Chelsea were widely regarded as favourites to win the league this year after Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed.
The World Cup winning manager was surely a step up from the inexperienced Avram Grant, claimed those who were making the predictions, therefore by default Chelsea would make that step from the second placed team in the country to the best.
I did argue at the time that no South American World Cup winning manager had made a success of a domestic career in Europe. I also mentioned that my mam could have won the World Cup with that Brazilian side. I also questioned how much success he’d actually had with Portugal, given their Euro 2004 final defeat to Greece of all teams, despite playing on their home turf.
I guess I just wasn’t prepared to jump on the bandwagon.
Seven months after being appointed, Scolari was sacked, with United four points clear with two games in hand.
Well, that’s them out of the title race, I thought. No manager they could get half way through a season would be up to the standard required to mount a serious title challenge.
Then Guus Hiddink got the job.
A Proven Track Record
Hiddink rightly has a great reputation as a manager following the great work he’s put in to national and club teams.
He managed to get rid of the bitching culture with Holland whilst he was there, employing attractive football and stamping down on the rows that ravaged the team previously. He took them to the World Cup semi-finals before they were knocked out on penalties by Brazil.
South Korea featured in five consecutive World Cups before Hiddink took the job, but had failed to win a single match! However, in the group stages Hiddink’s team beat Portugal and Poland, as well as drawing against the USA, progressing to the next round on top of the group. They went on to beat Italy in the Round of 16, then Spain in the quarter-finals. Hiddink was in the World Cup semi-finals again, but South Korea were beaten by Germany, although nobody could argue they hadn’t massively overachieved.
The next World Cup came around and Hiddink was in charge of Australia, who hadn’t qualified for 32 years before his appointment and never scored a goal or won a game in the competition. Hiddink focused on improving their defence which earnt them qualification. In their first game at the World Cup under Hiddink they beat Japan 3-1. They were defeated by Brazil before drawing with Croatia to earn them a place in the next round for the first time in their history. Unfortunately for them, they were drawn against eventual winners Italy, who only won thanks to an extremely controversial 95th minute penalty.
Two years later he had guided Russia to Euro 2008 and progressed past the group stages after beating Sweden and holders Greece. Russia beat Holland 3-1 in the quarter-finals before being drawn against eventual winners Spain in the semis, where they lost.
It’s not just International football where Hiddink has thrived though, with his time at PSV in particularly standing out. He won six league titles with them as well as the European Cup. In his second stint at the club he guided them to the Champions League semi-finals where they were knocked out on away goals thanks to a 91st minute goal from AC Milan in PSV’s 3-1 victory.
Future at Chelsea?
Since taking over the shambles that was the Scolari regime, Hiddink has inspired confidence in the players again. Chelsea’s title challenge is not dead in the water anymore; they are currently carrying a massive advantage in the Champions League after their 3-1 victory at Anfield. He’s been a big hit with the players who are keen for him to stay on next season.
However, Hiddink has honourably ruled himself out of the job, most recently last week.
“I have my contract with Russia and I do it whole-heartedly,” Hiddink said. “Two years ago, we renewed it and we are educating the young players in Russia now as well. The moral standards are sometimes going up and down in our business but I want to see it through to the end. Nobody has spoken to me about it at Chelsea as it was clear beforehand.
It’s about the Russian players as well. They are not officially involved in making a decision in ending a contract which has not yet expired but they are part of this process. I was the initiator to renew a lot of things with them. I am not a great moralist of the world but I owe to the players. I am challenging them all the time and, with all the respect, they could blame me for not standing to my own values. It’s very important for me to stick to my word.”
Morals and fulfilling obligations are rare in football these days, so to see a man so intent on ensuring he behaves in a respectable way is refreshing to see. He made a commitment to Russia and wants to see it out. Whilst Chelsea would certainly pay him a hell of a lot more, there is no hint of him begrudging his commitments or trying to weasel out of them.
Regardless, Chelsea captain John Terry sadly seems to think Hiddink’s word and morals are good for nothing.
“Things have gone very well and I’m sure there will be talks ongoing,” Terry said this week. “If we keep progressing there’s only going to be one option. Jose was a great manager and had some great times here. But it’s someone else’s turn now to kick on. Mourinho is a world class manager, a lot of the players are still in contact with him. But we need stability at the club now. The manager’s done brilliantly and got us playing freely. But it’s down to the board to make those decisions.”
Maybe Terry’s love for Chelsea means he sees the pull of his club being incredibly strong or maybe he’s spent too long at Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea and thinks they can always get their own way if they throw a tonne of money at the situation, but it’s clear JT thinks Hiddink will tell Russia where to go this summer.
I hope Terry is wrong for several reasons. Firstly, Chelsea will be a much greater threat with Hiddink than without. Secondly, it would be good to see someone in football do the right thing rather than the thing that earns them more money, without being forced. And thirdly, for an entirely selfish reason, that maybe Hiddink could be the man to replace Sir Alex.
The Not So Special One (TNSSO)
Jose Mourinho has been vying for the Manchester United job, talking about how wonderful our team is and claiming nobody would turn down the United job, with our manager even mentioning him as a possibility. He has a ‘big personality’ so therefore has been made the favourite to replace Ferguson, without any of the basics being considered.
The reason why Mourinho should never become United manager should form a brick wall to keep him away from Old Trafford. United pride themselves on attacking football, something established within the roots of the club back with Sir Matt Busby. With Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, Mourinho played controlled football, with their strength being their ability not to concede rather than their ability to dazzle and relentlessly attack their opponents.
