When he was the PSV Eindhoven coach in the summer of 1987, Guus Hiddink’s club sold Ruud Gullit to Milan for a record 17m Dutch guilders (then £6m). His team were hopeless in pre-season and by the time they started the season proper there were doubts they would defend their league title. The following May they were European champions.
In 1988, as he must tonight with Chelsea, Hiddink had to defeat the competition’s favourites on his way to winning the European Cup. He eliminated the Real Madrid team of Emilio Butragueno and Hugo Sanchez in the semi-finals.
In the previous round he did the same against Jean Tigana’s Bordeaux. In those two rounds, PSV drew all four matches and progressed both times on away goals.
In the final against Benfica, Hiddink’s team — again the underdogs — won on penalties. The Dutch players in his team — Ronald Koeman, Wim Kieft and Hans Van Breukelen — went on to be the muscle in the Marco Van Basten and Gullit-inspired Netherlands team that won the European Championships that summer.
They were grafters, banded together by a strong team spirit and along with their Belgian captain Eric Gerets and Danes Soren Lerby and Jan Heintze they ground out results for Hiddink.
Sound familiar? When the Chelsea coach said at the weekend that he has often woken at night to sketch out ideas for tonight’s second leg against Barcelona you can bet that he was not drawing up a blueprint for free-flowing cavalier football. It is not the prospect of unleashing a team on all-out attack that gives a manager sleepless nights — it is the question of how he stops Barcelona that causes the fitful rest.
Hiddink has no moral obligation to beat Barcelona at their own game. He just has an obligation to beat them. Hiddink was given the mother of all hospital passes by Roman Abramovich in February when he was installed as interim coach and he has responded by recognising what is best about Chelsea’s players and restoring it. Josep Guardiola’s team have no divine
right to win tonight just because they have scored 142 goals this season or beaten Real Madrid |6-2 away, and if they blow it against Chelsea they will have no-one but themselves to blame.
If Chelsea set out to stop Barcelona playing then, whatever the result, Hiddink can expect criticism for his style of play. This is plainly nonsense. There is no manager, from Sir Alex Ferguson to the Blue Square Premier, who will not have mapped out in his own mind how he would take on Barcelona with a team of Chelsea’s capabilities.
It is the ultimate test for a football man — a young pup in the opposite dugout and a battalion of attacking opponents. The beauty and fascination of tonight’s game is not just in how Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez play, but how Hiddink counters them.
So how does he beat Barcelona? The clues suggest that Hiddink will do exactly what he did in the Nou Camp all over again. He will set up his team to frustrate and spoil Barcelona’s tactics and break up their usual rhythms.
A goal at Stamford Bridge for Barcelona means that Chelsea have to score two to go through, which in turn will mean Chelsea have to open up even more. Chelsea’s best chance of winning is keeping a clean sheet and hoping to score on the counter-attack.
Hiddink cannot prevail on away goals this time but he does have the option of an exceptional striker in Didier Drogba who might just steal him a goal. He is expected to bring in Nicolas Anelka, in place of John Obi Mikel, on the right side of a five-man midfield to counter Barcelona along that flank. Florent Malouda demonstrated at the Nou Camp how a good winger can keep an attacking full-back, Daniel Alves, in check.
The history of football is full of exciting, attacking teams who happened to be beaten by sides that were better-organised and more obdurate on the day. Xavi and Guardiola have been very cutting indeed about the style of football that Chelsea played last week, to the extent that if they are eliminated tonight a second protest in the space of eight days will ring very hollow.
Great sides and great players may complain once about being mugged by inferior teams but do it twice and it begins to sound a little hollow.
If there is a template of sorts for this kind of victory, Hiddink could look at a more recent PSV victory over Arsenal in the Champions League first knockout round two years ago. Despite Arsenal’s greater attacking potency and virtual dominance of both games, PSV stole a 1-0 win at home and drew 1-1 at the Emirates with a late equaliser from Alex da Costa, who plays in a Chelsea shirt tonight.
Hiddink’s victorious PSV team were a perfectly good team who had a coach savvy enough to recognise when they could be let off the leash and when they had to accept they were up against a more dangerous attacking force and had to adjust accordingly. No shame in that.