GROZNY - The leader of Russia's volatile, Muslim Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, reassured Ruud Gullit of his safety on Wednesday when the Dutchman arrived to coach Russian Premier League side Terek Grozny.
Handing the former Dutch international a Terek Grozny shirt with his name on it in Cyrillic, Kadyrov told reporters: "Now Gullit has nothing to fear at all in Chechnya."
Gullit, 48, had been out of coaching since quitting Major League Soccer (MLS) club Los Angeles Galaxy for personal reasons in 2008.
He was named as Terek coach on January 18 in a move that sparked amazement from football fans in the region, which has endured two separatist wars since the mid-1990s.
"I have been to countries far more dangerous and poor, where people live in rubbish dumps and encounter risky situations, and I saw that football gives people pride," Gullit said after he was greeted by hundreds of fans wearing the green Terek colours.
A decade after Russian troops drove separatists out of power in the second of two wars, the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, where Islamist rebels want to carve out a separate state with Sharia law, is plagued with violence.
Chechen-born Doku Umarov, the leader of Russia's Islamist insurgency, said this week that he had ordered the suicide bomb attack on Russia's busiest airport on Jan. 24 which killed 36.
Though the epicentre of violence is now in Dagestan, Chechnya sits on a shaky peace.
Earlier on Wednesday a blast ripped through a bus stop in the centre of Grozny, injuring a flower seller, media said. It followed two blasts late on Tuesday which injured five people.
However, Gullit said he would not be living in Chechnya but in the town of Kislovodsk, some 300 km northwest of Grozny in the Christian-majority Stavropol region, where the team train.
Kadyrov told reporters Terek would eventually move to Grozny to train once the building of a larger stadium was finished.
"We will bring the team home, they will live and work here and feel safe. Thugs and terrorists are everywhere, we see this all over the world," Kadyrov told reporters.
Kadyrov is credited by the Kremlin with maintaining relative stability in Chechnya, though human rights workers say he is at the core of a radical Muslim revival and leading a violent crackdown on opponents. He has dismissed the claims as attempts to blacken his name.
Terek, who finished 12th in the 16-team Premier League last year, turned to Gullit after failing to agree a contract with former Spain and Barcelona midfielder Victor Munoz.
Though Russia did not qualify for the World Cup last year, the country is passionate about football and won the right to host the world's biggest sporting event in 2018.
Kadyrov proposed adding Grozny to the list of 13 host cities for the 2018 World Cup but Russia is unlikely to bring any matches to the North Caucasus.
Gullit, World Player of the Year in 1987 and 1989, captained the Netherlands to the European Championship title in 1988 when they beat the Soviet Union in the final.comments