Poll a hundred thousand Chelsea fans and I think it’s very unlikely one of them would have a single bad word to say about Guus Hiddink. Under less disappointing circumstances it would even be nice to have the Dutchman back at the club. Naturally the popularity of his predecessor has muted any excitement or appreciation surrounding his return; given the circumstances however, I think his appointment is great news. I think the combination of his experience, his commanding personality and his previous record of success at the club makes him easily the best, if not the only coach in the world who could replace Mourinho and not be detested by the fans, simply for not being the Portuguese.
The one criticism he’s been faced with this week, concerns the fact that his career since his first interim term at the club hasn’t been especially sparkling. Disappointing spells in charge of the Turkish national team and Suleyman Kerimov’s Russian vanity vehicle Anzhi Makhachkala, were followed most recently by a dismal campaign attempting to qualify for the Euros with a rather uninspired new generation of Dutch talent.
Certainly, nobody is under the illusion that Hiddink will bring to the job all of the energy and the ingenuity which saw him win a dozen major trophies in the Netherlands with PSV or which took South Korea to a fourth place finish at the 2002 World Cup; the Dutchman’s impressive career has long been dwindling throughout its final few mediocre chapters. The next five months represent what will surely be his last opportunity to coach a major club side. He knows the only real expectation of him is that by next May, he has brought the team to a place where confidence, form and group unity are where they need to be, in order for preparations for next season to be as productive as possible.
Here are five questions immediately facing the 69 year old, ahead of his first month back in West London…
1) Will he change formation?
For more than four seasons now, no manager at the club has deviated from a 4-2-3-1 formation for more than a game at a time. The shape may be the most logical, most balanced use of the talent within the squad; however, if Hiddink is looking to make some instant changes to re-invigorate the team, a new system with new roles for some of the side’s key players could be an effective method of doing just that. In the current situation, he has little to lose by trying.
2) Will he give youngsters a chance?
I know this is not a particularly original question to be asking of new Chelsea coach, having been something of a recurring theme for at least six years. For Hiddink at the least the option of using young players is slightly clearer cut. In Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Kenedy he has two extremely talented young players, desperate for a chance to replace their underperforming teammates. Again, he has little to lose by playing them yet at the same time, one of his chief goals has to be to get the side’s best players firing again, and he can’t do that without playing them.
3) Who will play at full back?
This is an even less interesting question, but I am quite curious to see what Hiddink’s first selection will be in defence. I’m interested to see if there is another coach in the world other than Mourinho who sees Cesar Azpilicueta as a left back or Branislav Ivanovic as an attacking right full back. The Portuguese stuck by the pair relentlessly – and now their places may no longer be guaranteed.
4) Will he stick with Diego Costa?
Whilst it’s impossible to know for sure who exactly the players were whom Mourinho felt betrayed him, but if I had to guess which of the players would have been most pleased at the news of Jose’s dismissal, it would be Costa. His continuing poor form had put his Chelsea at risk but now, rumours of Diego Simeone taking the job in the summer should mean he’s kept at the club regardless. Whether calm, stately, serious Hiddink will be as tolerable of his attitude as Mourinho was will be interesting to see. Whether he is as tolerable of poor form is another interesting question. He might want to give Remy a chance in the team soon before the Frenchman starts looking for a January move away.
5) Will he buy in January?
This is a difficult one to predict. If the club identify potential targets that could improve the team long term and help turn the season around then they may have no choice but to act. However, with the season’s prospects looking pretty bleak regardless, it may make more sense to wait and give more funds to the new permanent coach, for him to build his own side for next season.