Posted on Feb 19
Dutch coaching legend Guus Hiddink took to the training pitch Sunday with his new Russian charge Anzhi Makhachkala in the hope of working another miracle for a team of ambition but no past success.
The 65-year-old will be joining a side that has only spent five years in the Russian Premier League and has failed to find spark despite signing the star tandem of Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o and Brazilian veteran Roberto Carlos.
The club heralds from one of the most dangerous regions of Russia and finds itself trailing in seventh a full 13 points behind leaders Zenit Saint Petersburg with just eight matches remaining.
But Anzhi's billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov feels Hiddink still has the touch he enjoyed when leading South Korea to the semi-final of the 2002 World Cup and then falling a game short of the Euro 2008 final with Russia.
Anzhi said Hiddink will be bringing his trusted assistants Ton Du Chatinier and Zeljko Petrovic along for an 18-month stint that will reportedly see the Dutchman draw a post-tax annual salary of 10 million euros ($13 million).
"The fact that Chinese and some other representatives offered me much more money makes no difference," Hiddink said in an interview published on the team's website.
"In my opinion, football should not only provide fans with pleasure but also create opportunities for people," he said. "Football is more than a game in which you need to finish first."
The club released photos of a stern-looking Hiddink leading his team to the pitch for four weekend training sessions in Turkey ahead of a March 5 visit to third-place Dinamo Moscow.
His appointment takes Hiddink out of the running to replace Chelsea's embattled trainer Andre Villas-Boas and frees up one-time Anzhi target Fabio Capello for other assignments.
But the Moscow press and some top observers were surprisingly downbeat about Hiddink's chances after watching his fellow Dutchman Ruud Gullit fail spectacularly with neighbouring Terek Grozny last year.
"I am far from certain that everything will work out," the Sovetsky Sport daily quoted former Russian Football Union boss Vyacheslav Koloskov as saying in its weekend edition.
"It has been a long time since he worked with a club," he said in reference to Hiddink's brief stint as Chelsea caretaker in 2009.
"They have created a Massiah out of Hiddink and even started naming kids Guus. But all he is is a good trainer."
Hiddink himself has preferred to talk about the positive benefits sport can bring an underdeveloped Muslim region of Russia than what he can do with Anzhi.
The tycoon Kerimov was born just 130 kilometres (80 miles) from Anzhi's home ground and has made local football development into a social project whose broader importance has also been played up by the Kremlin.
Hiddink told Russian reporters he was "realistic" about Anzhi's chances this season and excited about the sport's future in the restive Caucasus.
But one the coach's star performer in Russia's 2008 squad said he thought Hiddink could make Anzhi into an "enormous club".
"When Guus Hiddink gets to work, the entire team starts playing a different game," striker Roman Pavlyuchenko told the RIA Novosti news agency.
"This always happens when he is put in charge. I think Guud Hiddink is a trainer who could turn Anzhi into an enormous club," said the former Tottenham Hotspur player.