Friday January 20 2017
Gullit: ‘Maradona the best ever’

Ruud Gullit says Diego Maradona “was and is the greatest” and sees Giorgio Chiellini as “the only good” defender.

The former Milan midfielder spoke to La Repubblica about the current state of football, and believes one of his former opponents is the greatest player ever to play the game.

“We all wondered how to stop Maradona,” Gullit said.

“For me he was and is the greatest. A lot of people prefer Pele, but I only saw Pele on TV, while I played with Maradona.

“If you talk to me about [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo I’ll answer that they can dribble. Maradona couldn’t, he had jump to beat his opponent, otherwise they’d have broken his leg.

“In fact Andoni Goikoetxea, the butcher of Bilbao, broke his ankle.

“Back then the attackers weren’t protected by the rules, the referee only blew for a foul if people like me were demolished.

“Fortunately, it’s different today. Messi and Ronaldo have teams which work for them, they're the wonderful final piece in the assembly line. Maradona was alone, he was prey for his opponents.

“If you could knock him down it was a badge of honour.

“Another thing I like about Diego is that none of his teammates ever spoke badly of him. That means he was always there for them.

“Do you know what made me realise it was different in Italy? It wasn’t insults from the stands, it was a bad elbow. Daniel Passarella smacked me in the face: welcome to Italy.

“Recently we laughed and joked about it. I didn’t like that gesture, but you have to play the game, even when its hard.

“In terms of racism in the stadiums, I have to say that more than contempt for black players, what struck me was the hate that Italians had for other Italians, the division between north and south and between regions.”

Gullit was then asked about today’s defenders, and believes only Juve’s Chellini is up to scratch.

“They look at the ball instead of holding their man. The only good one is Chiellini, who won’t be fooled.

“When I played, the defender always had his hand on you, he’d touch you, he never lost contact.”

The Dutchman also turned his ire on the statistics-driven approach to modern football.

“You hear people going ‘he ran 12km’ or ‘he made 32 passes in the game’,” Gullit noted.

“Oh yeah? And how did he make them? Was he marked, was he successful, was it an important moment?

“If you’re a Coach then you can look at the stats, especially if a player thinks he played differently, but I don’t like a barrage of statistics.

“I remember we [Milan] had to play Juventus. I asked [Carlo] Ancelotti how [Paolo] Maldini was. The answer was ‘Maldini is mentally tired’.

“So I asked: ‘will Maldini play?’ Ancelotti said ‘of course he’ll play’. In Serie A you don’t have time to be tired, I played about 10 games without injury. In the others I might have a muscular strain or a slight injury, I was rarely at 100 per cent.

“That means stats can’t be a Bible, the real power is the mind pushing you to do extraordinary things, even though the data says you’re not fit.

“Possession? It can’t explain everything. I don’t care if you had 76 per cent of possession and lost 3-0.

“People say [Pep] Guardiola is going wrong at Manchester City. Of course, he doesn’t have the players he had at Barcelona and Bayern [Munich].

“If you’re missing the best players then you need time.”

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