Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Hiddink can be the man to right Chelsea ship
So, is Guus Hiddink to imminently arrive as interim manager of Chelsea?
In choosing the Dutchman ahead of a list of flawed suitors, the Blues have, yet again, called on a coach of the highest standing in the game; Avram Grant remains an anomaly. He shares plenty in common with the man he succeeds yet Roman Abramovich will hope his friend can add what Scolari could not to his ailing Chelsea project.
Scolari left Stamford Bridge accused of tactical inflexibility. His refusal to play Anelka and Drogba together, his over-reliance on attacking full-backs and an inability to gel Lampard, Ballack and Deco together were all used as evidence he was failing in his first new club job of the decade. Hiddink, by contrast, has gained a hefty reputation for making the correct tactical switch at the right time.
Taking both the Netherlands and South Korea to the semi-finals of the World Cup, qualifying Australia for the knock-out stages of the 2006 tournament and then reviving Russia as a European power, gives him quite a CV. Scolari had, of course, won the World Cup yet 2002 was no vintage tournament and he won it with the nation granted the richest mine of talent. Hiddink, meanwhile, has a reputation of making lower ranking teams into challengers.
Comparisons of the pair's exile from the club game can be made. While Scolari was absent from the club game from 2001 to 2008, Hiddink was leading PSV Eindhoven to a domestic title as recently as 2006 and the year after taking the Dutch club to the brink of a Champions League final. Not only that, he lifted the old European Cup in 1988 with the same club.
His pedigree in European club football is admirable; though he flopped at both Real Madrid and Real Betis. Both, which came in quick succession, had mitigating circumstances, a leading factor at both being the interference of a club's overbearing president.
In Abramovich, he may face the same issues though he is likely to be trusted by a man he is close to by virtue of the Chelsea owner's bankrolling of the Russian national team.
The lack of a transfer window will leave him unable to bring in new players; he will have to make do and mend with the cards he has been dealt with. That, in itself, is one of the drawbacks of being an international manager yet will provide him with a transferable skill to bring to an interim appointment.
Chelsea's myriad hierarchy will hope for a repeat of the various tactical masterstrokes that have made Hiddink such a coveted coach. Switches like that which allowed Australia to storm back into their World Cup opener with Japan and the all-action style which allowed his Korean team to see off Portugal, Italy and Spain in 2002 give rise to a reputation of flexibility that Scolari was felt to lack.
At 62, and with the clearly stated aim of taking Russia to the World Cup (to make it his fourth tournament in a row), Hiddink is by no means a long-term appointment. Then again, neither was Scolari, at 60 himself. And who could say Abramovich's regime has looked for anything other than a quick fix after the dismissal of Jose Mourinho?
Hiddink's fresh approach to a stagnant squad should be expected to see Chelsea into a top-four position and perhaps take them further in this season's Champions League. What follows that is likely to be another saga played out in public by the ever more chaotic Chelsea. It has been ever thus since the coming of the Russian.
Yet Hiddink is an arrival that will give a flagging team a much-needed lift.