ISTANBUL - Ruud Gullit has dismissed criticism of his decision to coach Russian Premier League side Terek Grozny whose president Ramzan Kadyrov is also leader of the volatile Chechnya region.
Gullit told Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant during training in Turkey that he compared the situation with criticism of the Netherlands for participating in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, which was then ruled by a military junta.
"There was a lot of talk in 1978 as well... but Netherlands went after all for sport. This is exactly the same... I'm not going to occupy myself with politics. I'll concentrate on sport and try and put some pleasure back into people's lives there," the 48-year-old former world player of the year said.
Kadyrov is credited by the Kremlin with maintaining peace in Chechnya, a decade after separatists were driven from power in the second of two wars, though human rights workers say he is at the core of a radical Muslim revival and leading a violent crackdown on opponents.
"I think this region will get much more attention through my going there and that can have a positive effect. People there also want to move on," he said.
"There is a boy in the team who has difficulty laughing. The staff told me it was because he lived in bunkers for 10 years, due to the war. I made the boy laugh by giving him a compliment. I think that is nice - and that is the other side to this."
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, the Dutchman signing an 18-month contract with the club.
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.
He has also coached English Premier League sides Chelsea and Newcastle United along with Dutch giants Feyenoord but has been out of management since leaving Los Angeles Galaxy in 2008 for personal reasons.comments