Wednesday 17 January 2018

Chelsea's troubles need a dictator not a diplomat

Guus Hiddink will have plenty to consider on his summer holiday, says Paul Hayward

T he owner hires and fires -- and the senior players are way too powerful -- but the pay-offs are tasty. Is there more to managing Chelsea now than staying friends with John Terry and surviving Roman Abramovich's megalomania? Guus Hiddink must think so if he leaves his job with Turkey for a second stint at Stamford Bridge.

Instinct said Hiddink loved his three months in charge in 2009, but was also relieved to get away. For him, the Premier League turned out to be a blast. Games came in waves, the players were glad to have seen the back of Luiz Felipe Scolari and there was an FA Cup win to cherish on the journey back to Russia.

But you sensed all along that 'Goose' had no real urge to take the Chelsea job full-time. Life in the Premier League seemed a touch too manic for a manager who has spent much of the decade coaching national teams: South Korea, Australia, Russia and now Turkey, whose 1-1 draw with Belgium he oversaw on Friday night.

After that match, he spoke enigmatically of his future and thus strengthened his position as favourite for Carlo Ancelotti's old role, ahead of the likes of Harry Redknapp and Mark Hughes. Asked whether Turkey's players would ever call him boss again, Hiddink said: "I can't answer that. Everything is fluid. My time at Chelsea was a beautiful time. Everybody knows that. I still have a contract with Turkey, but, at my age, when some issues come up, you always have to talk about them."

To English reporters later he added: "I hope you understand that this is difficult and I need people to respect that. I am going on holiday now and I have a plane to catch."

To call him a reluctant candidate would be pushing it, but you can bet this week's wage he would prefer the director of football's office, from where he could bring Dutch expertise and contacts to the reconstruction. And Chelsea do need a new trick. The old core of Terry, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba can no longer achieve by force what it lacks in subtlety.

This is not to disparage a stellar age. Three Premier League titles and a trio of FA Cups from 2005-2010 were a bountiful harvest. But then Abramovich turned really nasty, sacking Ancelotti at Goodison Park straight after the last game of the season and before the double-winning manager of 2010 had even made it on to the team bus.

Europe remains unconquered by Abramovich's wealth. Hiddink himself came close to the Grail, marshalling his 2009 Chelsea side impressively until hallucinogenic refereeing by Tom Henning Ovrebo swung a Champions League semi-final Barcelona's way.

So when Terry says Hiddink would "hit the ground running" he means there would be no further cultural revolution at the training ground. He even expressed delight that "the training schedules" would remain unchanged. This is the kind of pre-emptive peacock feather-spreading that Hiddink, 64, is entitled to be wary of. "Is he [Terry] the president of Chelsea now?' he joked on Friday night. At Stamford Bridge he will have seen pockets of power everywhere: cabals around Abramovich and the board, and inside the dressing room, where last winter's prolonged collapse in form affirmed the old gang's inability to revive the team by committee.

Whoever manages Chelsea next will have no difficulty picking out the areas of stagnation and regression. The club's supporters are united in their belief that Paulo Ferreira, Henrique Hilario, Jose Bosingwa and Nicolas Anelka should be moved on, and many are cool on Mikel John Obi, Florent Malouda (too much of a mood player) and Yuri Zhirkov. Essien looks handicapped by old injuries. The Drogba-Fernando Torres incompatibility problem also requires solving -- urgently.

To restore the fountain of youth and freshness, the new man will have to have autonomy, and will not want to arrive at the training ground one morning to find an Andriy Shevchenko or Torres gift-wrapped in Russian ribbons.

Through Abramovich's meddling, Chelsea are at the point where managers will regard the vacant post not as an opportunity to build a self-renewing squad capable of dominating Europe, but a survival exercise with a fat cheque at the end.

No club can prosper in these circumstances beyond perhaps a five-year cycle. Chelsea are at the end of theirs now, but can still assume a fresh identity if the manager is recognised as the most important employee at the club. In his caretaker role first time around, Hiddink could afford to play the diplomat who was helping an old friend in distress. The next man in will need to break the power of players whose influence would not be tolerated at other superpower clubs -- and stand up to Abramovich, usually the quick route to redundancy.


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