Name: Guus Hiddink
Guus Hiddink is one of those occasional beguiling figures in the game, who seems to effortlessly be able to disarm and unite footballs many, many cynics into universal admiration. A quality that the next manager of the Republic of Ireland will need in spades after the gritty, perpetually lingering war of attrition that has marked Giovanni Trapattoni’s last year in charge.
Perhaps the best example of this is Hiddink’s handling of Australia’s World Cup qualification play-off against Uruguay in November 2005. Australia had lost a hostile encounter four years previously in Montevideo with a considerable amount of bad blood lingering between the two sides. Australia chose to base themselves in neighbouring Argentina ahead of the 2005 play-off and were greeted on arrival in Uruguay by an angry crowd, whipped up in to a towering inferno of football rage by days of traded accusations. Hiddink, rather than forcing his way through the crowd, stopped, and said “I just want to say how proud I am to bring a team to the first country to hold the World Cup.” And just like the South Koreans, Australians and Dutch before them, the Uruguayans fell at his feet.
Hiddink is a serious character however and the seeming lack of self-awareness of a man who looks like a touchline-patrolling Susan Boyle dressed in either an oversized duffel coat or comically tiny Homer Simpson reading spectacles only reinforces the sense that this is a man who knows exactly what he is doing and hasn’t got time to think about other trifling issues, such as dress or appearance. In that same World Cup qualifying campaign, he met Australia’s star player and notoriously sensitive Mark Viduka for the first time. Hiddink simply reached out and pinched Viduka’s belly fat. “You’re overweight. We can’t get to the World Cup like this.” It certainly puts the ham-fisted attempts to exile Andy Reid with sketchy reports of illicit guitar playing into perspective.
Hiddink is one of the most decorated coaches in the game and has an established track record with unfancied sides with nothing to offer bar bags of character. And let’s be perfectly frank: we haven’t got a whole lot else going for our current crop at the moment. At PSV he claimed a European Cup, with South Korea, he earned an honourary citizenship and a World Cup semi-final berth and with Russia he re-established one of the game’s sleeping giants. There have been failures too however; at Real Madrid and Real Betis he met with the sack, he guided the excellent Dutch team built on the 1995 Champions League winning Ajax side to only a World Cup semi-final and a disastrous EURO ’96 and led Russia to a whiskey-soaked humiliation in Maribor, when they lost to Slovenia in a play-off for 2010 World Cup qualification. His CV though is undoubtedly the outstanding one on the FAI’s radar at the moment – and most of his failures seem to have come with sides that have genuinely world class players, a category Ireland are firmly on the outside of.
His style of football seems also to be incredibly well matched to what we seek at the moment. First and foremost, he seeks to play an attractive, attacking Dutch 4-3-3, similar to the systems being put in place at the moment in Irish underage football, which would finally see an Irish side attempt to maintain possession. When that doesn’t work though, Hiddink isn’t afraid to see the benefits of pragmatism. At Chelsea he eked out a 0-0 in the Nou Camp by parking Roman Abramovich’s luxury petro-dollar bus and his PSV side scored just two goals in their last five matches of their 1988 European Cup-winning campaign, forcing three nil-all draws.
Most of all, what Guus Hiddink looks for is a story. He turned down other offers to manage Australia because of the appeal of their mission to take a side who had last qualified for the World Cup in 1974 back to Germany. He turned down Chelsea to build on the relationship and esteem he had garnered in Russia. Ireland, surely, represent the sort of plucky outsider that Hiddink fancies. Also this is a man, who acquires legions of loyal fans wherever he goes. The Irish have a well-noted messiah-seeking complex. It could be a match made in heaven.
- Has a proven track record of taking unfancied sides not only to international tournaments, but to the knock-out stages
- Hiddink has a track record of claiming at least one outstanding scalp as a coach (with PSV – Real Madrid, with the Netherlands – Argentina in World Cup ’98, with South Korea – Italy, Portugal and Spain in 2002, with Australia – beating Uruguay, with Russia – beating the Netherlands in EURO 2008). He could be the man to bring Ireland that one major victory that the last decade has lacked (Paris acknowledged, but recognised ultimately not as a success).
- Would smooth out the fractious relationships between exiled players, the media, fans and management left by Trapattoni.
- Would be another Dutch manager involved with the FAI. He could help rapidly advance Ireland’s transition to a more technical side working alongside current High Performance Director Ruud Dokter and on the base established by his predecessor Wim Koevermans.
- Speaks great English
- He actually hasn’t been all that successful since the fiasco in Maribor. He failed as coach of Turkey and despite winning the Russian Cup with Anzhi Makhachkala, failed to kick on in the league.
- Would probably cost a lot. In Ireland’s current state, could hiring another high profile manager manager be acceptable?
- He could be very difficult to persuade. This is a man who was at one point favourite to take over Barcelona this summer.
Who he would get on with:
- The fans. Hiddink has a fantastic track record of enamouring the fans of any team he manages. The South Korean fans even built a Guuseum.
Who he would not get on with:
- Giovanni Trapattoni. Trapp still hasn’t forgotten how Hiddink’s Korea side knocked Italy out of the 2002 World Cup in dubious circumstances.
Will Conor Sammon have an international future?
Yes. Hiddink is not afraid of using a big man if needs be. Just ask 6'4" Josh Kennedy.
Denis O’Brien needed star rating:
5/5. Hiddink will probably be the most expensive candidate available at the moment. His fondness for money has been noted by residents of Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala and the Dutch inland revenue before.
Would he work with a CEO who loses his shoes?
Of course. In fact, he’d probably work better with one. Guus likes a party. And a cigar. Just ask these ladies.
Overall Eamon Dunphy thumbs up of approval:
4/5 Eamon wrote this about the man after Stan’s departure in 2008: “You ask me who would I have as next manager? Well I'd look at Guus Hiddink, who I think has an outstanding record (Hiddink led South Korea to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, Netherlands to the semis in 1998, Australia to the second round in 2006 and is currently coach of Russia).”