Poor results and internal strife leaves Advocaat feeling the pressure ahead of crunch encounter
Published 08/10/2010 | 05:00
When Aiden McGeady related his first experiences of Russia to us a few days ago, he spoke of how each morning he greets everyone with a shake of the hand rather than the normal muffled "Morning" he had been used to.
One suspects Russia boss Dick Advocaat is not likely to replicate such a quaint custom as the Dutchman strides into the lushly carpeted press amphitheatre at Lansdowne Road.
"You are always provoking me," he insists at one stage when someone wonders why two players replaced the injured Roman Pavlyuchenko.
"He will be sacked if Russia lose," says the man from Russian TV afterwards. Under siege after the home reverse against Slovakia, the 63-year-old much-travelled gun for hire could soon find the shooter pointed in his direction.
"Extra pressure?" he wonders. "There is always extra pressure in qualification games, especially after the defeat against Slovakia. We know the importance of this game, that we need to draw or win. We cannot afford to lose."
Not labelled 'Tricky Dicky' for fun, Advocaat is already insisting tonight's encounter does not represent a 'must win' game.
"Our intention always is to win the game so we go out for a victory, but if we feel that a draw is enough, I can understand that because four of our last five matches are at home," he says.
But lose here this evening and the Russians may barely afford him the time to pack his roubles in his suitcase and get out of town.
However, having walked out on contracts with the UAE, Belgium and Australia -- "I admit I went for the money," he told the furious Socceroos -- the lugubrious Advocaat won't be left impoverished should football failure be his lot.
Born in the working-class Transvaal district of The Hague on September 27, 1947, the golden generation of 'total football' passed by Advocaat's door; his was a mundane career of destruction, his imperfect skills deployed with equally limited outfits.
An accidental coach, his ascension to prominence was shockingly sudden; Rinus Michels' appointment of him in 1984 as national team assistant surprised many observers.
Soon, 'The General' -- coach of the sublime 1974 Dutch team who invented 'total football' -- would groom the 'Little General'.
"When I go to the toilet, I take my notebook with me," he would say later of his renowned intensity.
After a brief spell in club management, where he horrified aesthetes by playing defensive football, he once more linked up with Michels when the Dutch qualified for Euro '92.
He graduated to the top job after that, qualifying for the quarter-finals of USA '94 but losing a disenchanted Ruud Gullit in the process. Then he returned to club-level management at PSV Eindhoven before, incongruously, rejecting Real Madrid in favour of Rangers in 1998.
One suspects football philosophy wasn't the prime motivating factor. Advocaat was allowed to spend transfer money at will but was trumped by Martin O'Neill's Celtic in his final year; it could be argued Rangers are still paying the price a decade later.
A return to national management for a second spell ended as acrimoniously as the first. He hauled off Arjen Robben as the Dutch vainly chased an equaliser against Portugal in the semi-final of Euro 2004. Style, not substance, matters to the Dutch.
So Advocaat flew the coop once more, pitching up in several destinations but rarely staying long, although he is invariably successful, as a UEFA Cup success with Russian side Zenit St Petersburg testifies.
At Rangers, Scottish journalists remember him spending much of his time at Ibrox; he lived alone and never socialised. In Russia, his existence is sometimes equally surreal. "They had a hundred sports channels and I kept seeing my face on television but didn't understand what they were saying about me," he once recalled of his early days in St Petersburg.
"That helped, especially at the beginning when results were not good and the fans were booing me."
Reputedly on a salary that surpasses that of even Fabio Capello -- he is thought to be on a cool €7m -- Gazprom, the mammoth gas company, now pick up the tab once paid by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
But successive home defeats to Bulgaria and, more crucially, Slovakia in their Euro 2012 qualifier, not to mention internal fissures and a suspect relationship with his captain Andrey Arshavin, all add up to a pressure cooker atmosphere.
"I don't believe Russia will win," says former player Aleksandr Panov. "I think it will end in tears. The attitude will be everything."
Advocaat's attitude must permeate through to the players.
"We have a way of playing and if everyone contributes we have a good side," he says. "We have shown that in the past that they can play good football. They need to be confident in themselves."
Whether they are confident in their manager remains to be seen. Otherwise, they may be shaking hands for the last time.