21 March 2021

AC Milan agree world record fee for Ruud Gullit

Signing of Dutch star sparked new era of success

Ruud Gullit's arrival at AC Milan signalled  the start of a new period of success
Ruud Gullit's arrival at AC Milan signalled 
the start of a new period of success
A new golden era in the history of the AC Milan football club effectively began on this day in 1987 when the club agreed a world record transfer fee of £6 million - the equivalent of about £14.5 million (€16.8 million) today - to sign the attacking midfielder Ruud Gullit from the Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven.

The captain of The Netherlands international team that would be crowned European champions the following year, Gullit was regarded as one of the world’s best players at the time and his arrival in Milan caused huge excitement.

Thousands of Milan supporters turned out to greet him on the day he arrived in the city, so many that the car taking him from the airport to the club’s headquarters needed a police escort with sirens blaring in order to forge a path through the crowds.

Those fans correctly sensed that Gullit’s signing would bring a change of fortunes for the rossoneri after a dark period in their history.

Traditionally one of Italian football’s most powerful clubs, Milan had won the scudetto - the Italian championship - for the 10th time in 1979 but the following year were embroiled in the match-fixing scandal known as Totonero and as a punishment were relegated to Serie B - the second division - for the first time in their history.

Arrigo Sacchi guided Milan to two European Cups
Arrigo Sacchi guided Milan
to two European Cups
A difficult few years followed, taking the club to the brink of bankruptcy until the entrepreneur and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi - later to be Italy’s prime minister four times - stepped in as their saviour.

Berlusconi hired the up-and-coming coach Arrigo Sacchi to look after the team and was prepared to back up his ambitions for the club by spending big in the transfer market.

Gullit, whose game combined physical power with deft footwork, pinpoint passing and a striker’s eye for goal, signed within a few weeks of his Netherlands team-mate Marco van Basten, who had been a prolific goalscorer for Ajax.  The fee for Gullit broke the world record set by rivals Napoli when they signed Diego Maradona from Barcelona for £5 million in 1984. 

The signing of the two high-profile Dutch stars, who would be joined by another in compatriot Frank Rijkaard the following year, represented a statement of intent by Berlusconi as Sacchi built a team that also boasted some exceptional home-grown talent in Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Donadoni.

After finishing the 1987-87 season with PSV as their leading scorer with 22 goals and a second consecutive championship medal, Gullit made his Serie A debut for Milan in August 1987 in a 3-1 win away to Pisa, scoring Milan’s second goal with a header. Van Basten would add a third from the penalty spot.

With Gullit scoring nine goals from 29 appearances, Milan won the scudetto for the first time in nine years – finishing three points ahead of Maradona’s Napoli, who had won the title for the first time in their history in the previous year.

Gullit (centre) and Dutch team-mates Frank Rijkaard (left) and Marco Van Basten transformed Milan
Gullit (centre) and Dutch team-mates Frank Rijkaard
(left) and Marco Van Basten transformed Milan
During his time with Milan - with Sacchi and then Fabio Capello in charge - Gullit won another two Serie titles, two Supercoppe Italiane and two European Cups. He scored 56 goals in 171 games along the way.

Sacchi’s team reached their peak in the 1988-89 season. Although they finished only third in Serie A, behind city rivals Inter-Milan and Napoli, they produced two of the best performances by any team to win the European Cup, thrashing Real Madrid 5-0 in the second leg of their semi-final before demolishing Steaua Bucharest 4-0 in the final at Barcelona's Nou Camp, with Gullit and Van Basten each scoring twice in front of 98,000 fans.  

Under Sacchi's guidance, Milan won the European Cup again in 1989-90, defeating Benfica in the final, Van Basten scoring the only goal.

Gullit, who went on to play for Sampdoria and Chelsea after leaving San Siro, later said that the 1989 Milan team was the best he had played in. 

Although Sacchi left to take over as head coach of the Italian national team in 1991, guiding the azzurri to the World Cup final in 1994 (famously losing to Brazil on penalties after talisman Roberto Baggio’s miss), AC Milan’s success continued with four Serie A titles in five years and the 1993-94 Champions League title under Capello, which meant the club were champions of Italy six times and of Europe three times in just nine seasons.

AC Milan train at the Milanello Sports Centre 40km northwest of the city
AC Milan train at the Milanello Sports
Centre 40km northwest of the city
Travel tip:

Although AC Milan’s home ground is the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, often known as San Siro after the suburb of Milan in which it is situated, the club’s day-to-day base is Milanello Sports Centre, commonly referred to as simply Milanello, where the team trains. Built in 1963, the centre, which has six outdoor pitches, is spread over 160,000 square metres (1,700,000 sq ft), which includes a pinewood and a lake. It is situated close to the towns of Carnago, Cassano Magnago and Cairate, in the province of Varese, about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Milan. Milanello has in the past been used by the Italian national team in their preparations for major championships. 

The impressive trophy room at AC Milan's Mondo Milan museum in Milan
The impressive trophy room at AC Milan's
Mondo Milan museum in Milan
Travel tip:

Football fans can learn more about Arrigo Sacchi's success and that of all the AC Milan teams in the club's 117-year history by looking round the Mondo Milan Museum, which has a large collection of historic memorabilia as well as many interactive features.  It can be found within the Casa Milan, the club's new city headquarters - not to be confused with its stadium - in the Portello district, about 6km (4 miles) northwest of the city centre. The museum includes a trophy room that has replicas and originals of the club’s 42 major trophies, including an enormous replica of the Champions League trophy that measures 3m tall and weighs 800kg.

Also on this day:

1474: The birth of Saint Angela Merici, who founded the monastic Ursuline Order

1858: The saints day of nun Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello

1918: The birth of Alberto Marvelli, wartime Good Samaritan 

(Milanello picture by Razzairpina via Wikimedia Commons)

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