He was widely considered one of the best coaches the NT ever had. Not only that, he was internationally considered one of the go-to guys if you needed something extraordinary from the team.
His popularity in some countries (South Korea, Australia) eclipsed that of one Johan Cruyff.
Liked by literally everyone, Guus Hiddink thought two years of cruising with the Oranje cracks and then mentoring Danny Blind in the role would be a perfect end of a wonderful 40 year long career, before retiring.
But no. It turned out to be a disaster!
And the much adored fatherly coach was suddenly confronted with hateful and threatening tweets… all new to him.
And it still doesn’t sit well with him. That one strange conversation on the Nice Airport. Oranje had just won their Latvia match, 2-0 and were preparing for a nice break. Guus was on a holiday in the South of France, and Bert van Oostveen called to ask if he could drop in quickly for a meeting.
His Finest Hour?
Hiddink wasn’t aware that the KNVB director was keen to replace Hiddink way earlier in the process. After four international games, actually. Three were lost, the last of the four was away versus Iceland. When questioned about the results, Van Oostveen said he was keen to evaluate the results soon. Words that reached Johan Cruyff in his home in Barcelona, who quipped: “Why does a top coach like Hiddink have to evaluate with Van Oostveen? What does he know about football? Is Guus going to have to explain to a guy who knows Jack S**t about football? That is useless!”
But the evaluation would come anyway. The plan was to move Danny Blind one level up and get Hiddink to be a hands-off mentor to Danny. But somehow, Van Oostveen restrained himself and allowed Guus the steering wheel.
Lets take a step back. Oranje had just won bronze at the WC2014 under Van Gaal. Hiddink is announced and the KNVB claims that yes, we are happy with the results, but… we want to go back to Dutch Style Football. Hiddink at the same time expresses his concerns about the future: “I said it internally and in the media, we were going towards tough times. It was clear that bronze was amazing, but if you analyse the games you could see we had some strokes of fortune. And with some key players getting older and older, well… we would need to rebuild.”
Blind: “This is how big a loser you are!” Hiddink: “Oh yeah? Well, this is how big a loser you are!”
Hiddink has an interesting clause in his agreement with the KNVB: no matter how well he will do, in 2016, his contract ends and Danny Blind’s starts. A structure that worked for Joachim Low, but which garnered criticism from …yes… JC again. “It’s strange. We live in a high performance world. No one knows how Danny Blind and Oranje will be in two years time. No one knows which other coaches might be available. The KNVB says this worked so well for Germany. And I say: so what?”
Hiddink is trying different approaches. He started out with his favorite 4-3-3 as the KNVB instructed him to do but in the first match away versus the Italians (friendly), Hiddink quickly realises that it is not working too well. Holland loses 0-2, with 10 men after a Martins Indi red card. When Blind reports back that the Czechs will play 5-3-2 in our first qualification match for the Euros, Hiddink switches back to the system Van Gaal used in Brazil. Onze three days earlier, he said: “I refuse to use three defenders opposite one striker in qualification games!”.
Oranje loses again v Iceland. It’s 2-0 at half time and something needs to happen. It’s not Guus who takes the word in the break to pick us his players, but Danny Blind. This is not strange, as Hiddink did say before the campaign that he would allow Danny Blind way more space than a usual assistant would get.
In those first months, Hiddink doesn’t come across as the self confident cosmopolitan we all know and love. He seems introverted, distracted, almost insecure. The players seem to notice this as well.
But in the new year, he starts to resemble his own self again. The problems were physical of nature, so we learn later. He had a massive knee operation and the after effects were severe (pain, limited movement) and his medication for this didn’t help matters. At the moment, he plays golf, tennis and even football again.
In 2015, Guus is optimistic. His knee is better, Oranje beat Latvia 6-0 and Oranje gets 4 points in total vs Turkey and Latvia (away). Oranje’s chances to get the Euro ticket are increasing. Van Oostveen is quick to comment in the media that the players needed a more loose approach, after the straight-jacket mentality of Louis van Gaal. The overall impression is that the players are more mature and autonomous now. But in the period between drill masters Van Gaal and Ronald Koeman, the discipline and motivation were not at the right level.
Wesley Sneijder looking back: “I was regularly annoyed with the ease with which players cancelled international games, for nothing. Then they had an ache in their pinky, or in their little toe and they’d declined the invite. Some players have simply stabbed Hiddink and Blind in the back. I won’t name names but they will know themselves who they are. I say: pick the players who really want to play for Oranje, even if they are so-called lesser talents.”
Hiddink now: “I can only agree. I missed the real intensity and focus with some. I was regularly angry after a bad performance, mainly because of the ease with which players processed these performances. I am ok with losing a game, but I want to see blood on your shin and sweat on your brow and snot on your shirt. And I will shield players from criticism forever. But I didn’t think they all went the distance.”
Mentor Hiddink with protege Phillip Cocu
But Oranje didn’t have the quality, apart from stalwarts Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder, in particular at the back.
Internally, Hiddink is asking for patience. He will be moulding a fighting and winning football machine, but he needs some time. And that velvet football we want, well, that will need to wait until our younger talents can join in with the game. Lets just qualify first.
But two weeks after Oranje’s Latvia win, Van Oostveen flies to Nice for a meeting. And Guus Hiddink is surprised when Van Oostveen comes into the meeting with none other than team manager Hans Jorritsma. The man who works under Hiddink. Who is supposed to be the former South Korea’s coach consiglieri. It’s not the chair of the board of directors. But the the man Guus himself recruited for the team manager’s job. The meeting is brief. And after Hiddink’s sacking, different stories emerge.
Van Oostveen at Blind’s annoucement: “We took this decision in mutual understanding. We went to discuss the future, but we ended up coming back having decided to split ways. This was a surprise for all and not an easy decision by us and the Hiddink.”
Guus Hiddink had a different story: “They didn’t come to discuss. They came with an order. They basically dumped me. Van Oostveen said I wouldn’t be on the bench come September. I was thoroughly disappointed. In 15 minutes, I was standing outside again.”
Judas Jorritsma all the way on the right.
And the former Chelsea and Real Madrid coach had big plans. When he was signed, the plan was to have him at the KNVB for multiple years. Yes, two years as NT manager and then moving into a consultants role to assist with the long term planning, focusing on the youth teams.
Hiddink now: “I need to look in the mirror as well. I was quite narcy, during this period. Yes, my knee was a cause of that, but my strained relationship with the KNVB management was also a factor. And I should not have let that impact my way of working. But I did.”
Hiddink with newcomers Cherry and Ziyech
Since that fatal meeting in Nice, Van Oostveen and Jorritsma have left through the rear exit. Blind also failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup (he was let go and Dick Advocaat had to finish that qualifications campaign). Too late for Hiddink and too late for Hakim Ziyech too. He was selected by Hiddink for the a trainingscamp to prep for Lativa. The Twente talent was excited and cancelled his holiday for the match, but he had to leave the camp after a day and a half due to an ankle injury. A month later, Guus is going home (Guus ga naar huus, etc).
The success coach would continue his world tour with jobs at Chelsea, China and Curacao, but the Oranje scar of 215 will never really heal.