Advocaat follows in Hiddink`s footsteps again

Moscow: It was almost inevitable for Dutchman Dick Advocaat to become Russia`s national team coach, given the way that his career has long been intertwined with that of compatriot Guus Hiddink.

This week, the 62-year-old Advocaat replaced Hiddink, signing a four-year contract with the Russian FA (RFU).

Hiddink, 63, led the Russians to the Euro 2008 semi-finals but opted out of renewing his contract after failing to guide the team to this year`s World Cup finals.

Ever since Sergei Fursenko was elected the RFU`s chief in February, he had made no secret of his desire to hire Advocaat as the country`s coach.

Fursenko, a former executive at Russian energy giant Gazprom and a close friend of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has known the Dutchman since their days together at Zenit St Petersburg.

As Zenit president, Fursenko hired Advocaat in 2006 and the following year the Dutchman steered the club to their first national title in nearly a quarter of a century, becoming the first foreign coach to achieve such a feat.

In 2008, he led them to victory in the UEFA Cup.

Now Advocaat, who resigned as Belgium coach last month, can expect a hefty pay rise and could earn as much as seven million euros (USD 10 million) a year, to match Hiddink`s salary.

While former RFU chief Vitaly Mutko relied on Chelsea`s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich to pay Hiddink`s wages, Fursenko can count on Gazprom, the world`s largest gas company, to step in with the cash for Advocaat`s services.

Although Advocaat admitted money had played a role in his decision to take the job, he said soccer was the main reason for his move.

"Russian soccer is of a higher level than Belgian soccer. It matches the level I am used to working at," the man dubbed the Little General told Dutch media.

Advocaat had been considered a frontrunner to land the Russia job in 2006 before Hiddink, backed by Abramovich, was selected instead.

While Advocaat, a strict disciplinarian, may lack Hiddink`s charm and charisma away from the pitch, he has been just as successful.

Soon after joining Zenit, Advocaat made it clear what kind of legacy he wanted to leave behind.

"I want to win trophies for this club. That would be the best legacy I could have of myself here," he told reporters at the time. True to his word, he became the most successful coach in the history of the St Petersburg side.

Despite all his achievements with Zenit, Advocaat`s new appointment received a mixed reaction in Russia.

While many said he was the best choice to succeed Hiddink, others argued that Russia should not have hired a man who had previously reneged on his contract.

Former long-time RFU chief Vyacheslav Koloskov has even called Advocaat "persona non grata" in Russian football.

"I would not shake his hand if I see him," Koloskov said.

In 2007, Advocaat agreed to coach Australia`s national team before turning his back on the Socceroos and staying put in St Petersburg after Zenit bosses gave him a new contract.

Angry Australian officials called on the sport`s world governing body FIFA to punish Advocaat but the matter was settled out of court.

The coaching careers of the two middle-aged Dutchmen have been closely linked since Hiddink took over from Advocaat as the Netherlands boss after the 1994 World Cup.

"Actually, I recommended Hiddink to succeed me as the Dutch coach after the 1994 World Cup," Advocaat told repoters in 2006.

Hiddink led his native country to the World Cup semi-finals in 1998 before repeating the feat with World Cup co-hosts South Korea four years later.

He also steered outsiders Australia to the World Cup second round in 2006 before taking the Russia job.

Meanwhile, Advocaat returned to coach the Netherlands in 2002, guiding them to the semi-finals of Euro 2004 and after a brief stint as coach of the United Arab Emirates he tried to emulate Hiddink as South Korea boss in September 2005.

After South Korea failed to progress beyond the group stage at the 2006 World Cup, Advocaat took the Zenit post.

Both men have also coached Dutch club PSV Eindhoven at various stages.

Bureau Report