Monday, July 17, 2006


Saint Guus, Part 7

I had intended to limit my ramblings on our erstwhile national manager to six, but I thought it might be interesting to see how the rest of the world - and the "established" football nations in particular - viewed Australia's second World Cup outing, and how prominent a role Hiddink played in the reporting thereof.

In the course of my (very brief) research, one thing struck me particularly. Petty parochialism, still the bane of Australian football writing, is a universal phenomenon in sports journalism.

A case in point was my first stop: the preview of the Australia-Croatia game in the respected Italian journal Gazzetta dello Sport, a copy of which I had picked up in Germany prior to the match. Almost the entire article dealt with the possibility of a return clash between Italy and a Hiddink-coached side; and this was before Italy's qualification for the second round had even been confirmed!

No mention of the Australian team at all, except - wait for it - the announcement that Marco Bresciano (a Serie A player, as the writer, Alessandra Bocci, punctiliously informed us) might be back in the starting eleven.

The view presented of Hiddink was interesting, and rather amusing. "Hiddink is a kind and friendly man, but whenever he sees something Italian, he turns almost sadistic," complained the writer.

Certainly there seemed to be an impression among the Italian contingent that Hiddink had it in for them, and Gennaro Gattuso's gleeful celebration in front of the Dutchman after the Australia-Italy match certainly marked Hiddink out as Enemy No. 1. After some typcial kidology from Hiddink prior to that encounter, Marcello Lippi was quoted on another Italian website as saying:

"He's a real trickster, to be saying these things. Four years ago he caricatured Korea, saying that that match was the football of the rich and famous, of the actors, against young unknowns. Now he's at it again, talking about David and Goliath; it's a smart trick, but he's erring on the side of humility. Australia is a good team..."

The French journal, L'Equipe, gave a slant to their World Cup preview that I rather expected from most foreign media.

Its previews of the various teams were accompanied, on the L'Equipe website, by one photo each. Only two of these pictures featured only the coach, and none of the players. Roger Lemerre (the former French coach - parochialism again) was one of the lucky pair; the other, predictably, was Hiddink. An excerpt from the text follows:

"In the year since he became coach, the Dutchman Guus Hiddink has performed miracles with the Australian team, which he qualified (yes, he) for its second-ever World Cup. The PSV Eindhoven coach reorganised a team on the slide with the touch of a master."

Monsieur, you should write for an Australian newspaper.

Perhaps the most balanced view of Australia's tournament came, not surprisingly, from the German press. Most of the reports I read over there (those that my limited German could encompass, anyway) gave considerable credit to the players who had performed crucial roles, while giving due mention to Hiddink's benign influence.

A glance at the website of the well-known weekly Der Spiegel confirmed my initial impression. The match report for the Australia-Japan game mentioned Hiddink's role in the win in passing, but gave the chief credit to Tim Cahill and John Aloisi.

Another piece in Der Spiegel, published prior to the Japan game, contained a charming little paragraph about Hiddink, which will serve well to close off this series of musings.

"Guus Hiddink, 59, knows the world. And the world knows Guus Hiddink. As player and coach, this globetrotter has worked in Europe, America and Asia. If fame were to be measured by Internet sites, the Dutchman would be easily the most well-known national manager at the World Cup. There are more mentions of him on the Internet than there are footballs and cows in his homeland.

"And that's where it all began for him. With footballs and cows..."

A Dutch country boy made very, very good, in other words.

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