Expect the main criticism of Chelsea’s parting with Jose Mourinho to center on turnover, a word only used when “change” is not ominous enough. But that kind of cynicism’s to be expected after another managerial change at Stamford Bridge. Since Roman Abramovich assumed control of the club 12 years ago, 11 men with 12 tenures of varying lengths have managed the club. When Mourinho’s replacement is named, Abramovich will have as many managerial changes as seasons in charge.
That the next manager will likely be Guus Hiddink will only fuel criticism, with critics pointing to the lack of stability — the turnover — as undermining the club. That a team that’s claimed 15 major honors since changing owners can be considered compromised is the type of logic you rarely see beyond sports, but the analysis is inevitable. Yes, Chelsea’s won so much, but given Abramovich’s resources, where would the team be if it also had stability, the thinking goes.Oh, they should have never fired Mourinho in the first place. Or Carlo Ancelotti! When will Roman ever learn?
In the face of Hiddink’s impending appointment, though, I see the critics’ point. Ever close to Abramovich, Hiddink has come to Chelsea’s rescue before, assuming the manager’s role in Feb. 2009 after Luiz Felipe Scolari couldn’t bend to Chelsea’s player-empowered culture. Three months later, Hiddink delivered the FA Cup, restoring the confidence of a squad that would go onto claim the 2009-10 Premier League, 2010 and 2012 FA Cups, 2011-12 Champions League and 2012-13 Europa League. Hiddink doesn’t deserve much credit for those triumphs, but play out the scenario where Chelsea is allowed to flounder under another boss and it’s difficult to see them rebounding so soon. If Hiddink didn’t do something remarkably right, at least he accomplished the caretaker’s number one goal: avoiding the catastrophically wrong.
With the turnaround, Hiddink bolstered a reputation earned with PSV Eindhoven, South Korea and Australia, but cup triumph also masked his massive failures with a Russia side whose talents will be forgotten. From 2006-2010, with a silver generation led by Andrey Arshavin, Igor Afinkeev, Sergei Ignashevich, Yuri Zhirkov, Roman Pavlyuchenko and the Berezutski twins (Aleksei and Vasili), Russia became darlings of Euro 2008, bowing out to Spain in the semifinals after eliminating a Netherlands team that had played like tournament favorites through group stage. Widely expected to carry that momentum into the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle, Russia disappointed at home against a rebuilding Germany, were relegated to second place, and saw their world renown manager — the world’s highest paid boss at the time — outfoxed by Slovenia’s Matjaz Kek in the qualifying playoff.