AP Interview: Gullit blames self for Galaxy flop

BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) — Ruud Gullit didn't take long to realize he was the wrong man to coach David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"In LA, nobody is talking about soccer. No television stations. You see it nowhere," Gullit said. "It's difficult to swallow because you need that adrenaline to pump yourself up. If nobody talks about it, it's almost like an enigma."

Famous from a standout career that earned him the 1987 European player of the year award, the former Dutch star was hired with much fanfare in November 2007. He left just nine months into a three-year contract, the Galaxy further adrift than when he arrived.

Now a television commentator for Sky Sports in England, the long dreadlocks of his playing days replaced by a close-cropped look, the 47-year-old is preparing to be a studio analyst for ESPN at this year's World Cup. He'll be paired in Johannesburg with his former Galaxy boss, Alexi Lalas, a key figure in the expansion of the network's coverage.

To prepare, Gullit made his first trip to ESPN's studios this week. During a 30-minute interview Monday, he was willing for the first time to publicly discuss what went awry during his time in Los Angeles.

"It was too much of a clash between my way of being used to working and the rules of the MLS," he said.

Gullit couldn't cope with restrictions such as Major League Soccer's salary cap and its draft. Having coached previously at Chelsea, Newcastle and Feyenoord, he was accustomed to the ways everywhere else in the soccer world: When you want a player, you go out and buy him.

His three-year contract was said to be worth $6 million, and he said that was so out of line with MLS standards that it created an uncomfortable situation.

"For the amount of money that they normally pay, I don't go from Europe all the way to live here. So therefore they need to find sponsors. But who knows Ruud Gullit in America? Who would pay that amount of money? And the moment that you find out nobody wants to pay that, that's where all the trouble starts," he said.

Lalas was let go as the Galaxy president and general manager on the same day Gullit departed, the team just 6-8-5 following a seven-match winless streak. The Galaxy missed the playoffs for the second straight season before reaching the MLS Cup final in 2009 under Gullit's successor, former U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena.

"I think he's being a little hard on himself to be honest with you. I think there's plenty of blame to go around," Lalas said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I probably should have done things differently to at least help more in some ways. But I think ultimately the learning curve was so big, and he came into a situation that was so different than anything he'd ever been associated with, that it was going to take a long time. And unfortunately for Galaxy, we didn't have that time. And that's our fault also."

In some ways, Gullit is dismayed by the lack of a soccer culture in the United States.

"When USA is playing at home, they don't play at home. It's unbelievable," he said. "Certain people don't want to acknowledge it so much because everybody wants to protect the American sports, and I can understand that. But everybody knows soccer is coming. Everybody plays it everywhere. I think it will be two generations — then people will get used to it, understand the game more. This generation still doesn't understand it."

He also can't get used to the American system of playoffs that MLS uses. Gullit thinks it creates an atmosphere that's not conducive to top soccer, clashing with the rest of the world, where the team that finishes first automatically is the champion.

"Every week you have to play well to be the champion. But here it's just a matter of getting in the playoffs, and how you get there is not so much important as long as you play well in the knockout stages," he said.

ESPN likes Gullit's outspokenness. Tim Scanlan, ESPN's vice president of event productions, recommended Gullit to Jed Drake, the executive producer of ESPN's World Cup coverage, and the pair met with Gullit in London late last year to sign him up.

"He is just a completely engaging character and one who has been around a good bit of time and has seen the game from a variety of perspectives," Drake said.

Gullit predicts Brazil will reach the final in South Africa. He has high hopes for the Netherlands, the team he captained to the 1988 European Championship. But he also has doubts.

And then there is Italy, the defending champion.

"The thing is always with the Italians, they don't need to play well to get to the final," he said.

He also believes the U.S. has the ability to upset England when they meet on June 12. That matchup in Rustenburg is getting the most attention of the 48 first-round games, already drawing the highest prices in the secondary ticket market.

"I always say to a lot of people all around about American football, I say: 'Look, you underestimate it. You go and play in 90 degrees, on turf, in the afternoon, traveling six hours,'" he explained. "And when they play under the normal circumstances, all of the sudden these teams say: "Hey, wait a minute. This is not as bad. They play some good football.'"