Since calling time on his prestigious playing career and moving into management, Ruud Gullit has managed such sides as Chelsea, Newcastle and Feyenoord, but this week the 48-year-old former Dutch international took charge of Chechen minnows Terek Grozny, a small Russian Premier League side from a region that has been ravaged by two bloody wars in the last 15 years. Arriving in Grozny to a hero’s welcome on Wednesday, Gullit admitted that he knew nothing of Terek prior to his appointment, but that it was his intention to lead the side that finished last season two places above the relegation zone into European competition.
Two time World Player of the Year Gullit, who captained the Netherlands national side to victory in the 1988 European Championships, told reporters he had been “stunned”
Gullit, wearing a green Chechen Republic scarf, arrived in the region’s capital to be greeted by hundreds of enthusiastic Terek Grozny supporters, who chanted his name and performed a traditional dance for him. He was lured to Chechnya on an eighteen month contract by club owner and Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an avid sports fan, who praised Gullit for being a “real man“, and for not being put off by Chechnya’s fragile security. The region became notorious in the 1990’s after Chechen rebels fought two vicious wars against Russian forces over 15 years and although the last of those conflicts ended in 2009, some sporadic violence still continues, as insurgents have continued to cause explosions and conduct hit-and-run raids.
How Gullit will take to his new job and tense surroundings, especially after his previous employments, the most recent of which was with David Beckham’s LA Galaxy, remains to be seen, but he has already gone on record as saying he does not expect to be spending much time in the city, which is still recovering from the two conflicts to hit the area. Instead, Gullit will only come to Grozny for matches, spending the majority of his time, along with the rest of his squad, in the Russian spa resort of Kislovodsk, roughly 150 miles west of Grozny. However, Chechnya’s dark recent history does not appear to have fazed Gullit who claimed his only concern was overcoming the language barrier. Asked if he was afraid of being in Grozny, Gullit replied “no“, before adding; “The stereotypes about the Caucasus do not match what is really happening here. Does it seem awful to me? No, I’ve been in more awful, dangerous and impoverished regions. I’ve been to Darfur and saw how people live there.”
Terek Grozny were formed in 1958 but vanished when war first broke out in 1994 and did not play again until 2001, although they soon went on to win both the Russian Cup and First Division in 2004, before winning promotion to the RPL in 2008. This turnaround in fortunes has been hailed a huge success by the Russian authorities anxious to re-integrate Chechnya after the political damage caused by the two wars. When asked about the danger posed by the continuing violence, Ramzan Kadyrov declared Chechnya “the safest place“. However, explosions hit three different areas of Grozny on Tuesday evening, injuring three police officers and two civilians.
Gullit, however, remains upbeat about the opportunity he has turned this little known side into one of Russia’s top clubs. “I have already had a chance to work at the club and now I know — it has no weaknesses. These are good football players who you can work with and achieve your goals. Obviously I could have never possibly imagined one day ending up in the Caucasus. Terek’s phone call stunned me. But life is full of surprises.”