- 28 Jun 08, 01:30 PM
I have a confession to make. I'm starting to feel like a stalker. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hiding round corners waiting for players to come past before jumping out on them with a microphone at the ready.
Our work as a roving TV crew is perfectly ethical, but, as the tournament's progressed, it just feels like we've needed a little more stamina, patience and ingenuity of late to get the job done.
In the group stage, there were 16 teams spread over two different countries. There were two games per day, and interview opportunities and stories were bountiful. As 16 became eight, then four and now two, our potential victims - I mean interview targets - have narrowed accordingly.
Hence a two-day chase for a few words of wisdom from one of the world's most respected coaches, Guus Hiddink, before Russia's semi-final with Spain.
Hiddink is a fascinating character with an abundance of experience and success. Taking Russia to the last four here is just the latest notch on his footballing bed-post, though qualification was ultimately achieved thanks to "that" victory by Croatia at Wembley. Moving quickly on...
Hiddink's career successes have come in different packages. He led his homeland, the Netherlands, to the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup and took South Korea to the same stage in 2002 - an outstanding achievement.
As well as numerous club successes, he has now won even more plaudits here, particularly after Russia's obliteration of the much-fancied Dutch. Hence the reason we were really keen to chat with him. There was so much to talk about - give the chance...
We went to Russia's training session at Austria Vienna's ground and filmed for as long as we were allowed to. Then news filtered through that Hiddink had cancelled his scheduled interviews afterwards. Cue plenty of "Mein Gotts" and worse from irate journalists, some of whom had travelled long distances.
What about back at the hotel, we thought? We were staying at the same place as the Russian squad and returned to find Hiddink sitting in the bar, puffing on a rather large cigar. The lads set up the camera on the off-chance he'd agree, but it was gone 9pm and he was tired, so he told the Russian press officer he'd give us five minutes after the news conference the next day. We were grateful, but concerned we were running out of time.
The press conference proved to be manic. Hundreds of journalists and countless TV crews from all over the world descended on the media centre at the Ernst Happel Stadium to hear Hiddink's thoughts on the semi-final against Spain. Having answered questions from the floor, he was shepherded through the media scrum and out of the room. We were served with an abrupt "no chance" from the press officer when we asked again.
After training, Hiddink appeared briefly in the interview area but recoiled when he saw all the cameras, announcing: "I'll only do Dutch TV". He did - and scarpered.
Blimey, this was proving to be a tricky operation. Hiddink was a wanted man, but we were not going to give up just yet. We decided to give it one last try back at the hotel that evening. We walked through the entrance to see him surrounded by friends and a large bottle of white wine. Oh dear. We wanted to ask him to do the interview before he tucked into it, but our Jon had to set up the camera, lighting, etc first.
A few minutes later, Hiddink got up from the table and headed towards the lifts. As I walked over to try to speak to him he took a call on his mobile. Ten minutes later, he finished his conversation to be confronted by a group of fans wanting autographs and photographs. He looked agitated and was sweating profusely.
I bided my time and eventually was able to have a word. The look on his face suggested I shouldn't even bother asking, but I'd always rather be told to sling my hook than not enquire at all. Fortunately, he agreed to come over and talk to us but was adamant it should be over and done with as quickly as possible.
He sat down, clipped on his microphone and again insisted he wanted it to be over with quickly but seemed to relax a great deal once we started talking football. He answered my questions in full, giving his thoughts on Spain and their counter-attacking style of play, telling me they'd have to change if they were to win the tournament.
He also went on to talk about the "challenge" of managing man-of-the-moment Andrei Arshavin, as well as his own footballing philosophy and how it tends to bring him success in different cultures. He also spoke of his fascination with the Premier League but said he doesn't know what his future holds beyond 2010, when he's due to end his spell with the Russia team.
I could have spent an entire evening talking football with this man but was simply grateful for the few minutes he gave us. Especially the night before the semi-final.
We all know what happened next. A step too far for Arshavin and co, crushed in the second half by a superior and classier Spanish outfit. But the wily Hiddink will be back, his next challenge being to take on Germany, Wales etc in the World Cup qualifiers.
Perhaps after that he may choose to enhance his already fulsome CV with a stint in England or possibly with the England team, in which case he'll be leading a whole gaggle of journalists on a wild Guus chase. Sorry....couldn't resist.
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