MANAGERS UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

Football: Chance to end wild Guus chase

While Guus Hiddink won the FA Cup during an interim spell at Chelsea in 2009, his subsequent appointments in Russia and Turkey did not yield qualification to important tournaments. He also resigned as Netherlands' manager in July when they struggled
While Guus Hiddink won the FA Cup during an interim spell at Chelsea in 2009, his subsequent appointments in Russia and Turkey did not yield qualification to important tournaments. He also resigned as Netherlands' manager in July when they struggled in Euro 2016 qualification. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Chelsea job paves way for Hiddink - without any recent success - to rebuild his reputation

People

LONDON • By the time the delegation from the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) arrived at Guus Hiddink's holiday home in the south of France in June, the storm had been brewing for months.

Ruud Gullit had described Hiddink's appointment to succeed Louis van Gaal as the Netherlands' coach as "cowardly". Johan Cruyff had questioned his team selection.

Harshest of all, Ronald de Boer, the former Ajax midfield player, suggested that there was "no game plan" and called Hiddink's methods "old-fashioned".

De Boer's verdict was harsh. "Hiddink is done," he said.

Eventually, the calls became so loud that Bert van Oostveen, the KNVB chief executive, could no longer ignore them.

Less than a year after van Gaal had led the Netherlands to the World Cup semi-finals, under Hiddink, they were on the brink of failing to even qualify for Euro 2016.

Along with Hans Jorritsma, the Netherlands team manager, van Oostveen went to see Hiddink, to tell Guus he was cooked.

Barely six months on from that moment - one the 69-year-old insisted felt like "complete robbery" - Hiddink is back at work, summoned to Chelsea, just as he was in 2009, to put Roman Abramovich's club back on an even keel after their collapse under Jose Mourinho.

Given the circumstances, it is easy to see why Hiddink appeals to Abramovich as the man to take over until a more permanent appointment can be made in the summer.

It is not simply that the Dutchman knows the club, thanks to that spell six years ago, or that he proved then that he could take an ailing side and restore them to rude health. His previous tenure, after all, delivered the FA Cup.

No, as much as anything, it is Hiddink's manner that makes him a convincing fit. The Dutchman is the polar opposite to Mourinho: placid, easy-going, avuncular.

Former Chelsea star Frank Lampard referred to him as a "gentleman".

The Blues players, bruised by constant battles for power and control with Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, felt the Dutchman's laconic style revived their "strength and belief".

Hiddink is the perfect balm for all the fractures and fissures that have appeared at Stamford Bridge these past few months. And yet it should not be ignored that things have changed considerably since he last donned his firefighter's garb.

In 2009, he was still in the middle of his Abramovich-funded spell in charge of Russia. It was only a few months since his side, inspired by Andrey Arshavin, had dazzled at Euro 2008.

He had excelled at club level, too, not long before that. He had won three Dutch titles with PSV Eindhoven and taken them to within a whisker of the Champions League final in 2005.

Hiddink, in 2009, might have been entering the twilight of his career but was still a manager of considerable pedigree.

That is not the case now.

He left Russia in 2010, having failed to justify his £6.25 million (S$13.15 million) after-tax salary by not helping the country qualify for the World Cup.

A brief sojourn in charge of Turkey ended much the same way, with failure to reach Euro 2012.

Hiddink's next stop, his first permanent club job since 2006, was at Anzhi Makhachkala, the pet project of Suleyman Kerimov, the Russian mineral tycoon. He spent 18 months at the club before Kerimov pulled the plug.

Hiddink did not work again until he took charge of the Netherlands last year. When that KNVB delegation arrived at his door this summer, ready to deliver the bad news, the consensus seemed to be that his time among the elite was over.

The offers he received after his dismissal seemed to confirm that.

The best was from current Premier League leaders Leicester City, ironically, but he turned it down because "it was too close" to his departure from the Netherlands job.

Now, all of a sudden, he finds himself pitched in with the big beasts again. He has one last chance to prove de Boer wrong.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline 'CHANCE TO END WILD GUUS CHASE'. Print Edition | Subscribe