COVE STAR GUEST GULLIT ON HIS LOVE FOR DAVIE COOPER AND ADVOCAAT FOR SCOTLAND BOSS
HEADLINERS: Ruud Gullit, Cove Rangers chairman Keith Moorhouse and comedian Tam Cowan at the club’s annual dinner.
IT’S not too often that you get to turn the clock back to have a second chat with a real football legend.
Thanks to Cove Rangers, that’s what happened to me when I went face to face with iconic former Dutch international Ruud Gullit at Aberdeen’s plush New Marcliffe Hotel.
The now 56-year-old was in town to be the headline speaker at Cove’s annual fundraising dinner, a hugely popular event that always attracts audiences in excess of 350.
Gullit, who captained Holland to glory in the 1988 European Championships and starred for Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven, AC Milan and Chelsea, was only the latest in a long list of big football names to speak at the dinner, and an equally popular Festive Lunch, organised by Cove.
Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Graeme Souness, Alan Shearer, King of the jungle Harry Redknapp and Gary Lineker are among others who held audiences spellbound in the past with tales about their careers.
I was fortunate to interview some of them as well, but I had a special reason for being particularly excited by the prospect of getting a sit down with Gullit.
For he was the first opposing player I ever interviewed when sent on my first foreign assignment, to report on Scotland, in the days when I worked as a sportswriter for the Evening Express.
That was at the Euro 92 finals, in Sweden, and the meeting took place as Gullit was preparing to lead Holland against Scotland in the first of their group stage matches.
I knew there was no hope of a man who has done thousands upon thousands of such interviews recalling that particular encounter, but it’s one I will never forget, you always remember your first!
I was understandably wary of speaking to the then dreadlocked giant of a man - Gullit is 6ft 3ins in his stocking soles, but looks far taller- who had been named world player of the year in 1987 and was at the peak of his powers.
To my relief, he was articulate, helpful and happy to put up with my stumbling efforts to extract some sort of preview of the Scotland game that I could send back home my bosses in Aberdeen.
So I was genuinely thrilled when Gullit, now minus those trademark dreadlocks but still looking as fit and trim as he did 27 years ago, agreed to have another chat with me in quiet corner at the Marcliffe, before the formal part of the night got underway.
MOMENTOES: The official programme and press pass from 1992.
The next six minutes and 52 seconds proved to be even more fascinating than our meeting all those years ago, with Gullit, as is the Dutch way, happy to share his views.
They included revealing a genuine love for a Scottish football legend, his thoughts about the prospect of his old boss - Dick Advocaat - becoming Scotland manager and an admission he shares the frustration felt by everyone at Cove Rangers that winning the Highland League doesn’t earn them automatic promotion into the SPFL.
I began as you would expect by welcoming Gullit to the Granite City, to which he responded: “Thank you, this is a beautiful country you have you know.
“I’ve never been to Aberdeen, before (he would have reason to change that later) the closest I’ve been is St Andrews, to play golf, I take part in the Alfred Dunhill tournament every year.
“The weather is never great, but that is over ruled by the amazing scenery and the people, who are always so friendly.
“And you can drink, just like the Dutch.”
Gullit’s liking for Scotland even extended to including that one Scot in his line-up when he was asked to name his all-time world XI, made up of players he had either played with or against, a few years ago.
The first 10 names were as follows: Peter Schmeichel, Manny Kaltz, Marcel Desailly, Franco Baresi, Paulo Maldini, Kaka, Frank Rijkaard, Diego Maradona, Marco Van Basten and Johan Cruyff.
Gullit admits eyebrows are often raised when he says the name of the man who would wear the no.11 shirt in his dream team, it’s Davie Cooper, formerly of Rangers and Motherwell, who sadly passed away in 1995, at the age of just 39.
“Cooper was some player,” said Gullit, smiling broadly.
“I played just the once against him, when I was a youngster at Feyenoord and we came to Scotland to play a friendly against Glasgow Rangers.
“I still remember how the wind howling through the stadium was blowing empty crisp bags all across the pitch, but not as well as I remember Davie Cooper.
“I had never even heard of him until that day but as soon as I saw him with the ball at his feet I thought ‘who the hell is this guy?’
“He was just an unbelievable player. I was at the beginning of my own career and I hadn’t seen too many who were as good as him at that stage.
“I think he was a little bit like George Best, that type of player who could really excite the fans.
