 years, has been rebuilt under Mr Kadyrov's watch and the Islamic insurgency has, for the most part, moved to neighbouring regions.

But the situation is still extremely tense, with the Foreign Office advising against all travel to Chechnya without exception. There are still occasional suicide bombings and shootouts, while human rights groups have reported hundreds of cases of torture and kidnappings which they allege are often carried out by paramilitary forces loyal to Mr Kadyrov.

Gullit has not yet travelled to Chechnya or met with Mr Kadyrov, but he said yesterday he was delighted to have signed an 18-month contract and had been promised funds with which to build the team.

The Chechen club announced in December that it had appointed Victor Munoz, the former Spain player and manager of several Spanish league clubs, as its manager. However, after arriving in Grozny last week, Mr Munoz swiftly walked out on the club over the weekend. Terek said he had demanded changes to his contract; the Spanish coach declined to comment. Gullit, it seems, is happy to take the money. It's unclear how much he is being paid, but it is likely to have taken a serious financial commitment to bring him to Chechnya.

In a December interview, the club's Vice President promised that after a Chechen businessman had taken interest in the club, they now had almost unlimited finances and would buy several world-class players.

Yesterday, Mr Kadyrov outlined the huge expectations for the team under Gullit, demanding a top-eight finish this season and European football by the end of next season for Terek, which finished 12th in the Russian league last year. "Gullit has won almost all the most prestigious cups," said Mr Kadyrov. "I'm sure that together with him we'll be able to win the Champions' League."

For a footballer who – both as a player and manager – has had frequent personality clashes with teammates and colleagues, the challenge will be immense. Former manager of Chelsea, Newcastle and LA Galaxy, Gullit walked out of the Dutch national team as a player after a conflict with the manager. He also got into a conflict at Chelsea with then-Chairman Ken Bates, who famously said of the Dutchman: "I never liked him."

Working with Mr Kadyrov will be a challenge of a different scale. It will be intriguing to see how Mr Gullit deals with any disagreements over transfer policy, for example. Mr Kadyrov, in a recent meeting with local officials, gave an insight into his leadership strategy: "I'm the boss here. I'm at the wheel," he said, on television. "There is nobody else, except me. Do you understand? Ramzan – and that's it! Nobody else! Ramzan! There's Ramzan and then there's everyone else."

The 34-year old Mr Kadyrov has ruled the republic along these lines since the death of his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, in May 2004, who was killed in a huge bomb blast while watching a military parade at the stadium where Terek now play their home games. The club only returned to Chechnya in 2008; previously they had played home matches outside the region, when Grozny was deemed too dangerous.

Gullit will have to hope that he doesn't lose too many games or fail to come up to Mr Kadyrov's ambitious targets – those who get on the wrong side of him have an unnerving habit of meeting sticky ends. Two brothers from the powerful Yamadayev clan, which fell out with Mr Kadyrov, were both shot dead: one in Moscow in 2008, the other in Dubai the following year. Dubai police accused Adam Delimkhanov, a member of the Russian parliament for Chechnya and Mr Kadyrov's cousin, of organising the murder. An Iranian stable hand who looks after Mr Kadyrov's horses in the Arab emirate was jailed for carrying out the killing with a gold-plated pistol, which the Dubai police allege was provided by Mr Delimkhanov. He denies this.

Others to meet unpleasant ends include Anna Politkovskaya, an investigative journalist who wrote about torture and rights abuses in Chechnya. She was shot and killed in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment block in 2006.

Natalya Estemirova, a human rights worker who lived in Chechnya and was one of the few people brave enough to investigate the cases of kidnapping and disappearances that are widespread in the republic, was abducted from outside her Grozny apartment in 2009 and her body later dumped in a neighbouring republic. Mr Kadyrov denies involvement in any of the murders. In the case of Ms Politkovskaya he absolved himself by saying he "would not kill a woman".

"Maybe Gullit read Wikipedia and decided that Kadyrov is a Mandela-like figure," wrote the Russian news website, with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

Gullit dedicated his European Player of the Year Award in 1987 to the still-imprisoned Nelson Mandela and – in recent years – has interviewed his former icon on his Dutch television talk show.

"He'll have the chance to discern the difference between the intellectual South African leader and this lover of tracksuit bottoms and gold-plated pistols when he meets Mr Kadyrov on 22 January," wrote the website's editorial.

Chelsea vs Grozny

Post-match drinks

There was no shortage of bars in Gullit's former stomping ground. No such luck in Grozny – Chechnya is dry, part of Mr Kadyrov's drive to instil Islamic values. For a small bribe, some cafés will let you smuggle in beer to drink out of a teacup.

WAG hangouts

While London offers copious haunts, such as Mayfair's Whisky Mist, WAGs should take care in Grozny – gangs of youths have taken to roaming the streets and shooting women not wearing headscarves with paintball guns.

The main drag

Vying with the King's Road is Grozny's Putin Avenue. The bizarre new name was Mr Kadyrov's personal thank you to the Russian prime minister for financing the rebuilding of Grozny, which Putin had ordered to be bombed in 2000.

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