ESports the new frontier for Premier League clubs, says Ruud Gullit

More than seven million players took part in last year's FIFA Interactive World Cup. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2018

ESports the new frontier for Premier League clubs, says Ruud Gullit

LONDON: Dutch football great Ruud Gullit has urged Chelsea and other Premier League clubs to embrace the “new era” by establishing eSports teams to boost their profile and widen their global fanbases.
The former AC Milan star has set up Team Gullit, the first independent FIFA eSports academy, with three players and is set to add more from an original 3,200 applicants as he switches his focus from the pitch to the screen.
Gullit, 55, says West Ham and Manchester City have blazed a trail for their Premier League rivals by launching eSports teams.
“You can reach people, the whole world through this game (FIFA) and that is important for teams like Chelsea,” the former Chelsea player-manager told AFP at a Betting on Football conference at Stamford Bridge.
“In Holland all the Eredivisie teams have an eteam player, there is a competition and it is watched by more people on TV than the Dutch second division. The exposure is unbelievable.”
Gullit, who also has young Dutch Formula One sensation Max Verstappen playing unofficially on his team, said he was bowled over by the seven million players who took part in last year’s FIFA Interactive World Cup.
“Before, they were just playing alone in their bedrooms but now they can do something with it and if they are good enough, get out of their rooms and go to events,” he said.
English player Spencer Ealing, nicknamed “Gorilla,” won last year’s Grand Final in London, pocketing prize money of $200,000.
“I think for these players things will get better, better, better because so many people want to play it,” said Gullit.
“There will be sponsorship for the players, which is great, but they can only get better if they play for the big teams.
“Then you will have somebody to take care of you, you will have to travel and go to tournaments. There is a lot more going on but there is a team around you.”
In a promotional video on the Team Gullit website, the Dutchman says of FIFA: “It’s not a game in itself any more, it’s a professional thing. Football also started all as a game — now it’s become almost life.”
But the Euro 1988-winning captain said he understood those who complain that eSports is not really a sport.
“We think that sports is about you doing something physical,” he said. “Therefore some people think that eSport is not a sport.
“That was the argument about darts but it has become so huge they recognize it as people playing sport.”
Gullit, who confesses he is not as handy with controls as he was on the football pitch, is happy that he lives on in the game, alongside other players from a previous era.
“One of the greatest players to ever play the game goes digital,” trumpets the video on the Team Gullit website.
“When you see kids these days they don’t recognize you from your playing days, they know you from PlayStation,” said Gullit, who won the Ballon D’Or in 1987.
“They say to me ‘we want you but you are very expensive, but nevertheless how do we get you’ and I say ask my girlfriend,” he added, chuckling.
He said education is prioritized for his young players, who can play dozens of games at weekends.
“This is a new era, you have to adapt to it,” said Gullit, whose 16-year-old son Maxim is an avid FIFA player.
“Sometimes you fight it too much. You give an iPad to little kids and they know what to do, we didn’t have that. You adapt to the new generation and what they have.”

Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

Updated 18 January 2019

Maria Sharapova looks back to her best as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal show no signs of slowing down

  • Sharapova dumps out defending champion Caroline Wozniacki.
  • Rafa and Roger brush aside young guns in straight sets victories.

LONDON: It is coming up to the end of the first week of the Australian Open, so we thought we would take a look and see how some of the big names fared on day five of the year’s first Grand Slam.


Maria Sharapova warned she is in the sort of form to win the Australian Open after she dumped Carolina Wozniacki out with an impressive 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win. It was the Russian’s best win since her return from a drugs ban and she looked like a winner-in-waiting.
“I thought the level was quite high. I knew I’d get a tough match — she (Wozniacki) is the defending champion,” the five-time Slam champion said.
“I haven’t played many matches in the last year against top players so it was really rewarding to win that last set. These are the kinds of matches I train for.”


Ageless Roger Federer marked his 100th Rod Laver Arena match Friday by storming past Taylor Fritz, then looked forward to a “high quality” last-16 clash against another young gun, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion continued his quest for a record seventh Australian Open title with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 third-round demolition of 21-year-old American Fritz in just 88 minutes of flawless tennis.
Next up is 14th seed Tsitsipas. And the 37-year-old Federer is looking forward to taking on the fiery young Greek, who is 17 years his junior.
Federer played him in the recent mixed teams Hopman Cup, winning a closely contested singles 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/4), and said he was impressed.
“I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis,” Federer said.
“This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a Slam.”


Rafael Nadal declared “everything is a step forward” after brutally brushing aside Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open Friday in just the Spaniard’s third match since the US Open.
The world No. 2 was in ominous form as he continued his quest for an 18th Grand Slam by punishing the Australian teenager in a third-round tennis masterclass 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
“In general terms, everything is a step forward. So that’s positive news for me,” said the man who won the Aussie Open in 2009.
“I’m very happy for the victory against someone who had won seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
On his fitness Nadal added: “Probably 10 years ago it would have been difficult not playing much tennis in the build-up but now I have been in this situation many times with the injuries I have had.
“I have to deal with the ups and downs of my body but I try to enjoy any moment on the court.”


The former US Open champions was made to work for his place in the last 16 as he struggled to beat Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Verdasco showed glimpses of the form that once made him a top-10 player and had a match point, one he frittered away with a double fault.
I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments,” the sixth-seeded Cilic said.
“(It is) unbelievable. Emotions were up and down,” Cilic said.
“When I was down two sets to none, it was a big hill to climb.”
It’s the seventh time in Cilic’s career that he has emerged to win a match after dropping the opening two sets.


Second seed Kerber received a gift ride into the Australian Open fourth round for her 31st birthday when she overpowered local wildcard Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.
The Wimbledon champion swept world No. 240 Birrell aside in just 58 minutes to set up a last-16 clash with unseeded American Danielle Collins.
Kerber, a winner at Melbourne Park in 2016, said she was used to celebrating her birthday on the road at the season-opening Grand Slam.
“I think it’s the 12th time in a row,” she said. “I’m getting older but I have the best time here and I’ll never forget my birthdays here in Australia.”
Kerber reached the semifinals last year but lost to Simona Halep in a tight three-setter.