AMSTERDAM – Ruud Gullit has rejected criticism of his decision to coach Chechnyan club Terek Grozny, whose president, former militia leader Ramzan Kadyrov, also is the Kremlin-backed president of Chechnya.
Gullit's decision surprised some of his countrymen because Kadyrov has been accused of human rights abuses. But Gullit compared his decision to the Dutch national team's opting to compete in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, then ruled by a military dictatorship.
"There was a lot of discussion in 1978, but the Netherlands went then for sport," Gullit said in an interview published in Thursday's edition of Dutch daily De Volkskrant
"This is exactly the same," he added. "You will always have people for and against. But I don't want to be involved in politics, I want to concentrate on the sport and give the people there a little pleasure in their lives again."
Gullit believes his presence in the impoverished republic in the North Caucasus can have a positive influence on the region that is recovering from two devastating separatist conflicts with Russia.
"There's a boy in the team who has trouble laughing. Members of staff have explained that it is because he lived in bunkers for 10 years because they were at war," Gullit said. "I got that boy laughing again by paying him a compliment. That is beautiful — that is the other side of the story."
Gullit said the toughest element of his stint in Grozny would likely be leaving his family back in Amsterdam.
The former Netherlands midfielder, the 1987 European player of the year, has coached Chelsea, Newcastle, Feyenoord and the Los Angeles Galaxy.