- 25 Jun 08, 11:20 AM
If Andrei Arshavin has become the star player of Euro 2008, then Guus Hiddink easily walks away with the coach award.
Having already guided Holland and South Korea to World Cup semi-finals and suffered an agonising defeat to eventual winners Italy as Australia boss in 2006, he has now steered Russia to the last four of a major tournament.
To get an idea of what makes the 61-year-old Hiddink tick, I spoke to Arthur Numan, who played under the Dutchman at both Euro 96 and the World Cup two years later. Numan says the problems Hiddink experienced at the European Championship in England 12 years ago were key to his development as a coach.
"Hiddink's achievements are remarkable," said the former Rangers defender. "The teams he has had success with have had completely different styles and different mentalities, but he has got them all to work really well.
"It is not luck. It is quite an achievement. The key is his ability to work with the group. He knows when to put an arm round the shoulder and when to give the kick up the backside."
But even Hiddink struggled to cope with the disharmony which plagued the Dutch at Euro 96.
"The Dutch camp had a lot of problems as regards the relationship between Ajax players," explained Numan. "Edgar Davids was sent home and things were so bad I was glad to get home when we were knocked out by France in the quarter-finals. That's a terrible thing to say, but it's true.
"Hiddink learnt a lot from that experience because two years later in France the atmosphere was fantastic. So much so that we felt we could become world champions. There was a good competitive spirit in the camp."
Numan told me that Hiddink treated the players with respect.
"He knew instinctively when to give us a rest," he said. "We were based near Monaco and twice he let us out to socialise and have a few drinks. He told us he trusted us but he was also clever he that he warned us the next day we would have two training sessions, so we knew we would suffer if we drank too much."
Numan said Russia's transformation under his countryman has been nothing short of staggering.
"What he has done with Russia in the two weeks since that defeat to Spain is incredible," he said. "Then they gave away stupid goals. But the team has learnt from that and are now very well organised.
"Russia have been wonderful to watch. They have two overlapping full-backs and will always have two midfielders breaking into the box. What I also noticed from the win over Holland was how physically strong they were. Russia are a team that wants to attack and entertain.
"Most of the players are all playing in the Russian league and the national side have replicated the success Zenit St Petersburg have had. I've spoken to Zenit's manager Dick Advocaat (another Dutchman) and he says the players are great to work with. They want to learn and are ready to listen.
"The players are very humble and treat the manager with a lot of respect. That's very different from Holland, where all the players have an opinion about everything. In Holland, the player culture is very different."
The Dutch did their best to out on a united front at Euro 2008 but could still not find a way past Hiddink. Now the test for the Russia coach is to reach the final and win it.
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