Where did it all go wrong for Big Phil? Most fans would point to the Liverpool home defeat and the lack of confidence thereafter but, let’s face it, the suggestions floating around the media this week are far more interesting.
Firstly there was the training regime. Apparently ‘lacking intensity’ it may explain our new talent for shipping goals in the last minutes but as far as Anelka and Drogba’s lethargy goes, that boils down to them not playing together. And what a lovely couple they’d make. The tactics also weren’t good enough. For once not only for the players on the bench, but also some senior figures with allegedly sharp knives. Chelsea’s Plan B is now so mythical that Indiana Jones is rumoured to be hunting for it in the next film. (Why is George Lucas systemically ruining everyone’s childhood favourites? Because he’s bastard, that’s why.) Other opinions seem to be that international managers can’t make it in the brutal cut and thrust of the premier league. Not sure this one stands up to scrutiny, not least because we’ve just appointed Russia’s coach and I prefer my hopes not to be instantly dashed against such rocks as Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers.
The only explanation then is one that Ballack allured to which was the language problem. When Scolari was appointed there were question marks over his English skills but he bravely came out and conducted his first interview in the Queen’s own. The problem may have been that seven months later he not only didn’t improve but communicated via the dome of Ray Wilkins instead. Step forward Gus and he gives a half time chat with Chelsea TV at the reserve game, casually addresses the fans on the PA, sounds articulate and knowledgeable and instantly we start thinking of the shexy footbalh of Chelsea’s past Dutch masters. This is obviously great for us fans as we now have a fella in who can at least fully explain irksome substitutions, moan about the referee and the like. However as the Chelsea squad is a cosmopolitan crowd then team talk’s are more likely to resemble the Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse comedy sketch. The boss gives the team talk in every native tongue, including gladiators and prima donnas. If Hiddink has the language skills then he might have do something similar to bring the Chelsea dressing room together. To be fair it looks he’s already got the board behind him which is possibly a far more impossible job.
A week is a big ask for any manager to turn around the fortunes in the club, no matter how good his CV reads. But first impressions have certainly been favourable and it’s with some genuine excitement (remember that?) that we look to the weekend’s game. Not only are we facing one of the form teams in the country but it’s also looks to be an early Champions League play-off. Can Hiddink turn around our luck with a win against a top four side? Will he change the system, play the two upfront? Will Quaresma or Mancienne get another start and more importantly can we play with some pace, style and excitement? We’ll have found out come Saturday afternoon and it promises to be an enthralling game.