Last weekend’s FA Cup final merely served to rubberstamp what we all knew anyway, Guus Hiddink is something of a managerial genius. Indeed, it is a testament to how the Dutchman has gotten his Chelsea side to perform over these past 3 months, that even when Everton opened the scoring at Wembley, there was still an inevitable sense that they would recover to turn it around.
So it proved, with the Blues of SW6 clicking into gear and putting in a display typical of the Hiddink era, effortlessly overpowering their Merseyside opponents on the way to one of the most comfortable 2-1 wins you are ever likely to see.
But despite the near perfect ending, the wily old Dutch master will have left Wembley on Saturday, after all the celebrations, the cigar smoking and the dancing with Roman Abramovich had finished, with the nagging sense that there is unfinished business between him and the Kings Road club. Hiddink knows that while his Chelsea record of 22 games, 16 wins, 5 draws and a solitary defeat may be outstanding and the Cup win memorable, the real prizes have eluded him.
The man from Varsseveld is nothing if not a born winner, and the fact that he arrived at Chelsea too late to mount a serious Premier League challenge, and that his side were desperately unlucky not to reach the Champions League final will be scant consolation to him. In particular, that most dramatic of nights at Stamford Bridge against Barcelona will live long in the memory, with the sense of injustice still as strong now as it was then, as he admitted in the build up to Saturday’s Final.
Equally for Chelsea, a period of transition is on the horizon, and they need desperately to re-establish some kind of stability. Star performers like Lampard, Carvalho, Ballack and Drogba are all north of 30, and soon thoughts will have to go to who is going to replace them. Another worry is the form of goalkeeper Petr Cech, who has developed a David James-like Jekyll and Hyde approach to goalkeeping, whereby stunning saves are followed up swiftly by Sunday League howlers. These are both problems and they need to be addressed, but at the minute it is impossible for any kind of long-term plans to be implemented with the revolving door policy the club has, with new man Carlo Ancelotti being the 7th of Abramovich’s reign.
Stability of course is going to be difficult to find when everybody at the club, from the chairman to the players to the fans really knows that the manager they want, they can’t have. Such is the strong feeling for Hiddink around that particular area of South London, it is almost an impossible job for any new manager, even one as decorated as Carlo Ancelotti.
Looking at it objectively, Ancelotti may well be the better man for Chelsea. Two recent Champions League wins and the ability to get the most out of players older than time itself, it seems a match made in heaven. But in football, perception is 9/10ths of the law, and the current perception at Chelsea is that Hiddink is the man for the job, and anyone else is effectively just keeping his seat in the dugout warm. The Italian will need to win over the entire club, without being able to speak any real English or having any experience of English football, an uphill task to say the least.
Ancelotti’s English is improving, but it’s far from perfect, and it’s going to prove to be a massive obstacle to overcome. You could argue that not being fluent in the language has been no barrier for Fabio Capello, but the day to day running of club management is a world apart from that at international level, especially at Chelsea.
The Stamford Bridge dressing room is one filled with big ego’s that need the kind of man management that the likes of Hiddink and Mouriniho can offer, and it’s hard to see Ancelotti inspiring a similar level of devotion among his players without being able to speak the language.
There will be a brief honeymoon period, after all, Ancelotti’s past achievements deserve that at least, but after a couple of early season losses the vultures will start to circle. The spectre of Hiddink is one that will loom large over Stamford Bridge, and it is likely that fans and players alike at Chelsea will always have at least one eye on the fortunes of the Russian side, hoping that they fail to qualify for the World Cup.
Indeed, should Russia be unsuccessful in their quest to reach the finals in South Africa, Hiddink will be available from around October time onwards. Can a man even as reknowned as Ancelotti succeed with the Dutch master waiting in the wings on his white horse ready to save Chelseas season all over again?
The result? Inevitable. As good a manager as Carlo Ancelotti is, he appears to be on a hiding to nothing, and Hiddink will return to Chelsea. It is only a matter of when.