Guus Hiddink walked out on Anzhi Makhachkala on Monday night, leaving the Dagestani billionaires short of coaches and hurriedly promoting Rene Meulensteen to take over.
That Hiddink should quit so suddenly, to the surprise of his own agent, just six weeks after signing a contract extension with Anzhi suggested that something somewhere had changed quickly. There was an inevitable flood of money on Hiddink going to Barcelona, given the new vacancy at the Nou Camp, but later last night Gerardo Martino was reported to have got that role.
But what is the point of being a billionaire-funded super club if you cannot keep your coach? Hiddink arrived at Anzhi in February 2012 and guided them to third place in the Russian Premier League last season, their best ever finish, as well as the final of the Russian Cup, which they lost to CSKA Moscow on penalties.
It was a good return for a growing side and, given the arrival of Willian from Shakhtar Donetsk in January – as well as the recent return of Christopher Samba, very briefly of Queen’s Park Rangers – they were likely to improve only further.
Players need coaches, though, and the man so handsomely paid to make the team cohere has gone. And so have many of his assistants. Roberto Carlos, the former Brazil and Real Madrid left-back, who worked as both a coach and a director at Anzhi, left for Turkey last month to be head coach at Sivasspor. The others on the staff – Andrei Gordeiev and Ton du Chatinier – have recently departed too.
So the last man in place at Anzhi, the new manager and the man in charge of converting Suleyman Kerimov’s billions into trophies is Meulensteen. The Dutchman developed a reputation as an excellent coach at Manchester United and left when Sir Alex Ferguson did earlier this summer. But his strengths were on the training ground, and looking after Anzhi’s diverse squad will be a rather different challenge. They have Samuel Eto’o, Willian, Yuri Zhirkov, Lassana Diarra and Lacina Traoré, arguably the best or second-best squad in Russia, but one in need of a rigorous and experienced leader. What they have instead is an exodus of coaches and a new manager who is about to take charge of his first club game since he left Brondby in 2007. He starts with a trip to Krylya Sovetov on Sunday.