Guus Hiddink: Why England's future may be orange

THe smart money is on a 59-year-old Dutchman to become the next England coach, with even Sven apparently sure that Guus Hiddink will be his successor.but what do we really know about the divorced biker with rock-star friends?
Click to follow

In Australia he is known as "Goose". In South Korea he was dubbed "The Big Team Killer". And in his native Netherlands, he is the archetypal "Boeren", a term city dwellers apply to people from the rural east that translates as yokel or farmer. If the Football Association is brave enough to pick the best man for the job, regardless of birthplace, it may not be a question of what they will call Guus Hiddink, but when.

Hiddink, a divorced motor-bike aficionado who turns 60 in November, has admitted an interest in succeeding Sven Goran Eriksson as England manager, assuming the clamour for an Englishman does not scare off the Football Association. But what sort of man would it be getting?

The glib answer, were it not for the fact that Hiddink will take charge of Australia at the World Cup finals, is one who would have liked nothing better than to spend the summer touring Europe on his Harley Davidson with his rock-star friend Hessel van der Kooy, "the Dutch Bruce Springsteen"; or renovating the large house he has bought in central Amsterdam for "when I stop living out of a suit-case".

But Hiddink, as his agent Cees van Nieuwenhuizen asserts, is a "World Cup addict". In the last two tournaments, he led the Netherlands and South Korea to the semi-finals, the first coach to perform such a double. In club football, too, his credentials dwarf those of any English candidate or, indeed, Martin O'Neill. PSV Eindhoven, whom he took to victory in the European Cup, are still in Champions' League contention and on course to retain the Dutch title.

The chances of his taking Australia to the last four on the planet must be slender, but he has already exceeded expectations by steering them through a play-off with Uruguay. In the parochial world of English football, the performances of two Premiership-based Aussies were keenly observed. Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka are hugely gifted attackers, yet scarcely renowned for a surfeit of what might be termed "heart". So it reflected vast credit on Hiddink's motivational powers that the former Leeds United duo played like men possessed against Uruguay.

Viduka, who has reacted to being named captain with the most potent and committed football of his life, hails him as a "tactical genius". In fact, he is extremely flexible in terms of systems, favouring 4-3-3 at PSV and 3-5-2 with Australia.

But for formations to work, players must have confidence. Lee Young-Pyo, the Korean now with Tottenham, says that Hiddink gave them "the belief that we could beat anyone".

Perhaps crucially given the singular demands of managing England, the Dutch radio journalist Rob Fleur points out that Hiddink's man-management ability includes positive media relations wherever he works. "He is a good communicator and he has great charisma," he says.

Seol Ki-Hyeon, another of Hiddink's 2004 squad who is now with Wolves, believes his "strong character" and tactical acumen would be invaluable to England and says he knows how to "cook" the media.

Johan Boskamp, Stoke City's Dutch manager, agrees. He says Hiddink's global pedigree (his CV also features the United States, Turkey and Spain) has equipped him to disarm a potentially hostile UK press.

For someone who became a cult figure in far-flung places, Hiddink's hero status was at first highly localised. Born near the German border shortly after the Second World War, he played for the amateur side Varsseveld before being spotted by the De Graafschap club of Doetinchen.

De Graafschap played a large part in shaping him; he returned twice after being transferred, the first time after fans chipped in 10 guilders each to buy him back from PSV. Even in those early days he was a strategist and organiser, an individual with ideas and opinions. In 1968, he became player-assistant coach. He was 21.

Hiddink was an unexceptional player, although his CV is superior to those of, say, Eriksson or Jose Mourinho. Although blessed with a good left foot, he had negligible pace. The most notable incident from his playing days was not a stunning goal, or a killer pass, but the tragi-farce of the sending-off that never was.

A De Graafschap team-mate, Henk Overgoor, had swallowed his false teeth and was literally dying on the turf. The referee waved play on, prompting Hiddink to commit what reports called an "atrocious foul" to draw attention to Overgoor's plight. His dismissal was rescinded.

Late in his playing days came summers in the North American Soccer League, with the Washington Diplomats and the San Jose Earthquakes, where he partnered Colin Bell, formerly of Manchester City.

His first major coaching break came with PSV in 1987. The concentration of wealth and talent at the leading Italian, Spanish and English clubs was less pronounced than today. A resourceful coach in the Netherlands could create a side to challenge for the European Cup before it was plundered. Hiddink did so in his first season, PSV beating Benfica in a final notable for the first 11 shoot-out penalties being scored. Hans van Breukelen, once of Nottingham Forest, saved the 12th.

Inevitably, he was courted by foreign clubs. His American adventures had instilled a willingness to travel, and spells in Istanbul with Fenerbahce and at Valencia saw him sample different football cultures. But the call of home remained strong and in 1995, he became Netherlands coach.

British fans have cause to remember his team at Euro 96. Scotland held them 0-0 while England, in their finest display under Terry Venables, crushed them 4-1 at Wembley. Orange is the Netherlands' colour; black and white became Hiddink's problem. A picture of the players at lunch showed a racial divide between those of Surinamese origin and the "Europeans". Edgar Davids, now of Tottenham, publicly claimed that the coach had his head "up the backsides" of the older white players. Hiddink banished him from the camp.

But Hiddink is anything but racist. Nor does he bear grudges. He and Davids made up, the midfielder being shrewdly reinstated in a match in the US, far from the domestic media spotlight. By the next World Cup, in France, he was a pivotal figure in a unified side that recalled the "Total Football" principles laid down by Rinus Michels and personified by Johan Cruyff before they bowed to Brazil at the penultimate stage.

Returning to club football, he no sooner brought Real Madrid back from Japan as world club champions than he was sacked. He had refused to yield to pressure to play the son of a club grandee in the final and presciently told reporters his days were numbered. An ill-advised three-month sojourn in Seville followed with Real Betis, a club riven by boardroom infighting. He kept his Madrid home and often stays.

Hiddink's next job promised to tax his powers. South Korea had been to five World Cups and failed to win once. As co-hosts, it would be embarrassing if the pattern persisted. Korean anxieties surfaced in criticism of their new coach for, as the media saw it, spending time with his Dutch partner, Liesbeth, when he should have been coaching.

South Korea defeated Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain before falling to Germany with the final within touching distance. Perceptions of Hiddink changed overnight: he was given a private villa, free flights for life and had a stadium named after him. But he missed the day-to-day buzz of the training ground - which he would have to forgo once more if he replaced Eriksson - and eventually returned to PSV.

At Eindhoven he has underlined his capacity to construct teams under pressure. Last summer, after PSV fell tantalisingly short against Milan in the Champions' League semi-final, he lost important players to Manchester United, Tottenham and the Bundesliga. He has stated that he does not want to have to rebuild the side annually. Equally, he has a contract until 2007 and intends to honour it.

Were the FA to move for Hiddink, that could leave England in the same position as Australia for 12 months, with a part-time coach. It may be a price worth paying.

During only a brief time with the Socceroos, they have qualified for the World Cup after a 32-year absence, despite the logistical problems in convening the squad for training, not to mention Uruguay's superior skill and traditions.

His masterstroke in Sydney was to replace a defender with Kewell, who had been out of sorts at club level, during the first half. Boldness was rewarded when the Liverpool enigma was promptly involved in the build-up to Australia's crucial goal. Eriksson, by contrast, is frequently over-cautious in his use of substitutes. Hiddink's golden touch, tinged with rustic orange, could help turn England's potential into prizes.