Lessons of Great Import

By Ridley, Ian | The Independent (London, England), February 4, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Lessons of Great Import

Ridley, Ian, The Independent (London, England)

THE flood of imports to the English game this season flows on. Some come for the money, some may come for the challenge. Some may even come for the shopping. Above all that, today's principal pair at Stamford Bridge rank among the most valuable.

It is not just in 90 minutes once or twice a week that wise foreign acquisitions can enhance a team. Beyond any concerns about season-ticket and merchandising sales, the likes ofChelsea's Ruud Gullit and Middlesbrough's Juninho can bring much to a club through influence and example.

Gullit's has been immense. His is a relaxed presence, at 34 having achieved all there is in the game, save for a World Cup winners' medal with Holland, which might even have been his in different circumstances. It emerges in his openness as a rounded, secure character and his deportment both on and off the field.

"He is such a big personality," saidthe Chelsea striker Gavin Peacock. "Very influential in the dressing room. He speaks his mind, and is on the same wavelength as the rest of the players. He is always approachable. Because he is so fluent in languages, he can give and take all the banter. It really is a privilege to be around him."

But how exactly does he influence a team? "Players are always asking about his days at Milan," Peacock said. "And he will tell you how they did it there. He talks about diet and fitness and, as well as listening, you find yourself watching him in training to see how he makes space, which is one of the strong points of his game.

"You also pick up points about stretching and flexibility," Peacock added. "Sometimes at the beginning of training, Peter Shreeves {Chelsea's assistant manager} will say 'right, let's see how Ruud warms up' and we'll take it in." This correspondent remembers Gullit's Dutch pioneering an extended pre-match exercise routine, which began an hour before kick-off, at the European Championship in 1988.

"A lot of what he has he is naturally blessed with," Peacock explained, "which isn't to say he doesn't work hard. But it's like the gaffer, you can't quite put your finger on some of it. Ruud is very strong and quick, a magnificent athlete." Indeed, his supposed porcelain knees are standing up to the rigours of the Premiership.

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