Hiddink leaves Ancelotti with a hard act to follow
Chelsea 2 Everton 1
Monday 01 June 2009
As Chelsea's players paraded the FA Cup on Saturday evening, Wembley resounded to Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days", that paean to the splendour of lost youth. Was this a subliminal message that we were witnessing one last hurrah for the remnants of the all-conquering Chelsea team built by Jose Mourinho? You could have been forgiven for thinking that an hour later, when John Terry made his most public demand yet that Roman Abramovich spend money this summer in pursuit of the likes of Franck Ribéry and David Villa. The Chelsea captain was warning that his club face being left behind if they do not pursue the big names in Europe as aggressively as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool.
And as the final chords of Springsteen rang out, the man they call the boss at Stamford Bridge was taking his bow. Guus Hiddink goes out on a wave of glory, the best manager Chelsea were not allowed to keep, but what kind of club has he left behind and what does his successor-in-waiting Carlo Ancelotti inherit? Terry is right when he says that Chelsea have not competed in the transfer market of late, they have not competed properly since they spent £31m on Andrei Shevchenko in the summer of 2006, when they also paid Michael Ballack more than any club in Europe to take him on a free transfer. But look at the kind of players they bought: old, established stars, one of whom, in Shevchenko, was way past his best.
It is a myth that the Chelsea first XI is considerably older than that of Manchester United. If you compare the two sets of 10 outfield players who played for United in the FA Cup and Champions League finals, United's average age was 27 years and six weeks; Chelsea's was 27 years and six months. Add the two goalkeepers into the equation and United are an older team on average than Chelsea.
The difference is that Sir Alex Ferguson has young players who have already had experience in United's first team; Ancelotti has some decent academy players at Chelsea who have got nowhere near the first team. Arguably, the former Milan coach's biggest task over the next three years – should he last that long – will be replenishing an ageing squad. A task which he has not quite got to grips with during his time at San Siro.
He also has a very tough act to follow: Hiddink was on top form on Saturday. He smoked a cigar in the dressing room with one arm draped around Abramovich's shoulders, he bowed to the crowd and he reprised that great FA Cup tradition of the 1970s and 1980s: he put the trophy on his head for the photographers. He also admitted to dancing with Michael Essien in the dressing room. "It was an African dance," he said. "Of course, at my age the only person who thinks I dance well is me."
Hiddink should have been the Chelsea manager next season but, like two lovers in a great Russian novel, he and Abramovich's relationship is doomed because of global events beyond their control. The politics of the Kremlin and the power of Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, means that Hiddink must return to Russia to see the national team through to the 2010 World Cup finals.
Alone again, Abramovich must switch his attentions to Ancelotti. This time, Hiddink said, Chelsea needed the stability of a long-serving manager. "At this club, one manager now must stay for a long while with the team at a higher level to have this foundation. I don't think I'm the man – and it's not possible – who can stay 14 or 15 years at one club. I have to renew myself. But everyone is different. Sir Alex did a great job at United, but in other circumstances I can imagine that after a few years, a manager is not as efficient any more.
"When we started in February, everyone knows what the situation was. Morale wasn't good and there was the possibility that they could drift to fifth or sixth place. The first aim that was asked – not even demanded – was, 'Hey, try to get us in the first three places to get in the Champions League next year.'
"That was achieved step by step, but then we reassessed some other targets, such as the Champions League, where the team performed very well against big clubs and then getting silverware. I think the revival of the team has to be respected and I'd like to thank the players for how they reacted." As a man who manages two different high-profile football teams in two different time zones, it is curious that Hiddink announced, with a flash of his bare wrist, that he does not even wear a watch. Good job then that the Chelsea players pitched in together to buy him a £112,000 Rolex as a farewell gift. It certainly beats book tokens or a framed picture of a Spitfire.
As well as his "beautiful watch" and a signed shirt, Hiddink said that he was touched by his send-off at Stamford Bridge last week. "One memory I didn't expect was at the Blackburn game. At this club people are used to getting titles and trophies. At that game I got a lot of appreciation and I didn't expect that because usually an interim manager does his job, goes away and 'bye-bye'. That recognition and appreciation was one of the moments where I felt this was a real club."
It looked real enough on Saturday. Florent Malouda was outstanding, crossing for Didier Drogba's equaliser and he should have had a goal himself when his shot on 78 minutes struck the underside of the crossbar, crossed the line and bounced out.
Frank Lampard's winning goal, smacked past Tim Howard after he had turned Phil Neville, capped the quintessential Chelsea comeback. By then they were in complete control. As for Hiddink's successor, the Dutchman said: "He will find a group of players with a very, very healthy mentality in this group and he will be wise enough and smart enough to use that." He made it sound simple. As Luiz Felipe Scolari proved, it certainly is not.
Chelsea (4-1-4-1): Cech; Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, A Cole; Mikel; Anelka, Essien (Ballack, 61), Lampard, Malouda; Drogba. Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ivanovic, Di Santo, Kalou, Belletti, Mancienne.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert (Jacobsen, h-t), Yobo, Lescott, Baines; Osman (Gosling, 82), Neville, Cahill, Pienaar; Fellaini; Saha (Vaughan, 77). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Castillo, Rodwell, Baxter.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Booked: Chelsea Mikel, Lampard; Everton Hibbert, Neville, Baines.
Man of the match: Malouda.
Time to go: Hiddink given Rolex as leaving gift
Chelsea players ensured Guus Hiddink remembers his time at Stamford Bridge, by giving him a £112,000 Rolex as a leaving gift. The first-team squad had a whip-round and bought Hiddink an antique, limited edition Rolex Daytona, engraved with a message.
Captain John Terry and vice-captain Frank Lampard presented Hiddink with the watch on Friday night, before the FA Cup final win over Everton. They also presented him with a framed shirt, signed by all the players. Terry said: "We got the watch engraved with a message for him to take away, remembering the happy memories he'll have of the club."
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