What We're Reading

Russia Learns From Dutch Discipline

  • Times, Monday, June 23, 2008 1:30 PM
Russia's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink engineered the demise of his native country in Saturday's quarterfinal, illustrated by the willingness of his team to learn new methods, writes Martin Samuel. Russia's improving performances and its 3-1 defeat of the much-fancied Netherlands destroys the myth that it is impossible for a national team coach to impose a system on players he only gets to work with for sporadic periods of time.
 
David Beckham has said that new England coach Fabio Capello "makes you sit up straight in class." Samuel says that "education is a partnership," and that is where England has stagnated in recent years, because its coaches either became lazy (Sven-Goran Eriksson), or lacked the authority to make players listen (Steve McClaren). Hiddink, however, has taught the Russians to "use four defenders, but when the full backs push on, a holding player drops in to make three. The whole system is very fluid and flexible, and Russia's movement is probably the best of any team at the tournament."
 
In two years, Hiddink has radicalized a group of players "by refusing to entertain the idea that all an international manager can do is make the best of what he is given, rather than taking this raw material and refining it." He did not build a new team, rather he made the most out of a roster that was already established, and that had lost 7-1 to Portugal during the last World Cup qualifying round. Hiddink is not just a disciplinarian, but he also has the ability to make sure his players pay full attention to his teachings.

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