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Hiddink could provide twist in the tale

23 Feb 2009(Mon)

February 20, 2009: Who would rule Chelsea out of the title race in England as Guus Hiddink takes charge to the end of the season?

Although Manchester United look in ominous form, and Liverpool their main threat, anything can happen with Hiddink now in control at Stamford Bridge.

He is one of the top coaches and man-managers in the world game, and has strong links in Asia having led South Korea at the 2002 World Cup and Australia four years later.

The first time I interviewed him, though, was at Yomiuri Land in 1998. He was preparing Real Madrid for the Toyota Cup against Vasco Da Gama, a match Madrid would win 2-1 thanks to Raul's sumptuous late goal.

The Real Madrid training session had been very eventful, not least because Clarence Seedorf and Ivan Campo had to be separated by teammates after coming to blows during an angry exchange.

Hiddink was very calm after the training session, saying such a bust-up was all part of football, just a clash of personalities. Campo, of course, would go on to be a big success in English football with Bolton Wanderers.

A few years later, in March 2002, I called in on a South Korea training session before they played Tunisia in a World Cup warm-up in Tunis.

Hiddink was in a furious mood, refusing to speak to the travelling pack of Korean media because they had been giving him a hard time and questioning his commitment to the cause.

Fortunately, Pim Verbeek was Hiddink's No. 2, and through my dealings with Pim in Japan he approached Hiddink as the middle man.

Hiddink called me away from the Korean press and very kindly gave me a few minutes of his time, during which his frustration was evident.

The Korean media wanted him out, and I remember writing an article at the time that the JFA should make a move for Hiddink now to succeed Troussier after the 2002 World Cup.

Events would make that impossible, just a few months down the road.

Now Hiddink is doing two jobs, looking after Chelsea as a favour to Roman Abramovich while keeping his main work as head coach of Russia.

With so few commitments in international football, you often wonder if the work of a national coach could be part-time alongside the role of a club coach.

When Pim was back in Japan recently for the Australia match, conversation over coffee on Monday afternoon turned in this direction.

On Monday morning Pim had just three players in town, with more due that day. What can a national coach do in such a situation?

Scott McDonald could have arrived earlier, with Celtic's consent, just like Shunsuke, but Pim said he was better off playing for Celtic at the weekend rather than coming to Japan and training alone.

Hiddink has already said he will stand down at the Bridge at the end of the season, and concentrate only on Russia, but this relaxed mindset and nothing-to-lose approach may yet bring a late twist to the Premier League tale.


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