Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hiddink's Anzhi choice says it all

They say you should never meet your heroes.

Or see them sign for Anzhi Makhachkala.

When Guus Hiddink last week signed on to manage the pseudo-Dagestan-based club, it opened the eyes of several admirers to the single greatest driving factor behind his choice of clubs.

Hiddink is held in lofty esteem across most of Australia, the greater part of Holland, significant chunks of Russia, the entirety of South Korea and certain isolated boroughs in West London.  His reputation stretches far further.  He tolerates lesser esteem in Madrid and Turkey.

Since a late-career-defining spell in charge of home nation South Korea at the 2002 World Cup, there have been certain threads which have emerged from his plethora of management appointments.  At his success stories, his charges have been unified and played fluid football true to his football education where his professors were Johans Cruyff and Neeskens.

His managerial stock-in-trade is simple, yet effective: empowerment without toadying.  This took a spirited Australia within minutes of the quarter-finals at Germany 2006 and empowered a fractious Russia unit at Euro 2008.  At club level, his mid-decade PSV Eindhoven units were an Eredivisie power while he’s the only manager this side of Mourinho to coax consistency from the Chelsea cabal.

But with his last half-dozen assignments, the most striking aspect has not been the customary “Hiddink effect” – though that has been there.  What’s most conspicuous is how devoted Guus Hiddink has been to obeying Deep Throat.

Hiddink, like no other manager of the past decade, has been utterly beguiled by cash.  His continued “close” association with Abramovich – and now Suleyman Kerimov – has once and for all exemplified Guus’ priorities beyond the doubts of even his most ardent supporters.  His choice of clubs isn’t predicated upon the “project”, challenge, lifestyle or ambition but purely money.  A reported 12 million pounds can assuage a lot of doubts.

Where others, like Sven-Goran Eriksson, may be opportunistic, dating back to his lucrative Australia deal, Hiddink has specifically chosen positions which offer the highest remuneration.  Especially given his stoush with the Dutch tax agency, he is well within his rights to do so, but such a decision shears away some of the charm that’s made him loved in so many countries. 

A player, coach or administrator is robbed of much of their appeal by a mercenary nature; and despite the patently vast/unresistable/ridiculous sums of money involved in this deal the same is true with Hiddink – a man whose easygoing manner has seen him generally avoid any muck slung his direction.

Accepting the position in charge of Anzhi doesn’t discredit his redoubtable coaching skills, tactical ingenuity or personal integrity.  It just throws his decision-making process into the public eye and lays bare latent reasons that romantic sports fans would prefer remained obscure.  He will be lauded in Australia – also in South Korea, Russia, Chelsea and Holland – but his walk-on-water act has been proven not as the works of the apostle Paul but of Paul Daniels.

In fact, while many or most will wish him well in Dagestan – or Moscow, as the case may be – there is only likely to be one person actively excited for him in his new job.  That’s the man whose own job security was inherently tied to Hiddink’s availability, Chelsea boss and former Abramovich paramour, Andre Villas-Boas.  Villas-Boas, who now displays the same clear thinking that marked Phil Brown’s period as part-time Samaritan.

Since his adroit patch-up job in 2008, Hiddink has been the nominal successor to any floundering Chelsea boss.  Only purest naievete would suggest his acceptance of Dagestani employment was an act of altruism aimed at shoring up Villas-Boas' faltering reign - Guus Hiddink may be many things, but tends to pragmatism, not philanthropy.

To the outsider, there is something unsavoury about the close relationships he enjoys with Russian billionaires.  If clubs such as Chelsea and Anzhi are often seen as playthings, Guus Hiddink becomes by association nothing more than a well-paid Ken doll brought in to complete Kerimov’s brand-new Barbie set.  One can only hope he is content in such a role.

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