‘Who Else?’ – The Guus Hiddink Conundrum
‘Our advice? Guus, resign!’, said Algemeen Dagblad on Wednesday, two days after the shocking 2-0 defeat to Iceland. ‘Relieve Hiddink from his misery’ was the message of De Telegraaf. Meanwhile, NOS presenter and broadcasting legend Jack van Gelder stated on Twitter that: Hiddink shouldn’t be fired. ‘Let him do the right thing and resign. Clearly no synergy between him and the squad’. Four games into his second reign and one narrow victory and three defeats later, sitting in third place in the European Championship qualifiers, Guus Hiddink has found himself in somewhat of an unthankful situation. The 67-year-old is one of the Netherlands’ most successful coaches ever, racking up the most Eredivisie titles of all (6) and winning the European Cup, not to mention his two World Cup semi-finals with two different countries. Nonetheless, one of the players that served under him, Ronald de Boer, was ruthless when he gave his opinion on Sky Sports. ‘Hiddink is done, his methods are outdated – Ronald Koeman should’ve got the nod before the summer.’
Maybe Ronald Koeman should’ve got the nod. The current Southampton manager has a wealth of experience, won three league titles with Ajax and PSV and resurrected Feyenoord over the last few years bringing in youngsters. ‘Snow flake’ recorded three consecutive top three finishes, something Feyenoord had not done in 10 years. But previous failures at AZ and Valencia had made the KNVB hesitant to give the Zaandam-born full autonomy in the role, which lead to Koeman being offered a role as ‘apprentice national manager’. Koeman refused and now Danny Blind is in place to inherit the throne from Hiddink after Euro 2016, a construction already under fire.
While it is clear that Hiddink is all but a success so far, the overlooking of Koeman has brought to light a broader problem than just the Dutch national team. While there were always questions surrounding Hiddink’s appointment and the snubbing of Koeman, it is difficult to see where else a new qualified Dutch national manager can come from. Before the appointment of Guus Hiddink, Frank de Boer ruled himself out of contention. With Koeman now at Southampton and De Boer settled at Ajax, people might be calling for Hiddink’s head, but what is the alternative?
Of the Dutch managers that have won the Eredivisie over the last 30 years, only five have never been in charge of the Dutch national team. With Sef Vergoossen, Willem van Hanegem and Aad De Mos (as good as) retired and the only other two just mentioned above, their seems to be a distinct lack of choice in the Dutch coaching market. Former managers such as Dick Advocaat (Serbia) and Louis van Gaal (Manchester United) are not likely to abandon their job for a new run with the Dutch national team, whereas Bert van Marwijk and Frank Rijkaard have not done their reputation any good over the last few years. Marco van Basten is retired from management and is currently assistant coach at AZ. A return of Leo Beenhakker at 72 seems out of the question.
When looking at credible Dutch managers that haven’t won the Dutch league or have led the Dutch national team, only two names with alternative international honours stand out. Huub Stevens has had a great club career, winning the UEFA Cup with Schalke 04, but the so-called ‘Harter Hund’ has decided to take a break from football. John van den Brom won the Belgian league title with Anderlecht and has just signed for AZ. No potential candidates here.
In and around the Eredivisie, the names are scarce too. Fred Rutten has just started as Feyenoord manager, Phillip Cocu is only in his second year as PSV head master and his career has not been silky smooth so far either. Ron Jans is a vastly experienced manager with good results at teams aspiring to play European football, but FC Groningen, sc Heerenveen and PEC Zwolle are a whole different ball game than the national team. Peter Bosz shows at Vitesse that he is able to transform his team into a recognizable, attacking machine but are his methods translatable to international football? With roughly half of the Eredivisie managers only in their first three years of senior coaching, it is difficult to see another manager from the league make the step up. An outside bet would be Gertjan Verbeek, a tough man but proven manager who has brought Heerenveen, Heracles and AZ to admirable heights, but hit lows with Feyenoord and Nurnberg.
And then there is the prospected successor of Hiddink, Danny Blind. The current assistant manager has had a stint as manager of Ajax, but does not have any other managerial experience. Apart from that, the former captain of Ajax and Oranje is part of the current regime, so moving him forward could be seen as a tainted appointment. Another former teammate of his might be an option too, but while Clarence Seedorf is one of the world’s most successful club footballers, he has never had a pleasant marriage with his national team and his few months with AC Milan hardly count as experience, especially when you have to cope with the whole country looking over your shoulder.
Finding a manager that both has the pedigree to lead a national team as well as the tactical brain and sharp-mindedness to execute ideas with said team is tough when leaving De Boer and Koeman out of the occasion. Appointing a foreign manager would buck a trend set 36 years ago, when Ernst Happel was the last from another land to lead the Dutch national team.
The mistake of not appointing Koeman may have been made in May, it is tough to see the solution coming in October. Apart from finding a manager that would be regarded credible enough and willing to take up the mantle from Hiddink, there is also the issue of having to handle a very peculiar pool of talent, in which there seems no middle ground between the talented youngsters and the veterans. The current Dutch crop is, in that sense, symbolic of its generation of managers. Van Gaal turned out to be the perfect man at the perfect time, but only thirteen years ago, he was not suited to guide the Dutch to the World Cup in 2002.
Considering pedigree, availability, adaptability and managerial style, there is hardly anything to choose from at the moment. Relying on Guus Hiddink to regain his nous and get things back on track might just be the best bet for now.