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Why Hiddink – Some people whisper to horses, Guus

The remaining coaches are well-known with the exception of Peter Taylor, who has a nondescript career in football management. The Essex-born coach managed low-cadre teams…

The remaining coaches are well-known with the exception of Peter Taylor, who has a nondescript career in football management. The Essex-born coach managed low-cadre teams like Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Dartford, Dover Athletics, Southend United before having two spells as head coach of the England under-21 team and also taking charge of the England national football team on a caretaker basis in 2000. Besides Hiddink, Louis Van Gaal, whose real name is Aloysius Paulus Maria Van Gaal, stand out as the next most notable personality. The other two coaches are Bruno Metsu, former Senegal tactician, who guided the Terenga Lions to that remarkable run in the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea, and Radomir Dujkovic, a Serbian, who once handled Ghana’s Black Stars.

There are several reasons to argue that Hiddink is the best man we can employ at the moment, and be almost certain of a semi-final appearance in 2010 World Cup. The Dutch tactician has vast experience of managing successful clubs such as PSV Eindhoven, Real Madrid, Chelsea, and national teams like Netherlands, Australia, South Korea and Russia. That’s why Hiddink is presently the most sought after coach in world football.  He is one of the most phenomenally well-connected men in the European game. He has coached great players like Ruud Gullit, Eric Gerets, Ronald Koemen, Leonardo among others. And as Netherlands coach he brought up the likes of Frank Rijkaard and Johan Neeskens into his staff. In a globetrotting career that parallels the coach-for-hire approach of the great Ernst Happel, he has nurtured such talents as Edwin van der Sar, Romario, Arjen Robben, Ji-Sung Park and Andrei Arshavin.

Reports have it that when he was first made coach of PSV in 1987, he became so flustered that he lit the wrong end of a cigarette. But he put those nerves to good use. “Some people can whisper to horses and tame lions,” English football writer, Simon Kuper put it, but “Hiddink can handle football egos. He was only 40 when he became PSV coach, but he understood that in modern football, where players are multi-millionaire celebrities, a coach must be more psychoanalyst than sergeant major.”

But when dealing with players, Hiddink won’t stand for breaches of discipline – he sent Edgar Davids home from Euro 96 for saying that he (Hiddink) had “his head up the white players’ asses” – but showed his skill as “the player whisperer” by resolving racial tensions within the Netherlands squad between Euro 96 and France 98.

Hiddink is one of the game’s finest touchline tactical improvisers, but he is no visionary or revolutionary like Rinus Michels, the architect of total football. In a profession where most coaches prefer to stick to a formation or two they know best (like Shaibu Amodu and his 4-3-3 pattern in Angola 2010), Hiddink has the nerve to try almost any system that will make the best of his players or unsettle the opposition. He even had Australia playing one man at the back as they chased the game against Japan at the 2006 World Cup. His starting point is usually some form of total football and his basic principle are constant (work hard, stay organised, get the ball down and play) but the system can vary, sometimes several times in a match.

Hiddink always talks to his players and he’s not one of those coaches who insist on a specific system. He looks at his players, gets to know their strengths, than decides the system. He’s also a good observer. If he has two great strikers he will play with them. According to Hans van Breukelen, who won the 1988 European Cup (now UEFA Champions League) with Hiddink as PSV goalkeeper, his former boss gives players freedom to be sensible but he knows exactly what he wants and tells them.

In his first job as coach at PSV Eindhoven, Hiddink guided them to the European Cup in 1988 playing effectively with five at the back with Ronald Koemen as sweeper. The core stars were Van Breukelen in goal, Koemen, Eric Gerets in defence, Wim Kieft upfront and Danish star Soren Lerby on the left of midfield. This PSV side didn’t play like a team managed by a disciple of total football. One pundit said it was so defensive it looked as if Hiddink had set out to destroy football, but the team evolved into        

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