Guus Hiddink Quits Anzhi Makhachkala as Barcelona Speculation Swirls

Michael CummingsWorld Football Lead WriterJuly 22, 2013

KHIMKI, RUSSIA - JULY 19: Head coach Guus Hiddink of FC Anzhi Makhachkala looks on during the Russian Premier League match between FC Dinamo Moscow and FC Anzhi Makhachkala at the Arena Khimki Stadium on July 19, 2013 in Khimki, Russia.  (Photo by Epsilon/Getty Images)
Epsilon/Getty Images

Guus Hiddink has stepped down as manager of Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, prompting intense speculation that the Dutchman is set to fill the vacant position at Barcelona.

Hiddink, 66, would represent a big-name hire for Barcelona following the unexpected departure of Tito Vilanova. But considering his age and employment history, he likely would not be a long-term solution for the Catalan club.

UPDATE, Monday, July 22, 2013, 1:20 p.m. ET

Gerardo "Tata" Martino has been named Barcelona's next manager, according to Diario AS.

UPDATE, Monday, July 22, 2013, 4:14 p.m. ET

Martino-to-Barca is a done deal according to The Guardian's Sid Lowe.


Anzhi announced the news Monday on the club's official website. Russian news agency RIA Novosti translated Hiddink's departure from the official release as saying the time had come for him to leave:

This decision was not easy for me, but I've always said that my mission at Anzhi could end when the club is able to develop and continue to grow by itself, without my participation. Now that time has come. I am convinced that a great future awaits the club and I am happy that I was a part of this vast football project.

Assistant Rene Meulensteen, formerly a coach at Manchester United, will take over as Anzhi's manager.

Hiddink took over as Anzhi's manager in February of 2012. Under Hiddink's guidance, billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov's club posted a best-ever third-place finish in the Russian Premier League last season. Hiddink's announcement came just two games into the new RPL season.

It also came shortly after Barcelona announced Vilanova's departure. Vilanova, 44, stepped down Friday to continue treatment for cancer just one year after replacing Pep Guardiola.

That fact alone would be enough to make Hiddink's timing appear suspect. There's more, though. Last month Hiddink extended his contract with Anzhi for another year, reportedly by mutual consent. And that came amid reports that big-spending French champions Paris Saint-Germain were interested in Hiddink as a successor to Carlo Ancelotti.

Hiddink's timing, in other words, is highly suspect. Within hours of the announcement, Sky Sports and The Guardian both reported that Hiddink was being "linked" with Barcelona's vacant job—and that bookies had made him the overwhelming favorite to secure the position. The Daily Mail went as far as to report that Hiddink is "set to take over" at Barcelona.

Hiddink's resume and name recognition certainly make him an attractive candidate. Although he has never won a league title outside his native Holland, Hiddink has enjoyed extensive success in the Eredivisie. With PSV Eindhoven, he won the league six times, along with the Dutch Cup four times. In 1988 he won the European Cup, also with PSV.

In England, he captured the FA Cup with Chelsea in 2009. At the international level, he guided Holland to the 1998 World Cup semifinals and the Euro 96 quarters. For leading South Korea to the 2002 World Cup semis, he was honored with the renaming of a stadium in Gwangju to bear his name.

In recent years, though, his coaching stops have been short. Following a four-year stint with Russia from 2006-10, he managed Chelsea in a caretaker role in 2009, then led Turkey (2010-11) and finally Anzhi (2012-13).

That adds to up a distinguished resume of an experienced manager who won't necessarily stay in one place for long. And at age 66, Hiddink is likely approaching the latter days of his career, if he's not already there.

So would he be a good fit with Barcelona? Opinions vary.

If speculation becomes fact and Barcelona hire Hiddink, the Catalan club will secure the services of a manager capable of winning silverware. But in all likelihood, a new search would begin within another year or two.

For what it's worth, Lionel Messi has backed Gerardo Martino to become Barca's next manager, per The Guardian. That might mean something or nothing, once we know all the facts, but when the world's best player speaks up about his team's next manager, it's important to listen.

(What's more, various sources are already reporting Martino will be the next Barca manager.)

Following the exits of Guardiola and now Vilanova—and the latter after a short tenure—a stopgap hire might not be exactly the best option for Barcelona in the long run. But it's also true that Barca could do much worse.