VIENNA: The South Koreans gave him free international flights for life after the 2002 World Cup, Russia’s offered him honorary citizenship for his exploits at Euro 2008 – if Guus Hiddink ever took charge of Saudi Arabia he could end up with his very own oil well.
Hiddink or the wizard as he’s been christened by the grateful Russian media, has once again proved he’s the master at polishing a rough diamond to make it sparkle like never before.
In 2002 he led an unheralded South Korea side all the way to the World Cup semi-finals, the co-hosts counting Spain among their scalps.
Spain got revenge for that in Thursday’s Euro 2008 semi-final – but that is a rare blot on his record.
Such was the adulation heaped on him by South Korean fans according to The Wall Street Journal nearly 4,000 of them have made the pilgrimage to his home town of Varrseveld where they found the Gusseum, a museum honouring his achievements.
At the 2006 World Cup he turned up with Australia and guided the Socceroos to a first ever second-round slot for a team from Oceania, only missing out on a place in the quarter-finals after a controversial late penalty by Italy.
Now the man with the midas touch has done it again, turning his Russian youngsters into a fearsome attacking unit which although coming up short in Thursday’s semi-final has still put Russia back on the international map.
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was responsible for bringing the youthful looking 61-year-old to Russia back in 2006, and it is Abramovich who pays part of Hiddink’s sizeable salary.
By all accounts Roman’s roubles have been well spent.
The wizard (“what else can you call him” says winger Yuri Zhirkov) moved to Moscow after winning the Dutch title with PSV Eindhoven.
It took time for his managerial magic to rub off on Russia, who had an uneven journey through Euro 2008 qualifying, only securing their place in the Finals after England lost to Croatia in the last qualifier back in November and they edgily made it to the finals having lost to Israel and then just got past minnows Andorra.
Russia’s campaign got off on the wrong foot with that 4-1 rout by Spain, but to Hiddink’s eyes the defeat came with enough positives to offer hope.
And after toughening up training with his skilled but internationally naive side he masterminded wins over Greece and Sweden and a remarkable quarter-final success over his native Holland, to lead them to a first ever semi-final.
Spain, though, has proved an unhappy hunting ground for him as Hiddink, who enjoyed success at club level – among his cluster of trophies a 1988 European Cup with PSV Eindhoven – struggled on his three spells in charge of Spanish sides – Valencia, Real Madrid and Real Betis.
Looking back on Thursday’s defeat the Dutchman said: “When you play Spain they are experienced and they can play one-touch football and they know how to neutralise our danger as well.
“In the first half we were attacking well although not creating much but they know that if they keep passing the ball around their opponents will get fatigued and they can score.”
He is a manager who seems more at home dealing with players unburdened by big egos, certainly his brief spell at Real appears to back that up.
“To select a team is a painful decision for players who have an ego,” Hiddink said shortly before he was shown the door by Real.
“If they climb into their Porsche without having touched the ball, they spend a very bad afternoon. The stars rarely are able to come down from the sky and integrate properly in the squad.”
It would have been interesting to see how he would have fared, then, at Chelsea with its Porsche-filled car park if his friend Abramovich had signed him rather than Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
For now Hiddink is committed to building on the foundations laid at Euro 2008 and overseeing Russia’s 2010 World Cup campaign. – AFP