Our European guru educates and enlightens
Hiddink, schmiddink. Most of the Chelsea fans I spoke to wanted one man to replace Scolari. The one man Roman Abramovich will never appoint. The outlaw Jose Mourinho.
When Mourinho and Abramovich parted 17 months ago, the Special One stormed out challenging the billionaire to find someone who could do a better job. Accepting that challenge has already cost the Chelsea owner £32.5m in pay-offs alone.
Guus Hiddink may be Abramovich’s best shot – he has at least won the European Cup, in its old guise. And if he wins the trophy with Chelsea, he may yet banish the ghost of Mourinho.
The key word there is ‘may’. Mourinho is Chelsea’s king in exile, a legendary Arthurian kind of ruler whose glorious, yet too brief, reign ended in betrayal, conspiracy and deceit. Arthur, so myth has it, is resting in the mysterious Isle of Avalon, awaiting his country’s summons in hour of dire need.
Mourinho is more visible, making headlines in Serie A with Inter Milan but still, so some fans secretly dream, liable to make a messianic return to Stamford Bridge to lead the Blues to glory. In truth, it could only happen if Abramovich sold the club.
The Arthurian complex is not unique to Chelsea. In hours of need, Bayern have invariably sent for Franz Beckenbauer. Barcelona’s Arthurian hero hasn’t vanished into a mystical, parallel universe; Johan Cruyff is available on the end of a phone if either Pep Guardiola or Joan Laporta need his sage counsel.
"Scuse me mate - which way's Stamford Bridge?"
In a remarkably short time, Mourinho became part of Chelsea’s soul. And he may, unlike Arthur, have bowed out at the right time. The knights of the round table/three musketeers solidarity he had inspired had begun to crack, replaced by what Cruyff’s mentor Rinus Michels identified as a syndrome where players, under pressure, begin to play, as he put it, “as if they are a kingdom of their own”.
Michels noticed this tendency in underperforming Barcelona sides – he even used it, as Köln coach, to beat the Blaugranas 4-0 at Camp Nou in the 1980 UEFA Cup.
Koln had lost the first leg 1-0 in Germany but Michels told his players that if they got just one goal, the Barcelona players would get nervous, forget what they had to do for the team and start playing for themselves. And so it proved.
Golden Guus Guus is, of course, pronounced Goose, an immense boon to headline writers who have exhausted their stock of Phil-tastic puns. If Hiddink’s Chelsea triumph in Rome this May, he’ll be Golden Guus.
If he loses his rag at half-time when they are 1-0 down against Wigan, at least one back page will cry out: “Wild Guus”. A succession of drab 0-0 draws will be greeted with “Grey Guus”. If Chelsea lose 4-0 to Juve at Stamford Bridge, it will surely be a case of “Guus cooked”.
Hiddink is a great coach but he might want to reflect on Simon Barnes’ fine words in The Times. “Chelsea have reached the limit of human possibility in their quest for the right man. The logical next step is to hire an archangel… So Chelsea fired Luiz Felipe Scolari.
"You may be good enough for Brazil, but if you think you're good enough for Chelsea, you've got another think coming. You come here with your fancy talk about winning the World Cup, but what about the Carling Cup, eh? How many times have you won that?”
As the Sports Illustrated archive points out, firing Scolari is in the club’s great, masochistic tradition. In the 1930s, the idea of the Blues winning silverware was considered so unlikely a vaudeville performer called Norman Long performed a comic novelty song entitled The Day That Chelsea Went And Won The Cup.
On such an unlikely day, Long side-splittingly suggested, a pigeon would hatch a guinea pig and the sun would come out in Manchester.
"I'd hatch a what in the where now?"
Hiddink’s job is to ensure that someone doesn’t remake this satirical masterpiece and entitle it The Day That Chelsea Went And Won The Champions League.
And finally…A useful corrective to the cult of the boss is offered by football academic Stefan Szymanski here. He suggests that fans can judge players as well as coaches. Not sure about that.
When Thierry Henry arrived at Highbury, for example, many Gooners (including Nick Hornby) thought Wenger had splashed out millions on a pacier Perry Groves.
Still, Szymanski’s piece is worth reading even if, ultimately, I felt, as Roy Walker says again on that insurance ad: “It’s good, but it’s not right.”
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