James Lawton: Appointing Hiddink is now the only route to glory

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The Independent Football

Such a foreigner has just signed a short-term, part-time agreement with Australia to guide the "Socceroos" into their first World Cup since 1974. He is the perfect candidate to repair the damage left by the free-falling Eriksson reign. He is Gus Hiddink, a 58-year-old Dutchman whose work glows with the talent that has been so singularly missing in that of Eriksson.

He knows how to make a team. He knows how to cut through the egos of big-name, multi-millionaire players. He knows how to make a team play both for him and themselves. He knows how to transmit the vital importance of fluent movement and deep understanding. He knows to build teams from game to game. He doesn't grant caps as though he is doling out sweeties. He wouldn't dream of nurturing a club within a club, one run by the captain and president, David Beckham. He would have a simple imperative: a demand for signs of a developing team and always a growing understanding of what was expected from individual players.

There is another way of saying this. Gus Hiddink, with the Netherlands, South Korea, and PSV Eindhoven has shown all the qualities that Sven Goran Eriksson hasn't. So why would the Football Association not look at this quality of foreign coach while paying lip and feather-brained service to"national pride"? Because they are incapable of moving with any subtlety between one misguided mind-set and another.

When Kevin Keegan walked away from the job, after Glenn Hoddle had turned it into a bizarre example of how not to manage men, they concluded that no Englishman was up to the job. Well, there was of course Terry Venables, the most coherent English coach since Sir Alf Ramsey, but he apparently carried "baggage" - a quaint image when you consider the amount of it the FA themselves have accumulated in the Eriksson years. Nothing has changed since the accession of Eriksson. Alan Curbishley remains an eminently sound football man. His work at Charlton is a testament to his common sense and persistence. Sam Allardyce at Bolton has shown a knack for survival in the Premiership. But neither are steeped in international football. Gus Hiddink, who impressed so many in Europe when steering PSV Eindhoven to this year's Champions' League semi-finals, is.

His work in South Korea was stunning. In less than two years he produced a magnificent team effort which overwhelmed Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain in the World Cup finals and was checked only by a narrow 1-0 defeat by finalists Germany in the semi-finals.

Hiddink worked his Korean players relentlessly. He gave them poise and fine tuning, and when they reached the semis it was the second time the Dutchman had taken a team to such such a rarified atmosphere.

Three years ago Eriksson failed to carry England beyond the quarter-finals. He seemed mesmerised by the challenge of exploiting the weakness of a Brazilian team reduced to 10 men by the dismissal of Ronaldinho. Eriksson's face showed bewilderment in Japan - as it did in Belfast this week.

Each match that passes now only underlines the degree of the FA's mistake when they went for the Swede who won a big-budget Serie A title with Lazio but for years has shown that he doesn't have a clue about how to build an international team. It has become impossible to imagine Eriksson being around after next summer's World Cup finals in Germany, despite the weight of his ludicrous £4.2m a year contract stretching to the 2008 European Championships.

The most biting question is where the FA turns when the inevitably bitter parting comes. There will no doubt be lobbies for the most successful - it is a sadly relative term - English coaches, but where do you look beyond Curbishley or Allardyce?

The record says that neither men have anything like the credentials of Hiddink. But, of course, much passion will be poured over the issue. The FA will be battered by the spurious argument that because Eriksson has failed all foreign coaches will fail.

Yesterday at the Oval, an English cricket team which two years ago were just as hapless as the footballers in Northern Ireland, were engaging the world champion Australians in fierce hand-to-hand combat. The man shaping their effort was the Zimbabwean coach Duncan Fletcher. It was another reminder that chauvinism has no place in the upper echelons of world sport. What matters is knowledge and experience, which is why the FA should now be talking to Hiddink.

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