As we approach the end of week one at the 2018 World Cup in Russia we sit down with Netherlands legend Ruud Gullit on a rooftop in Moscow to get his thoughts on the action to date, England's chances, and his own World Cup memories.

Ruud, what has been your stand out moment of the 2018 World Cup so far?

I think it has to be Mexico beating Germany. Not just because of the result specifically, but because they beat the world champions and the way they played the game; it was aggressive and fast. They didn’t give the Germans any easy touches. I think that’s a sign of this tournament. It’s all about fitness. How much you can run and how much you can physically put into a game and ultimately how long you can last.

Do you enjoy those big under dog occasions then?

The Mexicans always give a good account of themselves at a tournament. We saw in the stadium that it was at least half full with Mexicans which is an incredible effort. They are all very passionate about it. I think that game was something that teams need to replicate. The question is, can other teams do it? Can the big teams do it? All those big players had a tough season going into the tournament and the question is whether they can still keep going into the summer, in a World Cup.

Why do you think those teams that we expect to do well have struggled so far?

I had the same thing when I played. When you play for a big team or a big club, the expectations are high. Just like they were for me when I was at Milan. Imagine being at a Bayern or Real Madrid and working all season towards a climax which could be winning the league or the Champions League, at the moment you do or don’t reach that goal, it’s your head that says “ah, I need to relax now” and there’s a release of tension.

It’s the same for people who work all year and then have a summer holiday. All of a sudden they go on holiday and may get ill. It’s because your body is so tense and in a zone. As soon as that goal has been reached your body says “I need to relax and re-charge”. Doing that re-charge is the most difficult thing. It costs you weeks to do that. It’s not automatic and your body needs to rest.


If we take a player like Messi, would you say he’s overthinking the situation or the occasion?

No. I mean look at Ronaldo. He wasn’t playing well the last few months of the La Liga season so therefore maybe because Real didn’t squeeze so much out of him at the end of the season, he now is back to the levels he is usually at. For Messi, he needs to constantly perform all the time. If Messi doesn’t play with Barcelona then they are a completely different team. There’s so much on his shoulders. For him, he’s frustrated every time it comes to a World Cup for that reason, and it becomes difficult.

You were such a great flair player. Are those the type of players you like to watch now?

Of course, you like to watch those players who think outside of the box. You don’t want players who follow the rules. Players who don’t follow the rules bring us something different. That’s why we go to a stadium and watch the games we do. Football needs that.

Having that freedom to express a creative side to yourself, it’s important for the game isn’t it?

It is very important. Nowadays, you have coaches telling you all the time what you have to do and how you have to play. You think “you’ve bought me for a specific reason so let me express myself, let me play the way I do”. Coaches then come with all kinds of assignments and the players don’t perform any more. You obviously need to follow certain rules as a team, particularly when it comes to defence, but when you’re attacking you need that freedom. When I was with Milan, Sacchi didn’t tell us how to attack. It was all about feeling. If you lost the ball then you had to fall back in line but when you had it and you were attacking it was up to you to get creative.

How do you think you would cope if you were playing today where the style may be dictated to you?

I couldn’t. I think I would get in a fight all the time or ignore what I’m being told. The thing is, when you make the difference, the manager will shut up anyway. That’s what you have to do. You have to make the difference. On the pitch you have to do it. If you think out of the box then you have to perform. Of course, when things don’t go well and you’re that type of player then you will take all the blame. Those are the situations we see all the time with the biggest names.

When you went to the World Cup in 1990, what moments stood out off the pitch from the whole experience?

We didn’t have a very good tournament in 1990. The worst part of that was probably the build up. We went to Croatia to a castle or something and there was nothing to do. It was a very bad atmosphere from the start and it actually stood out for me more than the tournament itself because from the moment we played our best football, which I’d say was against Germany, all of a sudden, it slipped out of our hands.


What do you make of the energy Russia has a host country so far?

I have experienced this place before as a coach so I’m familiar with it. There’s a feeling outside of Russia that the place is under-developed and all that. In Moscow, you obviously can’t compare it to any other city in Russia. In the same way that New York is not America, and London is not England. I’ve been all over this country and it’s nice. The people are very friendly and while there are different customs like any culture, I had a great time here in Russia. I don’t have any bad feelings other than the winter when it’s so cold and traffic is bad. People bump into each other and all that [laughs].

How will you enjoy the time between games while you’re out here?

Time is short, I have to watch the games but I’ve been out with the English guys for some food. Wrighty, Neville, it’s great to go out with those guys. I enjoy it and the weather is great. There’s nothing to moan about. A night out with them is fantastic and so much fun. We all share different stories and I love that.

Who are you backing to win the 2018 World Cup?

I think France personally. The most important thing is almost to play bad at the beginning but still win. That way other teams may not know what your strengths are. That is the best thing to do at a World Cup. I think there are some dark horses there that people don’t know about. 

What do you think about the England team?

On paper, they have a team that can match anybody. When they come over from that island though [laughs] things change. I don’t know what it is… England has a good team. I’m just curious to see how they do when they come off that island. We all see those players play in England and it’s fast and exciting, but when they get to a tournament, I don’t know what happens. It can be crampy and not as fluid as you hope. On paper they have some of the best players here.

What was your favourite Holland shirt to play in?

It’s not the one you will think. I think the won we won the European Cup in was the ugliest kit ever [laughs]. I met the woman who designed it. I like more plain things. I don’t like the busy kits. For me, it’s about more simple designs. Less is more. That’s the style I like.

Read more World Cup interviews in '32/12' magazine by SoccerBible. Pick up the special 2018 Russia World Cup edition here.