Edgar Davids: 'Bergkamp was very important, but Gullit was a dominator'

The Dutch legend on why football is like chess, exchanging tips with Magnus Carlsen and Ruud Gullit v Dennis Bergkamp

Good afternoon Edgar, could you spare a few moments? For you Small Talk, always.

We didn't expect to see you here at the London Chess Classic but we hear that you're quite a strong player … Absolutely not [chuckles]. I'm not even an average player but I really love the game. I started playing when I was a kid but if you want to get good you have to study hard – and I was doing other things.

Speaking of which, did you ever whip out a chessboard and play your team-mates? All the time! I could beat most of them but Zvonimir Boban was something else. He was by far the best. A demon. I could never beat him. But I've improved a lot since then …

As a footballer you were known as the Pitbull. But what kind of chesspl … [interjecting] Aggressive! I always start with 1.e4 and I like winning every game!

But are you a good loser? [Poker face] Absolutely.

Do you have a favourite chess player? I like Judit Polgar and Magnus [Carlsen]. I even went to visit him when he played Wijk aan Zee.

Really? Carlsen likes playing football, doesn't he? He's OK. I didn't need to give him many tips. Actually, we spent most of our time talking about the similarities between football and chess.

So the cliche about a football game being like a chess match isn't a lazy myth? Oh no: there are so many similarities, especially when it comes to speed chess. In both games you have to think fast. In chess you tend to know all the patterns already, just like in football …

Interesting, now … [enthusiastically] Both involve thinking but they are also intuitive; because you train so much your unconscious mind can take over. And in both games if you make one mistake it can be all over.

Time is short Edgar so a few quick fire questions. Ruud Gullit or Dennis Bergkamp? Gullit [a puzzled expression comes over his face] Er, is that with chess?

Just football Edgar. Definitely Gullit. Don't get me wrong, Dennis was, without a doubt very important for Dutch football. But Gullit was a dominator. And you only ever get a couple of dominators in world football at any one time. When Gullit played well, his whole team played well – whether it was at Milan or Sampdoria or the national side. He could carry a whole team on his back and make them win. He was on another level.

What about the last film you watched? Er, I think it was Wolf, a Dutch movie …

Is that a horror flick Edgar? No. It's a drama from a family from Morocco that lives in Amsterdam. It's very good, really.

And your favourite CD? I love music but there are so many! Maybe Bob Marley.

What's your pre-match meal? Pasta.

Simple tomato sauce or creamy carbonara? I've always had whatever I was given.

Good man. Do any of the Barnet players play chess? Well, I've actually put a chessboard and pieces at the club …

Really? Have any of your players dared to take you on yet? No, but some of them can play. In fact I play with our assistant coach.

So who wins? Well, he thought he was the best and claimed he had never lost … [Pinteresque pause].

And then he met you? I didn't want to say, Small Talk [chuckles].

Cheers Edgar … Cheers Small Talk.

Edgar Davids was speaking at the London Chess Classic, Britain's premier chess event hosted by charity Chess in Schools and Communities. For more information visit www.londonchessclassic.com

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