Russians not Hiddink it off with Guus

by Tim Ivins

Guus Hiddink would have cast a lonely figure in the bowels of Petrol Arena late on November 18. His Russian team, chock full of talent and Euro 2008 runners up had been eliminated by lowly Slovenia on away goals. In the first leg, a goal from Nejc Pecnik in the 88th minute gave the Slovenes a valuable away goal and in the return leg, 2 red cards and a goal from Zlatko Dedic had been enough to dispose of Russia, World Cup darkhorses in the eyes of many prior to elimination. It must have seemed to Hiddink as he sat in the change rooms that Russia had been invited to the dance only to find everyone’s dance card full upon arrival.

Appointed by the Russian Football Union in 2007, Hiddink had one task. Transform Russia from a talented but underperforming Football nation into a team capable of competing for major championships. It could be argued that no man was better qualified for the job. Hiddink is known for squeezing every last ounce of skill and talent out of his players. His resume makes impressive reading:

1988 – Hiddink leads PSV Eindhoven to the European Treble (Eredivisie, Dutch Cup and Champions League);
1998 – Hiddink transforms the Dutch National team renowned for it’s individuals and constant in-fighting into a squad with a team focus finishing 4th at the World Cup, eliminated by Brazil on penalties;
2002 – Hiddink becomes a national hero, leading a South Korean team who prior to his arrival had never won a World Cup game (holding the longest losing streak in history) to a shock semi final appearance and 4th place defeating heavyweights Portugal, Spain and Italy along the way;
2006 – “Aussie Guus” brings a 32 year World Cup qualifying curse to an end and is a clumsy Lucas Neill challenge/Fabio Grosso dive away from a match up against Ukraine for a third consecutive semi final appearance;
2008 – Hiddink takes the Russian team to the Euro 2008 final, losing to a Spanish team who were in the midst of a 35 game unbeaten streak.

Now, however, Hiddink finds himself coach of a team that failed to make the finals and faces having his current contract terminated. Given his history of transforming national teams into potential world beaters, Hiddink should be content in the knowledge that at least one qualified team would desire his special skills. One team in particular clearly stands out as having the skill to reach not only the semi finals but the potential to win it all. Argentina.

If Russia’s squad was talented then Argentina would represent the mother lode to Hiddink with the squad including Ballon D’Or winner Lionel Messi, Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano, and the $85 million man Carlos Tevez to name a few. The Argentines are recognised globally as one of the most talented teams in the world.

This, however, was not evident throughout the 2010 qualifying campaign. Coach Diego Maradona used a staggering 51 players and never presented the same starting line up twice. Argentina avoided the indignation of a play-off against Costa Rica courtesy of consecutive late winners in their final two games. Maradona celebrated in style telling the press that they “can suck it and continue to suck it” after their final game, earning himself a  two month FIFA imposed suspension in the process. Maradona must be a man on thin ice who, given the constant changes in starting line ups, must struggle for player support just 6 months out from the biggest tournament of all.

Despite these struggles, Argentina face their best chance of World Cup glory since they won at home in 1986. A kind draw has seen them placed against:
– a South Korean team that should not be able to match the Argentines for height and skill;
– a Nigerian team that is talented but has severe internal problems, and;
– a Greek team that believe in an ultra-defensive style.

Upon exiting this group, Argentina would face an elimination game against:
– a declining France;
– a South African team with a lower ranking than New Zealand, or;
– a match up against Mexico or Uruguay, both of whom have terrible records away from home.

Whether Maradona is coach or not arguably would not hinder Argentina’s ability to dispose of any of these opponents. It is at the quarter final stage with Germany a probable opponent that you can see the Argentines exiting under Maradona. A side filled with talented individuals that will go into the history books as not living up to their potential, overshadowed by a coach who whilst one of the greatest players in the world, did not have the skills or ability to be recognised the same way as coach.

If Hiddink were coach then Argentina would be much more likely to succeed where Maradona would not because his teams contain the best attributes of any sporting team. This is summed up best in the Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, with champion Basketballer Isiah Thomas stating:

“Lots of times, on our team, you cant tell who the best player in the game was. ‘Cause everybody did something good. That’s what makes us so good. The other team has to worry about stopping eight or nine people instead of two or three. It’s the only way to win.”

Isiah goes further speaking about Basketball without realising that he sums up the secret to all team sports saying “The secret of basketball, is that it’s not about basketball”. Simmons explains further when he noted that Isiah’s teams that won, had talented players, but they won “because they liked each other, knew their roles, ignored statistics and valued winning over everything else. They won because their best players sacrificed to make everyone else happy. They won as long as everyone remained on the same page”. Looking through Hiddink’s history you would argue that his teams embodied these principles where Argentina under Maradona meet the first criteria alone.

Given the problems under Maradona and the fact that Argentina have been handed one of their kindest draws in recent memory, the Argentine Football Association should pick up the phone and make the call. After all, Guus Hiddink knows the secret.


  1. Martin Reeves says

    Would make for a great story Tim, but looks unlikely now –

  2. That is truly sad, however I guess he felt that he would not have the time he needed to bond with a team in order to be successful.

    Hopefully he returns in 2014.

Leave a Comment