Guus Hiddink will want to stay at Chelsea after facing Liverpool in Champions League
04 April 2009 08:13
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Prepared for "You'll Never Walk Alone'', Hiddink's eardrums will be assaulted more by caustic lyrics composed by the Kop for these occasions: "---- off Chelsea FC, you ain't got no history; five European Cups and 18 leagues, that's what we call history''. The thing is, Liverpool versus Chelsea in Europe boasts an incredible history. The curtain rising only in 2005, it has burst into one of the great passion plays of the Champions League.
In eight episodes, comprising three semi-finals and a group-stage encounter, the football has too often been suffused with enmity and controversy. Eidur Gudjohnsen dived to get Xabi Alonso suspended for the second leg in 2005. "Remember Xabi,'' Rafa Benitez told his players before they stormed into Chelsea again.
Remember Mateja Kezman too. Foolishly, he remarked he didn't know "what all the fuss over the Anfield atmosphere was about''. The Kop soon put him right. Luis Garcia's "ghost-goal'' then enraged Jose Mourinho, who still believes the winner never crossed the line. Hysteria was in the making.
The dramas continued the following year, Michael Essien tattooing Didi Hamann's knee with his studs. Amidst all the carnage, true poignancy arrived last season when Frank Lampard converted a penalty days after his beloved mother passed away. Tears glistening in his eyes, his right hand clutching his black armband, Lampard pointed to the heavens. The Bridge wept with him.
Respect has always flowed between the Englishmen engaged in this European conflict, between Lampard and John Terry and Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. Terry sent Gerrard a "good luck'' text before the finals of 2005 and 2007, a compliment returned by Liverpool's captain last year.
Until recently, the managers rarely gave peace a chance. The tension between Benitez and Mourinho, contrasting characters who loathed each other, was reflected in the cautious nature of their six-game history, producing only three goals. Neither Benitez nor Mourinho wanted to give anything away, apart from a dislike for the other.
With Mourinho gone, taking his box of verbal fireworks with him, Benitez opened up against the more genial Avram Grant. After the storms of Mourinho, it rained goals, seven in last season's semi. "I was not distracted before,'' said Benitez, "but you know that some managers want to play too many mind games.
"But with Avram Grant, (Luiz Felipe) Scolari and Hiddink, it is managers who have just been doing their job. Mourinho is a very good manager, but OK, we knew it was a difficult situation because we were both fighting to win massive trophies. Maybe it is part of the game, but I think with Hiddink, we will just be talking about football.''
Good. Hiddink has been around the block, even the Eastern Bloc, so many times that he is above mind games. His reputation secure through his fine work with Russia, South Korea and Australia, let alone winning the European Cup with PSV Eindhoven in 1988, the savvy Dutchman radiates calm authority.
A CV that runs to many pages inevitably impresses players but it is Hiddink's ability to change the course of games, putting out fires and regaining initiatives, that has Chelsea stars praying he will come to some arrangement with the Russian Federation and stay on at the Bridge next season.
During difficult passages of play, footballers glance to the bench for advice and reassurance. Hiddink provides both. Echoing Fabio Capello's belief-enhancing impact on England players, Hiddink stands there, arms often folded, clearly not panicking. He exudes control.
Chelsea's England contingent recall his ability to transform events, the coach of Russia having turned the Euro 2008 qualifier on its head in Moscow by switching from 3-4-3 to 4-4-2. He told his right-sided players to target Joleon Lescott, sent on Roman Pavlyuchenko and Steve McClaren's side fell apart.
Recently, Hiddink omitted John Obi Mikel for sound tactical reasons, inserting Michael Ballack in the holding role because he needed to accommodate the recuperated Essien. Players accepted it because they know the man they call "Boss'' is even-handed and at St James' Park yesterday he restored Mikel.
He absorbs the thoughts of senior players. Each morning, the likes of Lampard and Terry invariably gather first on the training pitch at Cobham. Hiddink joins them, sharing a joke or engaging in more serious debates such as the stadium tragedy in Abidjan, of particular poignancy to Didier Drogba.
When discussing tactical matters, however briefly, the players appreciate feeling involved but they know they are always being scrutinised. Detached but not aloof, Hiddink resembles Sir Alex Ferguson, eyes darting everywhere, checking each player pulls his weight. Nothing escapes him.
Forceful in making his point yet blessed with a dry wit, Hiddink enthuses players. Drogba has gone from toys out the pram to battering ram. Like Ferguson, players respect the hard work Hiddink puts in, arriving early from his London hotel and leaving late.
From the way he immerses himself in Cobham life, he seems in for the long haul. When he gets a taste of Chelsea versus Liverpool in Europe, he will definitely want to stay. Making history is a powerful incentive for great managers like him.