Guus Hiddink is Roman Abramovich’s latest charge at Chelsea, combining the role at Chelsea 'til the end of the season with his head coaching job with the Russian national side. He’s Abramovich and Chelsea’s fourth manager in 17 months. Chelsea fans—and football fans in general—must be wondering what he can do in a short spell with a team that hasn’t played anything like they should in the last year.
Losing the Champions League Final last May was perhaps the end of this Chelsea team’s era, with an ageing squad that cost hundreds of millions to assemble now looking frail and a shadow of their former dominating selves. The fortress that was Stamford Bridge now leaks almost as many goals as it does money; with the latest financial reports showing over £66m in losses already—with Peter Kenyon having until the end of next season to correct this and have the club self-sustaining, and relying less on their sugar daddy oligarch.
The squad that Hiddink has to work with has been widely reported to be fractured, with cliques developed and many key players past their prime. John Terry and Frank Lampard don’t dominate games like they did under Mourinho, Drogba hasn’t been so much phoning in his performances as drunkenly text messaging them and that just emphasises the lack of attacking prowess in a once fearsome lineup.
Gone is the width with the strong centre forward who’d knock defenders about and now it’s £15m Avram Grant signing Nicolas Anelka who’s leading the line, with a supporting cast made up of young and untried strikers like Franco Di Santo. No longer is the width provided by the likes of Arjen Robben, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Damien Duff; now it’s stodgy and ageing central midfielders who’re past their peak like Frank Lampard, Deco, and Michael Ballack who are trying to create and dominate but just don’t have that speed and guile they once had at their disposal.
Hiddink is known for his team’s fitness and energy levels. This was evident with his South Korean team in the 2002 World Cup, and his Australian side at the 2006 World Cup, which featured a Mark Viduka who was almost unrecognisable as a slender figure leading the line. Tim Cahill raved about his fitness regimes and his man management, yet we all remember his Netherlands side at Euro ‘96 with the claims of racism and chasms that developed between players; it seems he’s come a long way from that time, much like his bank balance.
It’s been reported that a clique of players signalled the end of Scolari’s time by being disenfranchised by his methods and may have contributed to his downfall and sacking after only seven months. Reported to be Drogba, Cech and Ballack, as pointed out in other corners of the Internet and media this is also, co-incidentally perhaps, a few of the players who’ve been out of form this season.
Hiddink has met with Scolari to discuss the "cliques" developing within the squad and no one should be surprised to see some sort of action taken against these players if they don’t pull together with the rest of the squad—these over-paid superstars must realise that no player is bigger than the club, which is harder to put across when their complaints have resulted in the end of a World Cup-winning manager’s reign.
Can Hiddink pull together the Chelsea squad, strike some sort of balance in a team that’s lacking in creative, quick players who can win them games, and get them playing in a fashion reminiscent of the teams that steamrollered everyone in front of them? I doubt it —but it’s a gamble for him to put his reputation on the line at a side which are probably resting exactly where they should be in the league, and I’m here to be proven wrong.