Exclusive interview

Q&A with Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink

April 20, 2009
By Soccernet

Q: Back in February there were real problems at Chelsea, struggling in 4th position and it looked like they would not make it to the Champions League next season, the board obviously knew a change had to be implemented and you came in to make that change happen. Back then when you first learned you had the job you had the job did you have something specific that you knew you had to change right away?

GettyImagesHiddink: In charge until the end of the season.

A: Well I was asked indeed in February and at that time they were a little bit scared of slipping off to 5th or 6th position in the league, it is true. I started from the first day having my talks to the players that we must deliver from the first day and not get used to each other's way of working or me to them and how they play and vice versa. So we started as hopefully big men to deliver and the first week it was good to have one whole week for preparation for a very crucial Aston Villa away game. We managed to work hard and push the luck, not just the luck, we played well in Villa to get the first score over there, the first three points which I think were very important. We put the pressure on each other in the first week already.

Q: Looking from afar back then, before you got the job, was there always something that you thought that if you were Chelsea manager you would do? For example, "I would always play these two players together" did you have those kind of ideas?

A: Well I came in and I had some ideas of course because in the few days when I knew I was going to do this I was of course analysing the situation within the team also with the players what is most important to see if players can cope together. Maybe to make some changes or to be a little bit more flexible tactically in the system to see if we could play with two central strikers, yes or no?, so I was analysing that and we practiced that in that particular week and it worked out perfectly in that first game.

Q: It has been just a short time that you have been here, just a little more than a few months and already so much has changed - have you seen the turnaround you were hoping for or do you feel there is still room for improvement?

A: There is always room for improvement because we are always very self critical on our performances and on the players performances and I think every game we can learn something even if we are on a winning stroke already for many weeks on international and national level. But, we try to find always a little bit of what can be improved because there is no perfect game. Always you can deliver a little bit more as a team or an individual.

Q: Symbolic of those changes is perhaps the form of Didier Drogba, back in the days of Luis Felipe Scolari he was low in confidence and obviously not in the form that he is now. What is it that you think you did with Didier Drogba to see the form he is in right now?

A: It is impossible for me and I don't want to judge the time before February, there are always reasons to make decisions. But, in Didier's case from the first day I started working with all of them and I did not want to have a lot of information about the past because I was watching towards the near future and he exposed himself in training and I saw him once in the Cup game against Watford together with Anelka and that is why I am talking about flexibility in the system and he did well so we kept on going with him and he worked very hard in training and is very ambitious. Not just on the pitch but also off the pitch he has the influence on the team with other leaders and he got his form, his shape and from there on he marked also his goals which is very important for everyone.

Q: And the form that he is in right now do you feel like he is the best striker in the world, how does he compare with the other top strikers?

A: It is difficult to compare, it is always said that the guy who makes goals is the best and it is not always true because he is in big shape but it is difficult to compare him with players who are playing in other leagues but what is important for us and for him is that he is having these performances, not just by scoring the goals because he is scoring a lot of goals now but even when he has a game where he does not score then the others might have the advantage of his very hard work.

Q: Was there a key moment in the season in your time here where you really thought this is the game where things have changed or maybe on the training pitch?

A: From the first day we said, "hey guys, you have the experience of World Cups, European Cups and a lot of Champions League games and I have a bit of experience gathered all over the world so let's not hide and let's deliver from the first day. And all the guys, not just the 10 outfield players and the goalkeeper who are playing but also the rest responded and that was good to see because there was also these rumours that the players were fed up with a lot of success etc. and that is why I did not want to hear a lot of that information and we started very fresh. The key was I think the first week and winning at Aston Villa.

Q: You have been in this situation before with PSV where you are challenging for three trophies but of course when you are involved with so much there must be a focus for you…

A: We are still on three roads going towards success hopefully of course the league is difficult because every week there is one game less and if Manchester does not drop the points then they will be champions so the pressure is more on Liverpool and us not to drop points but when it is possible we go to fight every game. And the other two are the FA Cup which we beat recently Arsenal and it is good to play on the 30th of May in a terrific atmosphere at Wembley and the Champions League we will face a very beautiful team Barcelona who can play wonderful football, I like to see that not just because I am now the opposing manager but also because I am a lover of good football, they are always nice to see.

Q: Do you think your experience as Real Madrid and Valencia coach will help in that tie against Barcelona?

A: No, That is a long time ago already that was more than 10 years ago. Football has changed and managing style has changed but what I like very much is the philosophy of Barcelona. I know that and I know people there in their house and they have this philosophy of always signing players who are very attractive and very attack minded and also very attractive for the public and that is what they like in bringing in a team and I think it is very good to see.

Q: What should we expect from that first leg at the Nou Camp, should we expect to see a very attacking Chelsea?

