Guus Hiddink may be the Red Adair of international football, but you have to wonder if even he is equal to the task of putting out the fire at Stamford Bridge.
Curiously, a lot of people still seem to think he has the conventional job of repairing the mistakes of his predecessor, quite ignoring the fact that for many what happened in the ill-favoured regime of Luiz Felipe Scolari made the big man appear not so much a failure as a victim of a deeply dysfunctional organisation.
You know the kind of thing routinely expected of the new man: sort out the dressing room, realign a desperately underperforming team, tell the board to calm down, soothe the fans, lay in a bit of authority here and there. Not least urgently, also relegate such a high-profile John Terry figure from the role of self-appointed arbiter of what passes for commitment on and off the field and see if he can resurrect some of the practical leadership he displayed back when Jose Mourinho seemed to hold in his whip hand every player's destiny.
The last project assumes, of course, that the captain can relight the fires which appear to have been running a bit low for both his club and his country in recent weeks.
All we can really say to the more optimistic expectations surrounding Hiddink, at a time when chief executive Peter Kenyon extols a march to profitability by 2010 that is somewhat disfigured by cumulative losses over the last four years of around £360m including compensation to past managers and coaching and training staff, before Scolari is paid off, of £23m, can easily be compressed into three words. Dream on, Chelski.
Good luck, especially, in persuading Roman Abramovich that if he had a problem with an oil well he wouldn't publicly ridicule the job of his top engineer, and that the same should apply, logically, to the business of football.
The reality is that, before any hint of the dream that Hiddink, unusually by his rigorous adherence to football reality, expressed when he announced that Chelsea could still win the title, he first must negotiate the greatest nightmare of his career.
In Hiddink's case, of course, this is saying rather a lot. He was hounded out of the the game's No 1 theatre of folly, before the advent of the Abramovich years, at Real Madrid, when he was bold enough to criticise the board and its madcap signing policy.
Three years before he had fought the hugely uphill battle of imposing a degree of unity on the Dutch national team, an outfit said to veer on to the brink of rebellion if one of them woke up displeased with the hotel bedroom decor. Hiddink, operating from the authority that came in the Netherlands with his European Cup triumph with PSV Eindhoven in 1988, took on the most strident dressing-room voice, Edgar Davids, and packed him off home – a bold decision that was not exactly endorsed by a Euro '96 thrashing at the hands of Terry Venables' England.
Tough days, no doubt, for a man who has made such an impact with his brilliant stewardship of such contrasting national teams as the Netherlands in 1998, South Korea, Australia and currently Russia, but surely they dwindle against the challenge of lifting a played-out, under-financed Chelsea back into the championship race which appears to be Manchester United's for the taking.
Kenyon's declaration that signings in the summer will be have to be financed by sales – money-dominated football's now classic mantra of despair – is scarcely designed to make Hiddink enthusiastically abandon his hope of going to his third World Cup finals with a superbly renovated team. However, with Abramovich footing the bill for so much of Russian football, the Dutchman's room for manoeuvre may not be as wide as a man of his credentials might reasonably hope – or consider a basic operating right.
Certainly, if Hiddink – one of whose nicknames in his native land is "Lucky Guus" – is to rescue anything from an imploding season he is obliged to tell the oligarch and his cronies that, for a little while at least, Chelsea simply has to be a one-man show with someone, by way of both novelty and some basic football logic, who knows something about what he is doing being the man.
Unquestionably Hiddink has the gravitas for the task. In club football he has the achievements of Mourinho and the character to keep them in some kind of perspective. He is strong, without being a martinet, and he has passion that, astonishingly, has touched every set of players he has encountered across an extremely wide world.
No doubt he can support his own instincts, and intelligence-gathering, with some brief perusal of the extremely revealing, and despairing, interview Scolari granted a French football magazine on the eve of his dismissal. The Brazilian painted the most graphic picture of a manager of talent and reputation made desperate by his limited options. He claimed a dressing room gone bad and a talent pool bereft of the will to seek out reminders of faded talent.
Most of all, it was a vision of what happens when the foundations of a successful football club have been ruined, by frittered wealth, rampant ego and, ultimately, the whims of a man who thinks there can be a precise equation involving money spent and lasting success.
Hiddink's task, plainly, reaches way beyond the normal demands of a football manager. He has to bring all of his nerve, and his knowledge, to the challenge. And, like Red Adair, quite a number of hosepipes. His only chance comes if he is empowered to use them.
Gatland taunt must haunt England
Wales coach Warren Gatland has been accused of taunting England before their visit the Millennium Stadium today. Maybe so, but his charge that England bring so little to the party except some desperately rough hope that they can stifle the brilliance of their opponents is an accurate account of the state of the game.
Who knows, it might just have helped to stimulate a little much-needed debate at English headquarters.
Not so long ago Wales, from the weakest of positions, did something so far undreamt of at Twickenham despite the gut-wrenching slide from world-beating power into deep mediocrity. They faced up to their long-standing failures and went beyond their borders to seek help.
Three New Zealand coaches later, Wales are the hope and the inspiration of northern hemisphere rugby. Most impressively of all, they have become so without the need to surrender anything that is best and most heart-warming about the Welsh rugby tradition.
Men like Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett, Cliff Morgan and Barry John can watch Wales and not feel the slightest pang of betrayal. They can go to the game to which they brought such unforgettable joy and pride and see that it lives as vibrantly as it did when they were at the peak of those powers of their own which perfectly reflected the Welsh style.
What the coaches of perhaps the most formidable rugby tradition of all have seen on the foreign field of Wales are characteristics which can be effectively employed as long as the game is played. They have not tried to change a way of playing that is true to the instincts of those asked to do it.
It is a basic secret of all successful teams in any sport and before long England will have to take note.
Otherwise, they had better be prepared for the kind of taunts that will make Gatland's little pre-match overture seem like the gentlest foreplay.
Savage irony of Antiguan farce after money-grabbing circus
As someone who once incurred the magnificent ire of Sir Viv Richards, I can only tremble this morning for the officials of the Antigua Cricket Association. The farcical events at the stadium named for him have not only put the second Test in jeopardy. They have also invited derision for the little island in the sun of which he is so proud.
However, the larger world of cricket should also be examining its own priorities, especially when it remembers that Sir Allen Stanford's supremely vulgar Twenty20 circus against a money-grabbing English team was, if you will forgive the expression, successfully completed in Antigua a few months ago.
That gut-wrenching event was given enormous ballyhoo. Yesterday's first day of the supreme form of the game was called off after just 10 balls because of a wholly unsatisfactory outfield.
King Viv is entitled to rage at the heavens. So is anyone who gives more than a fig for a game so abused by those who have been placed in its charge. Consider the irony: £1m men Flintoff and Pietersen performing on something marginally more appropriate than the village dump. You have to wonder if cricket is moving beyond hope.Reuse content