Chelsea's Forgotten Man: Why Guus Hiddink Should Be England Manager

Fabio Capello must be replaced, but by who? Fleet Street and several high-profile names are calling for an English manager, here's why The F.A should go begging to former Chelsea man Guus Hiddink...
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Fabio Capello must be replaced, but by who? Fleet Street and several high-profile names are calling for an English manager, here's why The F.A should go begging to former Chelsea man Guus Hiddink...

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Fabio Capello must be replaced, but by who? Fleet Street and several high-profile names are calling for an English manager, here's why The F.A should go begging to former Chelsea man Guus Hiddink...

The last time there was a huge national consensus to anoint “the people’s choice” as manager of the England football team we ended up with Kevin Keegan. The last time there was an insistence on appointing an Englishman for the job after what was deemed an unsuccessful foreign coach we ended up with Steve McLaren. It is deeply ironic that at a time when racism has returned to the front and back pages the Fleet Street mob and every Tom, Dick and Harry is insisting we make an appointment based solely on nationality. Michael Owen is quoted to have said that “the manager down to the tea lady should be English”. How absurd. On that basis I agree that Harry Redknapp would be the best Englishman for the job closely followed by Roy Hodgson. Beyond that? Stuart Pearce? No thanks.

The lack of foreign names in the debate about who should replace Fabio Capello is frightening and bewildering. The only man who gets an occasional mention is the Special One himself - Jose Mourinho - but in this respect people are making the same mistake as they made before hiring Capello – Mourinho has no experience at international level. Before he took the England job Capello’s record at club level was outstanding but his inexperience and naivety about the peculiarities and nuances of tournament football were cruelly exposed in South Africa.

If you want a man who has been a successful manager at club and international level and who has taken three different countries to the semi-finals of a major tournament then step forward Guus Hiddink. And before you ask - the Dutchman speaks perfect English as well as several other languages. Hiddink’s record at international level is exceptional. In 1994 he became manager of the Dutch national team that, at the time, was a collection of talented but underperforming individuals who had a tendency for internal arguments and disputes. Sounds familiar? While Holland endured a disappointing Euro 96 campaign that saw a humiliating 4-1 defeat to England before bowing out in the quarter-finals to France on penalties, he wasn’t afraid to confront the big names in the Dutch dressing room. At Euro ’96 Hiddink sent home Edgar Davids and two years later at France 98 the Dutch squad was united and focused as they beat Argentina in the quarter-finals before being knocked out in the last four by the runners-up Brazil on penalties.

If you want a man who has been a successful manager at club and international level and who has taken three different countries to the semi-finals of a major tournament then step forward Guus Hiddink.

Hiddink’s next international assignment saw him take a South Korea team to new heights and concluded with him being hailed as a god in Seoul and beyond. Yes, Hiddink enjoyed home advantage and some favourable refereeing decisions throughout the 2002 World Cup, but his side knocked out Portugal, Italy and Spain before succumbing to Germany in the semi-final. Not bad for a team that hadn’t recorded a single victory in their five previous World Cup tournaments.

Next up was an Australian team that hadn’t qualified for the World Cup in 32 years. Not only did Hiddink get that monkey off the Aussies back, but in Germany the Socceroos recorded their first ever win in the World Cup finals. Eventual winners Italy knocked out Australia in the last 16 with a controversial penalty, but once again Hiddink had enhanced his international reputation. Despite a Sydney newspaper proposing a nationwide “Guus Tax” to supplement his wages and keep him in Australia the Russian FA agreed to pay him a king’s ransom to move to Moscow.

At Euro 2008 Russia played some outstanding football and, after defeating Holland in the quarter-finals, finally succumbed to eventual winners Spain. His tenure with Russia came to a disappointing end in 2010 and his 20 months in charge of the Turkey national team was deemed a failure, but Hiddink’s credentials are impeccable. At club level he won the European Cup with PSV Eindhoven, the Intercontinental Cup with Real Madrid and who can forget how he transformed a demoralised Chelsea dressing room half way through the 2008/2009 season to suffer only one defeat and, in his final match, secure the FA Cup with victory over Everton. Both Chelsea fans and players begged Hiddink to stay, but maybe he has unfinished business in England.

Hiddink’s credentials are impeccable. At club level he won the European Cup with PSV Eindhoven, the Intercontinental Cup with Real Madrid and who can forget how he transformed a demoralised Chelsea dressing room half way through the 2008/2009 season to suffer only one defeat and, in his final match, secure the FA Cup with victory over Everton.

The clamour for an English coach is remarkable with some inadvertently downgrading the abilities and experience required to succeed at international level. Former England captain Alan Shearer has said that international football is “largely about man-management”. This is exactly the argument that pushed Kevin Keegan to the top of the FA’s list in 1999. Two years later and Gareth Southgate was being deployed as a defensive midfielder and after a crushing 1-0 defeat to Germany at Wembley Keegan was gone declaring that he didn’t have what it takes. Every England player at that time admits that Keegan was a great man-manager, but everybody else could see that tactically he was completely clueless. While I thoroughly enjoyed watching Spurs in the Champions League last season Harry Redknapp’s tactical nous was shown up by several teams. They were outplayed by Young Boys in Bern in the qualifying round and in the Group Stages conceded 9 goals away from home including a 4-3 defeat to Internazionale and a 3-3 draw to FC Twente. In the knock-out stages Spurs were magnificent in overcoming AC Milan but a 5-0 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the last eight brought Spurs fans back down to earth.

Like Keegan, Redknapp is a ‘momentum man’ who specialises in arriving at a club, spending lots of money, wheeling and dealing and giving the team an immediate boost in performances and results. The ‘Redknapp effect’ rarely has any longevity. In nearly 30 years of management he has won one FA Cup. That success came by defeating Preston North End, Ipswich, Plymouth, West Brom, Manchester United and Cardiff City.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Redknapp is a very good club manager. Steve McLaren was a good club manager, so too was Keegan and Eriksson. Capello was a great club manager. International football has unique demands and pressures. Guus Hiddink has an unrivalled reputation for taking national teams that have a history of underperforming and internal division to success at major tournaments. The FA should learn the lesson of Keegan’s appointment and ignore the jingoistic clamour of players, fans and the media to appoint an Englishman ahead of the best man for the job. But they won’t and our history of underachievement will continue.

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