Belfast Telegraph

Guus Hiddink is set for a smoother rebuild than Manchester United boss

By Ian Herbert

Louis van Gaal and Guus Hiddink have been cut from the same cloth ever since their days in 1960s Amsterdam, where both liked baseball, both worked as mentors to unmotivated young people and both graduated into teacher-come-coaches.

Neither has ever lacked self-confidence, though Hiddink's more winning ways with the press is the part of his own armoury which has failed to impress Van Gaal down the years.

"I explain things much more than Hiddink does," Van Gaal once said. "He never says a great deal."

There did not seem to be a whole lot of love between the two when Hiddink - who failed catastrophically as Dutch national manager after Van Gaal prospered - was asked last night what he made of suggestions that his compatriot might be sacked.

"It's difficult for me to judge," he replied. "You are close. You have better judgment than I…" which was not exactly a vote of support.

Ironic that these two compatriots, whose career contours have criss-crossed, should find themselves in near identical situations: seeking to resurrect big beasts of the Premier League; desperately lacking a serviceable striker; both enjoying world class goalkeepers.

Where Hiddink scores is essential humanity: a capacity to understand what makes the modern footballer tick.

His own side's ragged performance last night revealed the size of his own task. His superior English helps, but the gold-rimmed spectacles he revealed in his press conference belie the fact that the schoolteacher in him has gone.

He is collegiate, democratic and can operate in a way which brings the best from his group.

Van Gaal is far less at one with his world than he had us believe last night. Yes, United's board have been encouraging him to tough out this difficult spell. But he is the one in the relationship who has harboured grave doubts about his capacity to fulfil his task here.

His players did enough to validate his claims that he is entitled to stay. There was a 25-minute first-half spell when woodwork was struck twice. Wayne Rooney navigated the ball with deftness. United were better than a sixth 0-0 draw in 14 matches.

But the cold reality of this United incarnation resurfaced. The lynchpin of defensive midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger, could not control the centre. Ander Herrera, frequently in possession, could make little of it. Daley Blind laboured. United visibly slowed.

The story of how they responded when Cesar Azpilicueta fouled Rooney in the penalty area showed how this club has changed. The broad smile Martin Atkinson allowed himself after waving play on is not something he would have contemplated back in the days when Sir Alex Ferguson breathed fire.

Such are the shifting patterns when the manager keeps his seat, nursing a black file of notes as Van Gaal does. Ferguson had no 0-0 draw in his last 116 games.

United abhor the idea of a change of manager as much as Jose Mourinho wants them to call. They will hope against all hope that the apparent ease of home matches with Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday may make Van Gaal's terrain less undulating.

But Hiddink seems set for the smoother months ahead. "Everyone was convinced after one year of a championship and a lousy half year that could not carry on the same path," he said of Chelsea's position, with breath-taking simplicity.

Belfast Telegraph


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