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Champions League: A Dutch treat in store as Barcelona prepare to face Chelsea

25 Apr 2009 22:04:10

Champions League: A Dutch treat in store as Barcelona prepare to face Chelsea

Johan Cruyff (300 league games) leads the way, followed by the great Rinus Michels (204), Frank Rijkaard (190) and Louis van Gaal (133). The legacy of this Dutch influence is profound and the current side, without a Dutch player and managed by Catalan, is still infused with that Oranje philosophy. The two men Roman Abramovich consults most closely on football matters are also Dutchmen. The Russian's football decisions are taken with the advice of Dutch talent scout Piet de Visser, and it was he who apparently recommended Guus Hiddink for the Russia job.  Related ArticlesMessi Maradona's heirGuus Hiddink has guile to sort out Chelsea?s defensive problemsRoman Abramovich must decide on Chelsea or Russia for Guus HiddinkRoman Pavlyuchenko inspires Russia victory as Guus Hiddink hints at Chelsea futureAlex shows true worth under Guus HiddinkGuus Hiddink says Chelsea should model themselves on ArsenalHiddink has since become a confidant of Abramovich and it is doubtful he would have taken interim charge of any other club than the one owned by his friend. The Dutch way - total football played with three forwards - is undoubtedly alluring to Abramovich an ideal for how he wants to Chelsea to be. It is well known that he grew dissatisfied with the pragmatic method of winning that Jose Mourinho developed and craves a team that can win in style. There are no problems in that department for Barcelona. Over the last two decades, from the "Dream Team" assembled by Johan Cruyff in the late Eighties to Frank Rijkaard's expansive, Ronaldinho-inspired European champions, Barcelona have flown at an aesthetic altitude beyond other football clubs. When they have got it right, there has been no more attractive expression of winning football. Will Abramovich feel envy on at the Nouo Camp on Tuesday? There is every chance Chelsea's physical approach will destabilise Barcelona's regal demeanour, but then it is not just about winning. Josep Guardiola's side have hit a new plane of attacking verve, prompted by the magnificent Xavi and executed by the trident of Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi. The Barcelona manager, who played under Cruyff, has tightened up the defence but it is in attack that his side are performing wonders. This season they have so far scored an astonishing 138 goals in all competitions. Barcelona have scored 92 goals in the league alone whereas Chelsea, who have played a game more, have scored 55. Hiddink does not conceal his admiration for a playing style that has its roots in his own country's football tradition. "I like it very much and many people like to see the way Barcelona play," he said. "You almost never see drastic changes in the philosophy of Barcelona - they always sign the kind of coaches who can execute this kind of way of playing. I think that's important." Drastic changes have characterised the last two years at Chelsea. When Mourinho left, in September 2007, he was replaced by Avram Grant - the most unlikely founder of a coaching dynasty - before Luiz Felipe Scolari was brought in last summer with the promise of Brazilian expansiveness. Deco was signed from Barcelona to be the playmaker and the full-backs were encouraged to join the attack, something Mourinho strictly restricted. Deco and Chelsea excelled in the opening games but as opponents found them out the novelty swiftly wore off and results declined. Hiddink's brilliance - aside from his expert man-management - has been to take the best of Mourinho's approach and give it a Dutch twist of his own. The most important reversion is that Didier Drogba has been reinstated as the focus of attack, flanked by two winger-cum forwards. However, the midfield trio of Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien (his return to fitness has been a mighty boon) are encouraged to play with more fluidity and the full-backs are more liberated than they were under Mourinho. Hiddink constantly communicates with his team during games and it is not meaningless shouting but direct tactical instruction. Were Hiddink younger (he is 62) and not tied to his commitments with the Russian national team he might well have gone some way to translating his Dutch ideals onto the Stamford Bridge pitch. But this summer will again bring a change of manager and, apparently, a significant turnover in playing personnel. He may appoint a coach who can win trophies, even one doing it by playing exciting football. But to emulate Barcelona's wealth, you have to earn it, not buy it. As Hiddink said, while the coaches change, the club's philosophy remains stable. Indeed, Chelsea and Barcelona are cultural opposites - not in terms of national culture but club culture. Barcelona is run by its members who elect a board to manage the club; decisions at Chelsea ultimately come down to the whim of one man. That democratic stability of values is essential, it pervades the club and it is recognisable in all the products of Barcelona's outstanding academy, whether Catalan, Spanish or foreign, like Lionel Messi. Chelsea have no comparable sense of identity and their effort to construct a great academy from scratch (often by signing players from rivals) has not yet produced one first-team regular. Chelsea are a well-run, ambitious club. What Mourinho achieved in three years defied credibility. What Hiddink has already achieved in his short tenure has been consistently impressive and could yet get more so. However, Guardiola is only 38, a product of the club's academy and saturated in the club's heritage. He played under Cruyff just as Cruyff had played under Michels. These Catalan-Dutch successions are Barcelona's fabric, they give the club a kind of genetic coherence. What Barcelona are, remains necessarily beyond even the deepest pockets.


Telegraph

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