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Galaxy gets a new ringmaster

Times Staff Writer

When former Galaxy coach Frank Yallop was introduced Tuesday as the new coach of the San Jose Earthquakes, four reporters showed up.

Contrast that to Friday when Ruud Gullit was introduced as the new coach of the Galaxy, with a standing-room-only, overflow crowd that jammed the television studio at the Home Depot Center in Carson to catch a glimpse of the onetime Dutch star.

Beckham-mania strikes again.

Or, as columnist Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News put it earlier this week, the circus is back in town.

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“Yallop . . . was handed an injured international superstar who effectively turned his team into a three-ring circus,” Killion wrote of David Beckham and the Galaxy.

Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG, which owns the Galaxy, responded to that criticism during Gullit’s unveiling. “I understand that there are some who don’t like the circus,” he said. “Well, I love the circus.

“If people want a retirement home, they can go someplace else. We’re not a retirement community here. We live in the circus and we should relish the fact we have 94,000 people coming to watch us [play an exhibition] in Australia.

“I like that. I like the fact that half the media in that room today was not from L.A.

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“Ruud’s going to make us bigger. He’s going to create even more demand and expectations, and I like that.”

Gullit, 45, was confident and upbeat, and the former AC Milan star and two-time world player of the year dealt with all questions easily. His years of experience in TV showed.

His task, he said, was to turn the Galaxy into a real team, something he will do in tandem with his newly named assistant coach, Cobi Jones.

Gullit met the Galaxy players Friday morning but will not be able to gauge their ability until he sees them play on the tour of Australia and New Zealand. “I hope to find a team that is curious, that is ambitious and that plays with its heart,” he said.

Some Galaxy players had not even heard of Gullit before this week.

“I don’t have any videos on him, so I had to YouTube him, and from what I saw he was an amazing player,” rookie defender Mike Randolph said. “Unbelievable. Wow. Some of the goals he scored were crazy.”

Beckham skipped the news conference, but he and Gullit have a long relationship. According to journalists in the Netherlands, Gullit’s wife, Estelle, the niece of former soccer great Johan Cruyff, is a Dutch version of Beckham’s wife, Victoria.

As for having to coach Beckham, the experience Gullit gained while coaching top players at Chelsea, Newcastle United and Feyenoord should pay dividends.

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“We have to use his experience, because that is obviously the reason why he came here, along with his ability as a player,” Gullit said. “He has also a role, of course, of helping the other players to understand the game a little better.”

Leiweke sees the Gullit signing as having as much impact as Beckham, especially at luring other “name” players to Los Angeles.

“He has a credibility and a voice and a presence that we needed in the locker room,” Leiweke said. “If I’m a player and I want to go and do something extraordinary at the end of my career, I can say, ‘I think I’ll call Ruud. That could be a lot of fun.’

“He’s going to give us some opportunities we normally wouldn’t get.”

Meanwhile, Beckham was called up by the England team for its friendly against Austria in Vienna on Nov. 16 and for its Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia in London on Nov. 21. Also, the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan and Chivas USA’s Brad Guzan, Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan were called up for the U.S. national team’s Nov. 17 friendly against South Africa in Johannesburg. . . . Seattle will get a Major League Soccer expansion franchise for 2009. The Associated Press reported that the new team will be primarily owned by Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com


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