Chelsea news: Martial arts fan Guus Hiddink wrestling with best way to toughen up Blues

Guus Hiddink extols the benefits of boxing and judo to modern footballers

Guus Hiddink has considered introducing martial arts into Chelsea’s training regime as he tries to toughen up his  players. Hiddink was an  enthusiastic boxer and judoka as a young man and still believes that those sports are the best way for young footballers to improve their core strength and balance.

In a modern game that is becoming more technical, Hiddink does not want his players to forget about physical strength, or competitiveness in contact. This is why he wants more players to learn through the disciplines he practised as a teenager.

“I like it when players are on the edge – not fighting but resisting,” Hiddink said at his press conference yesterday. “The best players in the league are also strong players. There are a lot of benefits to gather when you are well-equipped with your balance and your physical fitness.”

When Hiddink was training as a physical education teacher in the 1960s, martial arts taught him skills that helped with his professional football career. “I didn’t have the black belt in judo,” he said, “I went almost to brown, that was quite high. We did boxing as well. If you train for boxing, it is one of the toughest sports for endurance, aggressiveness and physically it is very, very tough. I loved to do all  the sports.”

Judo and wrestling were especially helpful for teaching players how to stay on their feet, and how to fall safely, he added. “I am strongly in favour of knowing how to fall in wrestling, when you are unbalanced. Football is also about balance and unbalance.

“If you jump, you are not afraid of how you come down. You manage, like a cat manages when it is falling. If you have that experience as a youngster, it will benefit you a lot.”

This philosophy explains  why, when Hiddink was in charge at PSV Eindhoven in the 1980s, he introduced wrestling to the academy. “We encouraged, installed and organised wrestling with the youth academy at PSV,” he said. “You need it when you are on the pitch. If you do those exercises, you get the feeling of balance, how you can fight in duels. That is very important.”

The Chelsea manager believes that these strengthening exercises are even more vital today, given the demands on players. “You see it often in the defensive part of the game. Willian is not a big guy,  but he fights in defensive duels as well – that is modern football,” he said. “It must be part of the education of young players.”

When Hiddink replaced Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge a week before Christmas, he inherited a squad whose confidence had been destroyed, and Hiddink joked yesterday that they “needed a bit more rugby” to bring them alive again. 

Chelsea do not quite play rugby, but Hiddink said that they warm up with a game he invented which combines elements of rugby and  handball.

“Players at first ask ‘what are we doing?’ but then, after 10 or 15 minutes, they like it as well,” Hiddink said. “In rugby, when someone has the ball, you are entitled to grab them. If they are going into a fight, within the rules, you can gain a lot from other sports.”

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