Ruud awakening in L.A.

Ruud awakening in L.A.
By Martin Rogers, Yahoo Sports
November 8, 2007

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports
During Ruud Gullit's glittering playing career, his Dutch teammates often claimed they had never seen him shy away from a challenge.

Major League Soccer can expect a similar approach during Gullit's tenure as head coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Gullit has supreme confidence, a healthy ego and an unshakeable belief in his own abilities. While there may be no perfect candidate for the unique position of coaching the Galaxy, he seems to meet most of the prerequisites.

As former coach Frank Yallop found, plenty of scenarios will occur where it is easy to doubt yourself. No other manager in the league has to deal with the kind of pressure, scrutiny and expectation as those that hang over the Home Depot Center.

If track record is anything to go by, then Gullit will not question himself too often. As a player, he prided himself in making the right choices and the end result was a European Championship, two Champions League medals and three Italian Serie A championships with AC Milan.

Early on in his managerial career, it looked like Gullit would follow a similarly natural path to the top. In just two years at Chelsea, he appeared firmly on course to lead the London Premiership club closer towards parity with Manchester United and Arsenal at the top table of the English game. It all ended, however, in an acrimonious contract discussion with irascible chairman Ken Bates.

Bates' version of events is that Gullit asked for an exorbitant sum of money – a record-breaking deal that would have outstripped any other contract in the Premiership. Gullit has always denied this, yet many Chelsea supporters felt he was worth every penny of even his high reported demands.

Gullit ended up hurtling himself headlong into one of the most testing jobs in soccer at Newcastle United. His time at St. James Park was overshadowed by his personal feud with Newcastle's iconic striker Alan Shearer – a situation in which there could be only one winner.

The raw passion at Newcastle that is so wonderfully inspiring to the neutral observer is a weighty burden around the neck of whoever is charged with bringing soccer success to that trophy-starved corner of the United Kingdom. Gulllit's stay ended five games into the 1999-2000 season and his only coaching since has been a year-long stint with Dutch club Feyenoord in 2004-05.

Gullit will find an altogether different kind of environment in Los Angeles, where the public inquisition into soccer-related decisions is virtually non-existent. It's a place completely opposite from Newcastle and the 50,000 head coaches that scream from the stands at every home game.

Even so, there is an attention and a level of expectation that is sometimes impossible to live up to.

Just ask David Beckham.

The England midfielder delivered as much as could be realistically expected of him in his first MLS season, considering his knee and ankle injuries. Yet due to his profile, contract, reputation and the ignorance of some members of the North American soccer public, Beckham is deemed to have failed if he does not bend in a spectacular 30-yard free kick every time he plays.

Beckham's shoulders are sufficiently wide and his mentality is sufficiently well-balanced to cope with all that. The reasoning behind appointing Gullit is that he will have the necessary experience and perspective to handle inflated public demands that every game is won in style.

For the Galaxy to become competitive, though, it will take more than Gullit and Beckham.

The team needs help in the worst kind of way. L.A. needs a striker who can hold the ball up effectively and give creative players like Beckham and Landon Donovan (if he remains with the Galaxy) time on the ball.

The Dutch style of "total football" is instilled in Gullit, and he would shudder with disdain at some of the dismal ball control shown by the L.A. strike force this season, especially the woefully inept Carlos Pavon. Now that Gullit is in place, the next step will surely be to give him the weapons to make an impact.

Contrary to commonly-held misconceptions that Beckham had a key role in the decision-making process that brought Gullit on board, he did not. That would be stupid.

The Galaxy know that allowing a player to effectively handpick his coach would be a shortcut to disaster and send out a damaging message. Likewise, from Beckham's point of view, such a course of action would have placed extra unwanted and unnecessary pressure upon his shoulders.

However, Beckham did have an influence, indirectly, simply by being who he is. While he appears to deal effortlessly with the constant stream of attention and publicity, not everyone is well-equipped to stop themselves from sweating in the spotlight.

Yallop, a dyed-in-the-wool soccer man, never really looked comfortable in the situation that was foisted upon him. When he was unveiled as the head coach of the expansion San Jose Earthquakes this week, Yallop's smile was back in place.

President Alexi Lalas and owners AEG realized as early as August that a new coach with a new mentality would be needed. When Lalas told Yahoo! Sports back then that "we can not have people who don't thrive in this environment," he was not simply talking about certain players.

Now, the new coach is here. The new mentality is in place.

At his unveiling press conference on Friday morning, Gullit will say all the right things, smile nicely for the cameras and pose for pictures with Beckham. We will hear about how his signing will boost the international profile of the Galaxy. We may hear of the marketing opportunities Gullit is likely to be offered and of how much he is looking forward to California life.

But for all the publicity and photo shoots, the glamorous images of him and Beckham and the money, what the Galaxy are really banking on is that Gullit is here for one reason.

The challenge.

Martin Rogers is a staff writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
Send Martin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Nov 9, 2007 12:56 am, EST

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