James Lawton: Like a hurricane, Hiddink's force looks just short-term
Thursday 26 February 2009
Chelsea at times were so ferocious you might have thought someone had just gathered them together for not just a lecture on football but a lesson in life. But then apparently somebody had – and for the second time in less than a week.
It is of course, what Guus Hiddink does. He did it at Villa Park at the weekend with such biting authority, and simple logic, that Martin O'Neill's upwardly mobile team where thrust into a downward spin. Here last night, Claudio Ranieri's Juventus were threatened with something close to instant destruction.
Juve survived the early storm – it came blowing in with some of that old trademarked force of Didier Drogba – without being quite obliterated, a distinct possibility, it seemed, when Drogba surged on to a lacerating through pass by Salomon Kalou to open the scoring after 13 minutes. But as Chelsea, and not least Drogba, managed to produce a series of such eruptions stretching into the second half, Juventus, perhaps understandably, never quite lost the wide-eyed look of victims of an ambush.
That they also managed to reply at times with some force, and moments of threatening skill from such as veteran Alessandro Del Piero, was an impressive enough tribute to the team ethos that Ranieri, despite his tinkering tendency, managed to create from time to time in his reign at Chelsea. Yet the story of the night – and the meaning of Chelsea's performance – was always going to be mostly about the force of Hiddink's effort to rescue a team apparently locked into unshakeable decline when Luiz Felipe Scolari was sent on his way by Roman Abramovich.
Hiddink has been emphatic about the temporary nature of his fire-fighting effort at Stamford Bridge and despite the early fury unleashed by his new troops it was not so hard to understand why he might be anxious to return to the guidance of the Russian national team he renovated so brilliantly in time for last summer's European Championship.
The Dutchman made a European Cup-winning team with PSV Eindhoven in his native Netherlands 21 years ago but for some time now his preferred line of work has been away from the day-in, day-out demands of controlling, and inspiring, the wealthy stars in the heightened pressure of club football. He has become a soldier of international football fortune, a heroic figure in places like South Korea and Australia and now Russia – and, when you think about it, would you really want to swop such relatively easy-going pleasure for the kind of major reconstruction job which, despite the vigour of last night's effort, plainly faces whoever attempts to permanently work on the accelerating ruin of the team Scolari just could not save or shape.
Could it, despite his protestations, be Hiddink? If it is really true Abramovich's heart remains in the club, if he still wants to build his plaything back to the force it was displaying in the first two years of Jose Mourinho, he may well decide to make Hiddink an offer that might be somewhat difficult to refuse.
Certainly the short-term effect of the Hiddink factor is already as plain as a slap in the face.
Chelsea played like a team who believed in something more than the weight of their own reputations. Frank Lampard was immense in his leadership, John Terry has rarely tackled so formidably, but the point of most dramatic impact lay at the front of the side, where Drogba and Nicolas Anelka involved themselves in the kind of routine effort that had dwindled almost from sight in those days of Scolari's fading impact.
How well will Hiddink be able to sustain such commitment through the rigours of the Champions League and the effort to re-instant some of their old weight in the Premier League? It is something those who know him best believe in with some confidence, but probably Hiddink would tell them that you can live on new resolutions and revived spirit only for so long.
The brutal truth, as Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested with battering-ram force, is that Chelsea are a team in desperate need of redrawing.
This was a result which might indeed carry Chelsea forward in Europe, but perhaps only so far. There was fine effort but, apart from the impact of Drogba's goal, there was very little of the kind of flowing self-belief that marks out teams who believe they have a future.
Hiddink has made his move into command with predictable authority, and just as inevitably, the players have responded. However, here is an old pro of great quality making the best of a not too promising situation. If Abramovich wants more of the same, he cannot expect it piecemeal. Hiddink is, we were reminded last night, a football man who has the right to do what pleases him.
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