Hiddink: Coach for hire
In 2001, Guus Hiddink took over as coach of South Korea with the specific aim of reaching the second round in the World Cup on home soil. In his autobiography Dit is mijn wereld (This is my world) he explains which cultural obstacles he had to take.
'It is a hierarchic society,' he said. 'People are unconditionally committed to power, whether it is the state or an older person.'
Several coaches before him had tried to adapt to the situation but none managed to win a game at the World Cup. Hiddink decided to fight the system, backed by chairman Chung of the Korean FA. He bypassed the selection committee that used to decide the composition of the squad, for instance.
His actions did not made him popular in the early stages and after some big defeats against France and the Czech Republic the knives were out. But Hiddink did not mind as he could not read the papers anyway.
His first goal was to make sure the South Korea players had the belief to take the initiative in games and not be afraid of failure. 'It gave them a feeling of security,' he revealed. 'I think that was very important. I allowed them to step over the line sometimes, which was unknown in Korean society.'
The growing confidence and the mentality of the players to break physical barriers in training transformed the team into the fighting machine we witnessed at the 2002 World Cup.
After the spectacular fourth place Hiddink could have signed anywhere, but he went back to PSV Eindhoven where he had enjoyed great success in his early managerial days.
There he found a squad which had enjoyed limited success in Europe. Hiddink assessed the quality and quickly picked out those whose complacency and defeatism held the team back. It took him two years to get rid of the bad apples, to find the hidden qualities in some others and to sign those who would improve the team.
In 2004, Hiddink had the right mix. The two South Koreans he had brought to the Phillips Stadion, Ji-Sung Park and Young-Pyo Lee, blossomed whilst Brazilian signings Alex and goalkeeper Gomes proved to be gold. The return of Phillip Cocu in midfield was crucial as well.
Hiddink remarked: 'I felt an enormous bond with that team and you could see it between the players as well.'
In the spring of 2005 they reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and almost kicked out AC Milan, but for a last minute goal by Massimo Ambrosini. 'What a shame. We deserved to play the final,' stated Hiddink. 'And of course we could have won it against Liverpool.'
Hiddink took on another mission impossible when he signed as national coach of Australia in 2005, while at the same time still coaching title-winning PSV during the season.
After the discipline and restraint of the Koreans, the Australian players were almost the opposite. 'Carefree, but unruly... cowboys almost,' as Hiddink described. 'Yet with a great mentality and commitment.'
First he had to take the Aussies through the play-off against Uruguay. Hiddink prepared himself for the psychological warfare of the South Americans and booked a hotel in Buenos Aires to go to Montevideo as late as possible. A special flight was arranged to leave for Sydney immediately after the match.
In the return match Australia were fitter and took the Uruguayans to a penalty shoot-out in which they kept their cool. Leading Australia to the tournament after a 32-year wait made Hiddink an immediate legend down under.
At the World Cup he knew that the first game against Japan was crucial considering the difficulty of the other group games. Australia went behind, but after netting a late equaliser Hiddink knew the team had the spirit to go on and take the three points. It took the tension off the Australian party in Germany.
Reaching the second round in the crazy Croatia game saw the country go wild, although Hiddink had trouble celebrating: 'My decision to replace keeper Mark Schwarzer with Zeljko Kalac backfired and I felt responsible during the game for a possible defeat. I was worried which made my celebrations subdued. '
Exiting the World Cup in the second round against Italy courtesy of a Fabio Grosso penalty felt bitter to him, but what remained was the impression of a great performance which was achieved after just a year in the job.
In February 2006, Hiddink was courted by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to gauge his interest in becoming the national coach of Russia. At that time he also got a call from David Dein, of the English FA, who was looking for a successor to Sven Goran Eriksson. Hiddink was one of the candidates, along with Steve McClaren and Martin O'Neill, but he had second thoughts.
'I was afraid of the papers,' he explained. 'Not for myself, but for my parents. These tabloids go further and further into your personal life until they find anything. I did not fancy that. Of course, it is one of the most wanted jobs in football, but I did not really care for it.'
So he signed for Russia. Hiddink thinks it might be the biggest job he has faced so far. 'Between 1990 and 2003 most football talents went astray as it was difficult to build a life as a professional in Russia,' said Hiddink. 'Now it is getting better as salaries have increased. However, players should not get complacent with the luxury on offer.'
The older generation of Russian coaches could not handle the young players, who had no experience of the discipline of the past.
Hiddink aims to bring a new coaching style to the country where players can't cope without the methods previously employed by Valeri Lobanovsky.
'Qualification for the European Championship in 2008 from the difficult group with England and Croatia would be fantastic, but probably not possible. But if we can, it would speed up the process considerably.'