A: We expect a very attacking Barcelona and Chelsea has the character not to sit back, it is impossible in this team even if I say to the team "hey guys let's sit back and defend" it is impossible because there is this desire in the team to play football as well.

Didier Drogba
GettyImages / CliveRoseDrogba: hoping to continue scoring for Chelsea

Q: Of course the 2nd leg is back at Stamford Bridge, how crucial is that?

A: It is very tight, we have seen that in the game against Liverpool and we saw that in the game before against Juventus, it is very tight playing. These are all finals, if you play Barcelona- Chelsea then it is a final and if you play Liverpool-Barcelona or Liverpool-Chelsea they are all finals. So it will be very tight but if you play away we always try to play, as I said before not just defending.

Q: In the game against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge how difficult was it to stay calm on the sidelines?

A: It seems calm because I have learned in the years that I must try to control myself because with the limited power you have as a manager on the sideline, if you can have some influence on the game and if I am acting like a supporter and following every action then I get mad etc. then I can't make the right and cool judgement about what, if needed, can be changed so I have to have control but it is not easy. If you saw both games we had a wonderful game at Anfield and we had a problematic game in several periods of the game at Stamford Bridge so it is not easy to stay disciplined and calm every time.

Q: A lot has been made of the half time team talk, from your perspective what kind of approach did you have with the players?

A: We had in the first half this dual approach to the game, conserving, preserving the result from the first game 1-3 away and then of course we talked about that it is difficult for a team not to get split up. One part of the team wanted to attack more and one part was dropping back so you get too much space in between your defence and midfield and attacking line. That is what we talked about tactically and then also of course we were 2-0 down and we talked also man to man as big men should do to get a better performance and the players always react and they always know what is happening there that they were touched in their pride as well.

Q: Of course in that game Ashley Cole got suspended and will miss the game at the Nou Camp. Does that mean that Lionel Messi will be even more of a threat? And how can you contain him without Ashley Cole?

A: Well, Ashley is unfortunately suspended it is true and we will see. Messi is one of the most beautiful players in the world, very attractive but in these two games I hope he is not delivering and producing what he normally does but I have to think about how to do that. We still have a little bit of time.

Q: How tough is it, the thought of a potential Champions League Final and FA Cup Final in the same week?

A: Well now you are talking for one is secured for the 30th of may which is a big event to play and then you are talking already about the final and that is one step too far, first we have the big challenges with Barcelona home and away.

Q: A lot of people were expecting the FA Cup final to be against Manchester United but now it is Everton, What are you expecting from that game?

A: Well, we were qualifying ourselves in a good game against Arsenal but Everton is desperate to go and to win because they don't play at the end of the season every year with all due respect in the final stage and they do now and they deserve a lot of respect for the way they did it in this FA Cup and those teams can be very dangerous to go all the way to the end. It will be a very tight game, and both teams like to attack as well.

Q: I have to ask you how you are enjoying your time here at Chelsea.

A: Yeah, very much, very much. That is why I said from the first day we wanted to deliver, both sides and everyone responded and not just the team but everyone around it is supporting tremendously so I enjoyed and am still enjoying working here tremendously.

Guus Hiddink
GettyImages / EpsilonHiddink: Has a "strong connection and relationship with the players".

Q: A lot of the fans and I am sure the players would love you to say but I know you have reiterated that you have an obligation with Russia, just what is it that keeps you wanting to go back and fulfil your duties as Russian coach, what is it about this Russian team?

A: Well, there are two sides. The formal side of the contract where there is the Russian federation and the Russian NAF which is the academy for youth development which I am participating in also and then there is Chelsea and there is me, that is the formal side. You can always talk about a contracts but on top of that I think there is also something else which is also the connection and relationship with the players.

We started two years ago with improving the organization around the team. I started pushing and challenged the new players coming in to this squad of Russian players and the players responded and I think it is not fair from my side to say "Hey guys now we are coming to the end of the qualification" which is in September or October and the playoff maybe in November, from my side to say 'I quit and the last two or three months you do it yourself' because we started the project with them and the players responded so that is also besides the contractual situation.

Q: You had a phenomenal time with the Socceroos and they are on the bring of qualification themselves do you still keep in communication with them?

A: Of course, every now and then in England I text message with some players. Recently I talked to Viduka last week and Lucas Neill has a close contact with me and Timmy Cahill we will see very shortly and I have this contact also with the staff down under, John Balby, Phil Molansky and more, Graham Arnold etc. and I also I am very happy that Pim Verbeek is doing a great job, he is doing a great job and qualifying is very near and through this Asia group he did perfect so I am very delighted that they are on the brink of qualifying.

Guus Hiddink was speaking to Alison Bender