The dreadlocked one and the old warrior: Hughes and Gullit, the Chelsea years 1995-96

Today I begin a new series, focussing on major events in Chelsea history. This won’t necessarily be in chronological or any kind of order, but all of them will be significant moments in the history of Chelsea FC, most principally on the football side, though occasionally touching on the other aspects of the club. 

We’re in transfer season, with the chance of a hugely significant transfer this summer, so it felt right to begin with a significant summer in the history of Chelsea FC. Summer 1995, the season Glenn Hoddle’s Chelsea revolution finally began to take shape.

The three that shaped Chelsea in the 1995 season, Gullit, Hughes and Hoddle. (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)
The three that shaped Chelsea in the 1995 season, Gullit, Hughes and Hoddle. (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Hoddle himself was a significant signing two years previously. In 1993 he was appointed as Chelsea player-manager on a three year contract. This in itself was a dramatic moment. Chelsea’s recent managers had been Ian Portefield, and cult hero David Webb. Chelsea hadn’t been a fashionable, glamorous club for a long time. 

Glenn Hoddle, a legend of the game, well known all over the world for his style of play, brought new attention to Chelsea like we’d not seen before. 

In his first two years Chelsea had reached the FA Cup Final, where we were thrashed 4-0 by Man Utd after hitting the bar in a first half, they dominated. The next year the Blues dramatically reached the Cup Winners Cup semi-finals, which given the relative strength of the competition and the quality of the side was a great achievement. 

But in the summer of 1995, things stepped up a gear. 

How the fans viewed the Chelsea summer of 1995 with Gullit, Hoddle and Hughes

I can’t remember where I was when I found out. I checked Ceefax (basically like Twitter for football news in 1995), every day (page 302, for those who remember) for all my latest football news. Chelsea were rarely a big story. 

But this June day, it was different. 

I just saw the headline “Ruud Gullit signs for Chelsea on a free transfer”. 

My jaw dropped. Ruud Gullit was a former world player of the year, still a top player despite injuries, an absolute legend of the game. And he was coming to Chelsea? A team who’d finished 11th in successive seasons and not won a trophy for 24 years? 

I could hardly believe it. I assumed if a player like that came to England he’d go to a Manchester United or Liverpool, the big clubs at the time. But to Chelsea? It was mind blowing. It turned out Hoddle’s pulling power and the style of football he wanted to play, and the attraction of London, were enough to attract Gullit to don the blue of Chelsea. Imagine Messi signing for Crystal Palace, and you’ll understand a little of what it felt like.

But we weren’t done. 

The day Gullit was presented to the media, it was announced the club had signed legendary Man Utd striker Mark Hughes for £1.5m. Hughes had been a Manchester United mainstay and won multiple league titles and cups at Old Trafford, to sign him was a massive coup. He was an old warrior, come to give Chelsea some power, strength and quality experience up front.

Out of the blue, Chelsea had made two significant signings beyond anything fans could imagine. 

As you’d expect, it immediately raised the profile of the club. Gullit dreadlock wigs became the norm around Stamford Bridge, as Gullit took on almost cult status immediately. Expectations were slightly raised, but more to the degree of hoping for a top half finish and winning a domestic cup, than winning the league. Chelsea fans were at that point 24 years without a trophy, they knew about false hopes being raised, then dashed. 

Mark Hughes had a solid first year, his performances warranting more than the 8 PL goals he eventually got. His hold up play, strength, power and experience were invaluable. 

However, it was was the dreadlocked one, Ruud Gullit who stole the show. When Dan Petrescu and Terry Phelan arrived in the Autumn, Hoddle then had the squad to play his preferred 3-5-2 formation. Gullit got injured, and in the meantime David Lee stepped into the sweeper role, and performed so well not only was he considered for an England call up, but it also meant Gullit could move into midfield.

He was absolutely phenomenal. His vision, passing range, movement and control of possession was unlike anything the Premier League had seen. 30 yard pin point passes, smart runs out of possession, visionary passing and combined with the physicality required for the Premier League. He was a leader, a winner and had an incredible football brain. He seemed to always see passes ahead of everyone else. It was as if he had an aura around him, an ability to make the game play at his pace, his way. 

Against Middlesbrough at home that season he performed an absolute masterclass which led us to a 5-0 win, with some phenomenal football on display. It could easily have been 6-7 without dropping a sweat. 

Without doubt Ruud Gullit is the best player of his type I’ve ever seen in a Chelsea shirt, and for me, he still walks into any Chelsea team to this day.  He was truly world class for Chelsea. His aura and image raised Chelsea to another level, and it was no shock he became a real cult hero. He was deservedly runner up in the Footballer of the Year awards, pipped only by the phenomenal comeback of double winning Eric Cantona. But for me, Gullit stood out that year.

Gullit excelling in Hoddle's Chelsea team, aiming a pass towards Mark Hughes. (Photo by Professional Sport/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
Gullit excelling in Hoddle’s Chelsea team, aiming a pass towards Mark Hughes. (Photo by Professional Sport/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

English football had never seen a player of that quality, playing his particular way and controlling games in the way he did. It was something we’d only glimpsed in European football before. Gullit opened up English football to a different way of playing the game. At that point a lot of English football was very 4-4-2, counter-attacking or long ball – but he gave a glimpse of another way of playing the game.

Chelsea only finished 11th in the league and reached the semi finals of the FA Cup, but it was very clear the club were moving forward with Gullit and Hughes. It was a memorable season in many ways, with some incredible football played on occasion. The progress Chelsea made was noticed by the FA, who offered Glenn Hoddle the England job near the end of the season. Ruud Gullit would be his replacement at Chelsea, and build on the work done by Hoddle, and take Chelsea to a level of achievement and performance not seen for decades (more on this in a future article).

Ruud’s impact on Chelsea history went way beyond that season or even his time as manager – the first foreign manager in English football. His presence allowed Chelsea to attract players in summer 1996 they’d never have had a chance of signing before. Players who would have a huge impact in years to come. Which makes 1995, the summer of the Dreadlocked One and the Old Warrior, one of the most important summers in recent Chelsea history.

Written by The Score (@TheScore01)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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