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08 Sep 2006 10:42
Guus Hiddink tells the photographer not to draw the curtains. “That is so Russian, all closed,” he says.
Little in Hiddink’s world is secretive.
Only when the subject turns to Chelsea and the notion that he might be the next manager, does he deliver a short reply.
“Oh, let [the media] suggest that,” says Hiddink. Rumours abound that Chelsea’s owner is providing private jets for Hiddink to commute from Holland and funding a reported Â£2,5-million-a-year salary. Hiddink rejects the former and chooses words carefully on the suggestion Abramovich is paying his wages.
“I’m contracted to the Russian Football Federation.” He is more candid on the role Abramovich played in luring him to Russia.
“I was at Chelsea several times. I met the bosses over there, Peter Kenyon and also Abramovich. We were talking about a player I had from Chelsea, but we also talked about Russian football. Everyone has his preconception [about Abramovich], but I experienced a very humble and a very normal person.
“He was talking about football and everything that has to be done for his country and he asked me, and the president of the federation, if I could help them out to bring the country back on a higher level.”
His primary objective is to secure a place in Euro 2008 from a group that includes England, although he has quickly discovered the size of the task.
In the Russian first division, there are more than 220 foreign players. “That means I have 60 players to pick from and only 35 are playing in the first team frequently. That’s one of the problems we have to face and not hide from.”
Russia need results and not excuses, and Hiddink, with his impressive track record, is seen as a sure ticket to success.
“Hopefully I have managed to play that [image] down a little bit,” says the former Australia and South Korea coach. “They must not expect I am coming here and Russia will win all the games, because they didn’t do it in the past and nothing has changed in these few weeks.”
He is taking Russian lesson but admits the language is “difficult”. His excellent command of English means it would have been far easier had he taken Sven-Goran Eriksson’s position, although any interest ended when his agent, Cees van Nieuwenhuizen, claimed England’s approach, which allegedly involved enquiring about Hiddink’s suitability to go on a shortlist, was “an insult to Guus and his achievements”.
“My agent is very spontaneous but I cannot be insulted that easily,” he says. “I don’t have the vanity to put myself on the top spot and if I had, I hope some people in my private circle would kill me.”
But would he have taken the job? “It’s hypothetical. It’s one of the most beautiful and toughest because you have got to live with a lot of circumstances around it.”
Does that mean he would accept the England job in the future? “I am 60,” he replies.
When it is pointed out Sir Bobby Robson managed for much longer he reconsiders. “I didn’t know I would be here nine months ago and the same with Korea and Australia, so you cannot predict, but as long as I love the job and enjoy composing teams then I don’t say ‘no’ to any job.” Certainly not one in England, it seems.
He admits the prospect of managing in the Premiership does appeal. “England is a good country to work in. When I go to a stadium in England and take the cab or tube I get out one or two miles before the stadium and walk the rest because the atmosphere is terrific.
“Although the promotional side and sponsorship are needed we must not become football men somewhere on an ivory tower. We must feel what is going on in the street.”
Football is not the only subject that occupies Hiddink’s mind. He rides a Harley Davidson to soothe his anger.
“It’s relaxing because you take your bike and then sometimes put off your helmet, which is not allowed, and the wind goes by.”
It is tempting to wonder whether he feels similarly at ease in the dug-out, given his success. “I have my failures as well, so don’t overestimate,” he says. “I say to people sometimes, ‘Let’s keep our feet on the ground. I’m only a Dutch farmer boy’.”—Â
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