LONDON • Guus Hiddink used his first public appearance on Wednesday since replacing Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager to make plain to the club's underperforming players that while his job is temporary, his authority is absolute.
He warned that he will give short shrift to anyone who does not show the "desire of an amateur" to turn the team's season around.
In the four days since he embarked on his second interim spell at Stamford Bridge, the Dutchman, 69, is adamant that he has seen no sign of the "palpable discord" and mutinous mood that so fatally undermined Mourinho's regime.
As well as overseeing two training sessions, he called a team meeting at the Cobham training base on Tuesday. He told them that they should not dwell on what had gone wrong this season.
Instead, they must focus on a "mathematical possibility" of bagging a top-four finish.
Guus Hiddink had "big players" in his side when he arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2009.
How do they compare with the current squad?
Petr Cech: A quiet but authoritative presence.
John Terry: The club captain in his prime, and the heartbeat of the side.
Frank Lampard: A symbol of the Roman Abramovich era and a fans' idol.
Michael Ballack: The German stood out as much for character as ability.
Didier Drogba: A huge figure who led his team with charisma and power.
Terry: Still of considerable influence in the dressing room. Getting him onside will be crucial.
Branislav Ivanovic: Identified by Hiddink as a leader but struggling badly for form.
Cesc Fabregas: A target for fans over a perceived lack of effort.
Eden Hazard: The outstanding player last season is a peripheral presence this year.
Diego Costa: Such a menace in his first season in England but rendered increasingly ineffective by his constant, snarling sense of injustice.
THE TIMES, LONDON
To achieve that, Hiddink was keen to stress that he should not be seen as a soft touch.
He has urged his players to "look in the mirror" and ask what they can contribute, reminding them that they have a "profound obligation to perform".
Anyone still nursing any sort of grievance, he said, should feel free to discuss it with him.
But be warned that he will have no compunction about cutting the dead wood from his team.
"If you have a temporary boss, he can do (things) in this half a year too," he said. "He can kick you around. There must be a great desire to play. If you don't have that desire, please knock on my door and we'll talk, but we'll talk briefly."
Hiddink believes it is still possible for Chelsea to finish in the Premier League's top four.
The London club, who have lost nine of their opening 17 games, currently lie 15th - just three points above the relegation zone.
"Mathematically, it is possible," he said. "But this league is very strong, which has been especially proven this year with all respect to the clubs at the top - Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Watford... it is amazing and refreshing.
"It means that all the teams can kill each other."
Hiddink's second spell as Chelsea's interim manager begins on Boxing Day against the same opponents he faced in his opening game last time round.
Watford, then of the second tier, were swept aside in an FA Cup fifth-round tie at Vicarage Road six years ago as the caretaker watched Ray Wilkins pick the team.
Tomorrow, Watford arrive at Stamford Bridge 10 points and eight places better off than the faded champions.
Quique Sanchez Flores' side will pose real problems and are anything but ideal rivals to take on first up. A proper test awaits.
But it is a fixture that already has Hiddink's juices flowing.
He has taken up the reins apparently aware of the issues that so undermined Mourinho's position but anxious not to linger on them.
He would prefer to offer everyone a fresh start as he seeks to instigate a revival.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN
CHELSEA V WATFORD
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