“He had the same type of skills, he was very technical, left footed and I liked him very much.
“When I’m asked who my top players are I always include him, even though it often sparks a response of ‘Who is he?’
“I heard that he was very much of a home bird and never played outside of Scotland, which was a shame.
“Cooper could have had a different career if he had been open to that, he would have been a star anywhere in the world.”
Gullit then spoke of how much he admired the Scottish game in general in the 1980s and 90s.
“Scottish football was at its pinnacle at that time,” he said.
“You had a lot of players at the top clubs in England and your own league was very strong.”
He pointed to the fact Aberdeen had some of Holland’s best players - Including Theo Snelders, Hans Gillhaus and Willem van der Ark - in their ranks as proof of just how strong the league was.
“I know them, they were great players,” he said.
“You also had the De Boer brothers and Van Bronckhorst at Rangers, Scottish football was in a totally different place then.
“Everything has to do with money, of course.
“These are more difficult times for Scottish clubs, which is a shame.
“You need even more money now to compete, which they simply don’t have.”
The obvious question at that point was to ask if he ever had the opportunity to follow the Oranje trail to Scotland, to which he replied: “It was never offered, so it never happened.
“The chance to come just never came down my path.”
It was then I decided to mention I had actually interviewed Gullit before, and had even taken the official match programme and team sheet from that game in 1992 for him to sign (which he very kindly did).
I asked if he remembered anything of that match, which the Dutch won 1-0 at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg, thanks to a Dennis Bergkamp goal set up by a pass from Gullit.
His response was expected from a man who played in far many bigger ones during his 66 appearances for his country.
“I’m sorry, I can’t remember much about that game at all,” he said.
“The match against Scotland I remember the most was my first one against them, when I was very young and Joe Jordan was still playing.
“It was at the old Hampden Stadium and I was on the bench, when I was 17 or 18, that was my first visit to Scotland so it has always stuck in my mind.
“I also played against Scotland in the youth team, I had to take a penalty and I scored.
“These are my best memories of playing against Scottish teams.
“My only real memory of 1992 is of losing to Denmark on penalties.”
ADVICE: SFA President Alan McRae with Ruud Gullit, who reckons Dick Advocaat would be a good Scotland manager.
It was Gullit who then threw the possibility of fellow countryman Advocaat becoming Scotland manager into the pot.
It has been reported that the former Rangers boss has let it be known to the SFA that he would be happy to succeed Alex McLeish, who was sacked earlier this month.
“I’ve heard the rumours that Dick Advocaat wants the job,” said Gullit, who played for Advocaat when he managed Holland and also spent a spell assisting him with the national side in 2017.
“Dick is a wonderful guy and a very good motivator as well.
“I was the coach with him for the national team, I like him very much.”
He would later play down any prospect of taking the Scotland job himself but when asked if he felt Advocaat would be a good choice for the post he said: “Yeah!
“I was with him when we played Scotland last year at one of the smaller stadiums - was that up here?”
It was at that point we both realised he had indeed been to Aberdeen once before.
That 2017 friendly, which Holland also won 1-0, was played at Pittodrie.
“Even though we won it was difficult,” he continued.
“Scotland have good players, there is something to work with there.”
Aware we were running out of time, I chose to turn our attentions to Cove Rangers and the matter of them having to take part on a series of play-offs to gain promotion to the SPFL, despite having romped to their second Highland League title in a row.
Cove and Lowland League champions East Kilbride are currently battling for the right to face the side who will now finish bottom of League Two, Berwick Rangers, for the right to make the step up.
It’s something Gullit was happy to describe as “bizarre.”
He continued:“I heard that Cove had won their league but then there is this strange play-off system.
“Any side that wins their league should be going immediately up to the next level.
“I understand the reasons for having the first play-off but there should not be one after that.
“The side who finish bottom of a league should not get another opportunity, there must be a reward for the side that has shown ambition.”
The Dutch also have a Pyramid System in place and changed their rules in 2009 to ensure the semi professional side who win what is effectively their third division automatically replaces the team who finished last in the second.
“The team who end up second bottom then also have to play the side second top in the lower division in a play-off,” said Gullit.
“That’s the fair way to do it, what you have in Scotland is bizarre.”
And then it was all over, my six and a bit minutes had flown past in a flash and Gullit was off to meet some of the guests he would be speaking in front of later.
But he left behind a man satisfied that there are also times when you have good reason to remember your second time too.