Guus Hiddink opts for embattled Stamford Bridge over Indian holiday

Even at the age of 69 Guus Hiddink is still discovering that life is full of surprises.
Guus Hiddink opts for embattled Stamford Bridge over Indian holiday

He should, after all, have spent Christmas in India, relaxing after a tough year.

Instead, he’ll be on the touchline at Stamford Bridge after accepting the challenge of replacing Jose Mourinho until the end of the season at least.

“I shouldn’t be here,” was the Dutchman’s opening line as he was reintroduced at Chelsea’s training ground yesterday, and it was not said simply to show that the club’s players have underperformed.

But there are surprises for his players, too. Hiddink, having seen almost all the vicissitudes football has to offer, knows his new charges could assume that life under an interim manager would be easy.

They could drift to the end of the season, happy solely to avoid relegation and consign this car-crash of a season to history.

Hiddink, however, will not accept that.

If there was a message from his unveiling, it was that this canny old dog still has plenty of bite to back up his bark.

“If you have a temporary boss, he can do this in half a year — he can kick you around,” said Hiddink, laughing, when asked how he could instil discipline despite being contracted only until the end of the season.

“There must be a great desire to play, yes. If you don’t have that desire, please knock on my door and we’ll talk. We’ll talk briefly.

“They have a profound obligation to perform. They are here at a big club. They are well paid. They must have this heart full of desire of an amateur.

“If they don’t have that desire, then I will say ‘Thank you very much [goodbye[.’ I don’t need players who don’t have the desire.

“I spoke fully to the squad and, of course, we talked a bit about the past. Why I’m here, the reasons why we are down.

“But, on the other hand, I told them things happen in football and I want everyone to look in the mirror, not just for two seconds, but longer. And see what anyone can contribute from now on to raise us up.

“That was what I was emphasising. Not to look back to much. We cannot ignore what has happened in the recent past, but I asked them and told them to look in the mirror and be hypercritical, and give the best for the team. “They have to look forward.”

Look forward, yes, but it is hard without looking back.

The collapse under Mourinho is unprecedented; from Premier League champions to relegation contenders in six months.

However, under Hiddink the slates are clean. Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, and Diego Costa are shadows of their former selves, but he has expressly not spoken to people at the club about why their form has slumped so disastrously.

“I don’t want to be ‘informed’ that much,” said the Dutchman. “I don’t want you to tell me what happened, so much. I will make my own judgments.

“We have to show to ourselves, the club, the players, the fans inside Chelsea and abroad, that the team have a big desire to wash away the last half-year and go up to the next coming games.”

To help with that, Hiddink is hoping to employ Didier Drogba as an assistant coach.

The Ivorian was alongside Hiddink and owner Roman Abramovich for Saturday’s 3-1 win over Sunderland and talks to release him from his contract with Montreal Impact are expected over the next few days. The lure of Drogba is understandable, with Hiddink name-checking him alongside the likes of Michael Ballack and Michael Essien as ‘the leaders’ when he first took charge of the club on an interim basis, in 2009.

That was a hugely successful stint, ending with the club winning the FA Cup and the players presenting Hiddink with a watch as a mark of their thanks for his efforts. The challenge now is for Hiddink to add a second timepiece to his collection.

“I never wear a watch, but it has a very prominent place in my house in Amsterdam,” he beamed. “I have it. I’d like another one for my right wrist.”

Are there no regrets? Does he not wish he was in India rather than the stress of management, which for Hiddink has arrived after unsuccessful spells at Turkey, Anzhi Makhachkala, and Holland?

“I had big plans, big plans,” laughed Hiddink, discussing how his Christmas was shaping up before he took the call from Abramovich.. “Every Christmas, if my work lets me go, we go to another continent. This time was India. But I had to cancel it. At home they were... pissed off. Yes. That was the first reaction, but they know me.

“The second reaction, almost in the same second, was, ‘You like your job so much you still have the desire and passion to do it.’ My wife could see it in my eyes, so she’s going without me.”

A surprise all round then. But Hiddink is still happy to be in London rather than India.

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