x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Hiddink's rescue job

The village of Varsseveld in Holland is curiously popular among Korean tourists.

Hiddink, centre, flicks Salomon Kalou's ear as part of a punishment in Chelsea training yesterday.
Hiddink, centre, flicks Salomon Kalou's ear as part of a punishment in Chelsea training yesterday.

The village of Varsseveld in Holland is curiously popular among Korean tourists. Every year thousands make a pilgrimage to the Guuseum, a building erected to honour in the life and times of Chelsea's pioneering Dutch manager Guus Hiddink. Hiddink continues to be revered in South Korea after his outlandish success in cajoling the host nation into reaching the World Cup semi-finals of 2002.

The Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich can commission a similar memorial at Stamford Bridge if Hiddink furnishes the club's trophy cabinet with a first European Cup. Chelsea tonight face Liverpool in the final eight of the Champions League, a first-leg match projecting some vitality. Hiddink remains a part-time head coach of the club. He is a figure who intends to return to his permanent job of running the Russian national team when night falls on this season.

Hiddink is unaccustomed to taking a fall in more than 20 years as a manager. He won the European Cup in charge of PSV Eindhoven in 1988. Liverpool are comfortable in these environs, even more so at their Anfield home. Real Madrid slunk away from Anfield last month dazed after a 4-0 beating in the last 16. Chelsea will need to be more formidable than Madrid, but with Hiddink overseeing selection and tactics, and Didier Drogba expected to be fit again, they can travel in a hearty mood.

Hiddink was brought in to replace the unfortunate Luiz Felipe Scolari in February. Scolari was abandoned by Abramovich, an owner prone to outbreaks of severe discontentment. Time in football continues to move swiftly, almost as quickly as Drogba raced away to score the goal that helped eliminate Liverpool at the semi-final stage a year ago. Chelsea won 4-3 on aggregate over two throbbing legs. Scolari's departure already feels like an age ago. Under Hiddink, Chelsea have made advances.

In nine games, they have won seven. The draw came in holding Juventus 2-2 in their second leg in Turin. They had a solitary slovenly appearance in losing 1-0 at Tottenham in the league. They are four points adrift of Manchester United having played one game more. They face Arsenal in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but Europe has always been Abramovich's preferred choice. Chelsea laid into Juventus early on in London at the end of February, before they collapsed, seemingly worn out by their initial exertions. They must be prepared for a breathless night at Anfield.

There is a belief that Scolari was cast aside because Chelsea were wasted in games, their training sessions failing to meet the demands of a burgeoning fixture list. It would be ironic if Hiddink succeeded in such a short timescale after worthy predecessors in Claudio Ranieri, Avram Grant and Jose Mourinho came up short. Chelsea have lost in every way possible in the Champions League. They devised a new way to go down when John Terry slipped in the penalty shoot-out of last season's final against Manchester United.

The Chelsea players apparently want Mourinho to return to replace Hiddink, but AC Milan's Carlo Ancelotti has been touted for next season. Hiddink holds the job, and all the aces. "In Korea, it worked out because the players were aware of what they were supposed to do," he said. Hiddink is a football missionary, spreading his word to the masses in Holland, Turkey, Spain, Korea, Australia and Russia. He will not wish to see his side make their last stand tonight on Merseyside.