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Perhaps it should not come as a shock that Leicester City are reportedly lining up Guus Hiddink to succeed Nigel Pearson as manager. It has been the ambitions of their Thai owners that have previously seen them hire Sven Goran Eriksson and now in the market for a similarly high-profile name, the 68 year old Hiddink could be set for a return to England for the latest stop on a managerial odyssey that has taken in places such as Australia, South Korea, Fenerbahce and most recently Anzhi Makhachkala of Russia, and his home country.
The Dutchman guided the Netherlands to fourth place in the 1998 World Cup before he equalled the same performance four years later with South Korea and while trophies have been scarce outside his native homeland where he won 6 Eredivisie titles, 4 Dutch cups and the 1988 European Cup with PSV Eindhoven, Hiddink has enjoyed a career with marked distinction.
The FA Cup he lifted with Chelsea in 2009 remains the only trophy besides the Intercontinental Cup with Real Madrid in 1998 that he has won outside of Holland and there is a feeling of unfinished business hanging over from his short time in the Premier League.
Rescuing a campaign that was slipping to a disaster under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Hiddink would lose only 1 of his 23 matches in charge at Chelsea and saw a refereeing performance of extreme incompetence cost his team a place in the Champions League final. There, he would have faced Manchester United and he voiced his regret about not getting the opportunity to take on the then-champions as he bid farewell on the Wembley pitch.
Despite considering Burnley’s Sean Dyche and their former midfielder Neil Lennon of Bolton Wanderers, Hiddink may now get the chance to finally lock horns with the Red Devils as he emerges as front-runner to take over from Pearson who was sacked for “fundamental differences in perspective” with the board. The club’s billionaire owners, chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and son Aiyawatt, have set their target high in the search for a name that will bring with it experience and glitz in order to repair some of the damage done by Pearson’s abrasive reign.
Leicester’s run of 7 wins from their last 9 games, a sequence in which the only defeat came to champions Chelsea, to rise from the foot of the table and avoid relegation was deserving of high praise but it was not enough for Pearson to survive the turmoil created by the role of his son in a sex and racism scandal during a post-season good-will tour of the owner’s home country. Caught on film, Leicester had no choice but to sack James Pearson as well as the two other youth players involved and it has been seen by many as the prologue to the exit of Pearson senior.
Things all looked to be running smoothly as Leicester prepared for their 2nd year in the top-flight by signing Robert Huth, instrumental in their season-saving run, on a permanent £3 million deal from Stoke as well as adding the Schalke left-back Christian Fuchs on a free deal. Shinji Okazaki, who scored 14 times last season for Mainz in Germany, has also arrived for £7 million and the new arrivals may have been as shocked as the majority of onlookers as they learned that pre-season will be spent under someone other than Pearson.
When properly scrutinised however the decision should not have been so unexpected. The escape from relegation was a triumphant conclusion to a season where Pearson immersed himself in controversy and did his best to alienate both his fans, in an unsavoury incident following a defeat to Liverpool in December, as well as journalists, to whom he called one a “pr*ck” and one an “ostrich” after receiving appraisal for his team’s valiant loss to Chelsea in April.
Vichai had decided to dismiss Pearson after he grabbed Crystal Palace’s James McArthur by the throat during a 0-1 home defeat in February, only to be persuaded by his son Aiyawatt that stability was the best course. With an extending charge sheet of toxic behaviour and a relationship soured by the actions of his son out in Thailand, for Leicester’s image-conscious King Power owners Pearson could simply go no further.
Only last summer was the club’s owner identifying a top-five Premier League finish as a realistic goal for the club within the next three years and a positive set of financial results which were posted in May will increase optimism that the desired spending figure, £180 million is the figure mentioned by Vichai, is not all pie in the sky. With the ambition still burning and qualification for Europe the next achievable aim, the King Power group have the resources and structure in place to provide Hiddink with an attractive proposition.
The Srivaddhanaprabhs and director of football John Rudkin have drawn together a shortlist on which Hiddink is believed to be top, but little else is being allowed to stream out by a board who are typically cagey and guarded with their affairs.
Nigel Pearson was the opposite and that ultimately proved fatal, with Leicester now set to embark on an exciting future without him.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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