I’ve heard people say Mourinho could change, but I’m not entirely sure where the evidence for this is. His successful career has been based on defensive football, not attacking football, and switching between the two isn’t an easy thing to do. I’ve heard people say that Mourinho wouldn’t be able to play defensive football with the attacking players we have, but like he did at Chelsea with the likes of Robben, Duff and Gudjohnsen, he’d just get rid of them and bring in solid central midfielders instead.
With Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, Mourinho has made no effort to bring young players through the ranks. The focus on youth is again something in the foundations of this club, going back to the Busby Babes and seen most recently in the faith put in Federico Macheda by our manager.
Sir Alex Ferguson has built his Manchester United team time and again, winning the Premiership with every team and winning the European Cup with two of them. Whilst people are quick to talk about the money spent by Ferguson, it is forgotten that Ron Atkinson had left us in the relegation zone when Ferguson took over.
Three and a half years later, United had won the FA Cup, their first trophy in five years. The following year it was European success, in the form of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Super Cup, beating Barcelona and European Champions Red Star Belgrade. The following year it was the League Cup, then after that the long succession of League titles, FA Cups and European Cups.
Mourinho took over at Porto after they had finished second in the league, one point off top spot. He turned them from the second best team by one point in Portugal to the best team in Portugal. After United were denied victory by the linesman against Porto, Mourinho’s team had the easiest route to the final in years, taking on Lyon, Deportivo and Monaco to win the trophy. A European Cup is a European Cup, but Mourinho didn’t have to play the best teams in Europe that year.
At Chelsea, he turned the second best team in England to the best team in England. A team that had been built by Ranieri, with Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben, Claude Makelele, Petr Cech, Joe Cole, John Terry, Eidur Gudjohsen, Damien Duff, William Gallas, Wayne Bridge all there before Mourinho. Chelsea had reached the semi-finals in Europe the season before Mourinho took over, something never bettered by Jose.
The squad that Avram Grant was left with was considerably worse than the one Mourinho had been given, despite hundreds of millions of pounds spent. Chelsea’s best players were in their 30s. Where were their future replacements?
John Obi Mikel was brought in as a Makelele replacement, but who’s supposed to be taking over from Lampard? Steve Sidwell? Who can replace the goals scored by Drogba? Salomon Kalou? Who will step up to the plate when Terry and Carvalho are gone? Tal Ben-Haim and Khalid Boulahrouz? There was absolutely no plan for the future with Mourinho’s Chelsea, which is why they were eight points behind United on the day the title was won during Jose’s last full season and why Chelsea have won nothing since.
Inter Milan won the title for three consecutive years before Mourinho took over. They will win the league again this year but are out of the Champions League and the Coppa Italia, which they won the two years before Mourinho took the job.
With Manchester United, maybe Mourinho would win a title or two, again being given one of the best, if not the best, team in the league. But as the years went by, he’d sell off our flair players, he’d adopt a defensive style of football and would have no idea who to buy to replace Rooney or Vidic or Carrick or Evra.
I’m not trying to belittle Mourinho’s success or make out like he’s a rubbish manager, because that isn’t my belief at all. You don’t win the trophies he’s won without having skill and without being able to motivate players. I just want more than what Mourinho has on offer in Ferguson’s replacement.
Whilst I generally tend to stick my head in the sand whenever replacing Ferguson is mentioned, like many reds, given we would rather pretend it’s not going to happen, I find it hard even to think of managers up to the job. Martin O’Neill recently became my favourite for Ferguson’s replacement, that is until he showed gutlessness in giving up on the UEFA Cup in pursuit of a top four place he won’t get. Whilst former Chelsea man Mourinho gets all the attention when this topic is brought about, Guus Hiddink slips under the radar. Would he cut the mustard at United? I’d say so!
Whilst he may be remembered more for his success in International football, just like Scolari, Hiddink actually has a European domestic pedigree to support his cause too, thanks to what he achieved with PSV and the improvements he’s made in such a short period of time at Chelsea. It wouldn’t be a gamble appointing him as Ferguson’s replacement.
We don’t have to look much further than the example of our very own Park Ji-Sung to see Hiddink’s faith in youth. Park had just turned 19-years-old when Hiddink was appointed South Korea manager and his International career was all but over. As a failed defensive midfielder, it looked as though his future was destined to be with Japan’s Division 2 Kyoto Purple Sanga.
Hiddink believed in Park though, bringing him back in to the International squad and shifting his position to the wing. Two years later, a 21-year-old Park scored the winning goal for South Korea against Portugal, ensuring they got out of the group at the expense of the European Championship semi-finalists. He also scored in the penalty shoot-out against Spain to see his team progress to the semi-finals.
Guus then took Park with him to PSV where he shone, particularly in the 3-1 win over AC Milan in the European Cup semi-final. It was this game which saw Park attract attention from all over Europe, with Manchester United successfully securing a deal for him that summer. He has since won two Premiership titles, two League Cups, and is now the captain of his country, having earned 77 caps and 116 appearances for United. He has Hiddink to thank for his career.
Now, my opinion of Hiddink hinges on him staying true to his word. However, with another year to go on his Russian contract, we could do a lot worse than bringing him to United next year. He can play the football we enjoy, he has proved a success with European domestic football, he values youth, he commands a great deal of respect, he’s an honourable man and he even got pissed with George Best! Should United be considering him? I certainly hope so.