Guus Hiddink has been hailed as football's equivalent of Red Adair for the cool way he has transformed Chelsea's floundering season in just a few weeks. Hiddink's run of 10 wins and two draws from 13 games since he took charge have propelled Chelsea to an outside chance – however unlikely – of the Treble.
Chelsea entertain their FA Cup final opponents Everton tonight aiming to keep up the pressure at the top of the Premier League and the Dutchman said the job was never as bad as it had appeared.
He arrived at Stamford Bridge amid stories of dressing-room rifts and plummeting morale in the aftermath of Luiz Felipe Scolari's doomed leadership. Hiddink said he walked into his first meeting with Chelsea's first-team squad fearing the worst, expecting to have to lay down his authority to players who had forgotten their responsibilities, as he did at Real Madrid in 1998.
"They are big names, they have experienced titles, World Cups, Champions League finals," Hiddink said yesterday. "My question was, 'Are you still hungry?' I watched them and I didn't see any attitude problems. If I had, I would have tackled that in the first minute. But it wasn't necessary.
"If someone's too big for his boots, getting lazy or fed up, then we have big problems. But it's all hypothetical because I didn't experience it. It was a case of, 'Regardless of whether your name is big, or what you've achieved in the past, let's go for it. Don't be scared to challenge for it.' This group reacts to mutual challenges."
Didier Drogba had been dropped by Scolari and seemed to have no future at the club, having infuriated senior figures in the corridors of power with his petulant attitude. He was rumoured to have led a mutiny of players, including Petr Cech and Michael Ballack, to petition owner Roman Abramovich to sack Scolari. But Hiddink said Drogba's attitude, for instance, has been exemplary from day one.
"Look at Drogba and the defensive work he puts in," Hiddink said. "That shows he didn't have an attitude problem. If he had said, 'That's not my job' that would have been different. If a player hadn't done what we were asking him to do for the benefit of the team, then we'd have a fight."
Hiddink yesterday repeated his intention to leave Chelsea at the end of the season, and he may be followed by the Frank Arnesen, chief scout and director of youth development. Reports from Denmark last night claimed that Arnesen is prepared to join the German club Schalke 04 in the summer as director of football.
Hiddink's departure will not be popular with the players, who are hoping that he might be convinced to stay on. But the Dutchman said that his prior commitment to the Russian national side will have to come first. Hiddink said: "I love working here and some players talk about that, but you have to think about what was first in this relationship. If it had been the other way around, then yes. But guilt? I'd only feel that if I'd done something wrong, morally."