Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 3: Us - Czech Republic
Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 2: Pregame, USA
Swindle On Soccer, Vol. 1: Sputtering To Life
Swindle On Soccer: An Introduction
If you've read a ton of tributes about Guus (that's goooooose) Hiddink already, chances are you're a member of the British Commonwealth stumbling over into a strange corner of the interweb. If you aren't and have already waded through troughfuls of congratulatory lauding of the quadrennial genius, then you may want to skip the next five paragraphs or so, because we are about to roll on our back giddily in a display of submission to our favorite soccer coach ever, the current Australian head coach and Dutch genius Guus Hiddink.
Bow to the most brilliant honorary Korean in the world.
Guus has coached three teams in the World Cup, and each time they were the bandito special of the Cup.
First was Holland '98, which if you'll reach back deep in the mists of time should conjure up memories of tons of Chemical Brothers played to the sight of oranje jerseys running madly upfield to score go-ahead goals with the ref looking nervously at the scanty seconds of his stopwatch running down (Ed: click here and watch first 40 seconds to see Bergkamp's last minute winner against ARG to send Holland into the semifinal). Patrick Kluivert played the last twenty minutes of each match like Hiddink had a sniper in the stands, just itching to bring him down the instant Holland lost. Kluivert played brilliant, desperate football. Hell, they all played like they were playing with rented legs, sending defending midfielders forward in a mad attack that almost took them to the final before losing on penalties to Brazil. Brazil went on to go haywire against a foie gras-smooth French side, leaving instant Hiddink converts like us pondering the hypotheticals of a Holland/France final for the rest of our lives.
You broke his heart, Brazil.
Hiddink didn't really attain nearly godlike status with us until Copa 2002; prior to that, he just coached good players in a thrilling fashion, a kind of anti-Sven Goren Eriksson (who coaches some thrilling players in a merely good fashion.)
Hiddink didn't make the semi-finals of the '02 Cup with Holland. He did it with South Korea, a team that prior to '02 hadn't won a single match in World Cup play, much less advanced to the second round of play. Hiddink beat the spiralling Portuguese, tied the United States in a brutal, physical match, and straight up ran Poland off the pitch in a 2-0 victory to advance to the second round. The Red Devils--Hiddink not only seems to like impossible missions, but also seems to require badass nicknames--finished their sweep of the Iberian peninsula by beating Spain on penalties before reaching the end of their run by playing a team that was as physical and as conditioned as they were: Germany. They played Turkey and lost, a spent, depleted, and completely satisfied fourth place squad.
When Asians carry large pictures of you,
it means they love you.
Hiddink's getting the ROK that far owed much to Hiddink's constant familiars: lungbusting hustle, ferocious attacking, and unaccountably good luck. The South Koreans, outmatched in talent and size, ran their opponents into the ground and challenged even the most meaningless of passes, scoring on opportunities forged largely of kismet, buckets of sweat, and the other team's errors. Like Holland '98, they played like defiant condemned men. Hiddink earned privileges in South Korea customarily reserved for the leader of North Korea: honorary citizenship, hero worship on a level usually reserved for Hello Kitty characters, and his own private villa on Jeju Island. Add that to the free airplane tickets for life, and Hiddink's work for the Koreans paid for itself in a matter of seconds from the signing of his contract.
(Zoom out for a second, and consider how remarkable this is, especially given the fact that we'll shock you with this: Hiddink is not Korean. We know, shocking stuff. Korea has traditionally been a very, very xenophobic place, even to half-Korean children of American soldiers and Korean citizens, as anyone who's read about Hines Ward's trips back to his mother's country will know. There's great historical reasons for this, since Korea's been abused by its goliath neighbors China and Japan for millenia and is currently bisected by an arrangement many Koreans believe has been imposed on them by larger, more distant powers. They're not alone in being xenophobic, though; Korean fans, as far as we know, never pelted black players with bananas like European soccer fans have at times. Point being: Hiddink's success in a place where he neither spoke the language nor had an instant "in" stands as solid evidence of his skill in winning wherever he decides to knot up his tie.)
Hiddink's now the coach of TWO teams, PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch League and the Australian national team which, despite a legacy of failure has--yep--just won their first World Cup '06 match in stunning fashion against Japan, scoring two late goals in a flurry of action that brought to mind other boldly colored, full-force squads from prior Cups. They play Brazil next, and Hiddink's got the Socceroos full up on crazy pills. Assistant coach Graham Arnold:
"It's a fantastic experience to be in the position to play them."
Not the words most would use to describe playing Brazil, which would be "dizzying," "sickening," "pants-crappingly humiliating," or just inaudible whimpers coming from deep in their abdomen as commentary. Evidently Guus has the snipers out in full force in the stands again.
Hiddink will leave the team after the World Cup finals to move on to his next impossible project, coaching the dismal Russian squad for the '10 squad, trying to build another Cinderella in an environment where Russian mobsters may actually have snipers in the stands to "ensure victory at all costs." If you believe in trends, book a prison cell for Hiddink in advance, since his popularity will eclipse shortly after Russia advances out of the first round of the Cup, forcing Vladimir Putin to view him as a threat to his power and jail him immediately. Never fear, though; if the Koreans have memories as long as we think they do, ROK shock troops will free him with the assistance of ANZAC helicopters in a daring rescue operation spiriting Hiddink away from certain doom. The soccer-loving world would rejoice at what all would consider a humanitarian mission in the name of sport. Rightfully so.
Love him. Love his mustache.