Most Russians have accepted the national team coach’s temporary role at Chelsea.

By Victor Gusev in Moscow
National team manager Guus Hiddink’s appointment as coach of Chelsea until the end of the season sparked some minor protests outside the offices of the Russian Football Union (RFU) from a small group of fans, angry at the influence of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in the affair.

Generally, though, people are sympathetic to Hiddink’s dilemma. Reaction to his move to London would have been much harsher in Russia if the Dutch coach had not already convinced the local public that he is always right in his decisions.

Besides, Hiddink stressed a number of times that the Russian national team remains his top priority and that preparations for games against Azerbaijan and Lichtenstein in March and April will not be hampered by his involvement with Chelsea. By the time of the next World Cup qualifying game, against Finland in June, the English season will be over.

“Chelsea asked me to help out till the end of the season and I have just done it because of the strong links between the Chelsea owner and the Russian federation,” Hiddink said. “I will help out to the end of the season. I have my work with Russia which I will fulfil.”

However, concerns have been expressed that combining the two posts will not give Hiddink enough time to watch national team squad players at Russian Premier Liga games. But Hiddink has stressed that this is the job of his experienced assistants, Alexander Boroduk and Igor Korneev, who report to him regularly. And Hiddink’s widely publicised role as a “general coordinator for Russian football”, helping develop the system on different levels, is now out of the question.

The new situation is viewed as inevitable from the financial point of view. According to RFU president Vitali Mutko, Hiddink’s national team contract, which expires in 2010, is largely bankrolled by the National Academy of Football (NAF), which in turn is funded and controlled by Chelsea owner Abramovich.

“Hiddink’s annual salary is seven million euros (£6.28m). NAF gives us five million dollars m(£4.48m). The difference has to be covered by the RFU, but even this is difficult for us because of the financial crisis,” says Mutko. “Chelsea’s owner is our strategic partner and it would have been wrong to neglect his request [to start negotiations with Hiddink on his coming to Chelsea].”

Most Russian fans and pundits see no problem with the arrangement and are waiting for the next chapter in Hiddink’s story. They will make their judgment in the summer, depending on Russia’s World Cup qualifying results in June. By then, they will have a much clearer idea about Hiddink’s position ahead of the most important qualifiers, against Germany and Wales, in the autumn.