CHAMPIONS JOURNAL NO.2
A European Cup winner in the real and digital worlds, former AC Milan icon Ruud Gullit has embraced the rise of esports
Illustration Raj Dhunna
Three decades on from his two Champions League wins with AC Milan, Ruud Gullit achieved a different kind of double in a different kind of European Cup final in May – namely, by featuring for both teams in the inaugural eChampions League final in Madrid, an EA Sports event.
Such is his rating in the FIFA 20 game that both finalists put the dreadlocked Dutch legend in their line-ups. “It’s funny to see your own face in that game,” says Gullit, who has taken an active interest in the esports world. “Your movement looks like you. I’m really proud of that: a whole new generation knows you from FIFA.”
Indeed, it was the virtual Gullit’s iconic status that led the real Ruud to dive deeper into the digital game. He launched his Team Gullit academy in 2018, setting up a coaching structure for promising youngsters – including Zezinho, who reached the eChampions League semi-finals with Gullit’s stable before going on to join Benfica. “I enjoy the fact that we’re making transfers,” says the former Oranje great. “That’s the reward we get: our players getting to big clubs.”
How does coaching in an esports academy work in practice? “When I have meetings with players and their parents, we make arrangements about how much they’ll play [per day] because a lot of them are in school,” says Gullit. “This is a proper sport. It has an image of geeks in a basement but now a lot of people play this seriously.
“The kids live at home; you don’t need to actually be there,” he adds, explaining that his coaches speak to them via headsets. “The trainers do all the work, of course – but I always want to know what’s going on.”