Like his Chelsea team at the Nou Camp, manager Guus Hiddink knows how to put up a pretty bullish defence when it is required. Barcelona continue to complain about the English side's negative approach and supposed strong-arm tactics in Tuesday's 0-0 draw in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
But Hiddink was having none of it yesterday, as he calmly responded to the Barça moans with a simple but effective refrain. Sounding more like a no-nonsense PE teacher from a bygone era than a multi-lingual football manager of the 21st century, Hiddink repeated the mantra: "It's a man's game."
Chelsea's temporary manager was totally unrepentant about his side's display. He denied they were in the slightest bit dirty, and blamed Barcelona's dominance of possession for his team's lack of goal threat. Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta had claimed Chelsea's "system seems to be to kick us." But the idea is an anathema to Hiddink, who is the most successful coach ever in the Netherlands, a country revered almost as much as Brazil for playing the beautiful game.
"I emphasise on being a winner, not giving in and starting to cry when it's not going well," Hiddink said. "It was a man's match. We don't like to allow them to take the victory. This team has the character to fight as well. There were some collisions, some friction, but from both sides. It's a man's game.
"I challenge and invite everyone to watch the DVD to see what really happened. There was one challenge from Michael Ballack that was punished with a yellow card from the referee. It's a man's game. We played our game. We don't like to lose; we want to win in a proper way. But if we can't play in the way we like, we don't throw in the towel." Hiddink said Barcelona were no saints. "If you can't easily win, you must not be easily beaten," he said. "But it's the same for Barcelona. They have Touré, Abidal, Pique and Puyol who understand this approach so well. It's not a black and white situation."
Hiddink also bridled at suggestions that Barcelona's 4-0 thrashing of Bayern Munich in the first leg of the quarter-finals had made him fearful and negative. "We can't say 'sorry' for not conceding a goal. You can't call it 'anti-football'," he said. "I'd like to have taken a little bit more of the initiative, but they are a disciplined team as well. Under Pep Guardiola, they know how to defend firmly. Fear? No. We don't know fear."
Hiddink would like to rest key players from today's derby with Fulham ahead of the return leg with Barcelona on Wednesday but said he would resist the temptation to tinker too much, with Arsenal on their shoulders in the race for third place. "The first target was to get to the Champions League directly," said Hiddink. "The fourth place is a back door, but we want one of the first three places."