Ivory Coast fired national team coach Vahid Halilhodzic last week, a little more than three months before the start of the World Cup. The move was not unexpected, following the team’s poor showing in the African Cup of Nations in January. The real force behind the move is the fact that there was no bond between the Bosnian coach and a group of players of whom much is expected in South Africa. This exceptional generation of Ivorian players should not squander the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as the Ivorian federation correctly determined.
Regardless of the names swirling around, including Philippe Troussier and Sven Goran Erickson, the favorite replacement has been clear from the outset: Guus Hiddink. The Dutchman is the perfect man to take Ivory Coast to its full potential. Widely respected, revered by Drogba and Kalou from his Chelsea caretaker days, tremendously experienced, Hiddink faces both the opportunity and the challenge of a lifetime at the helm of the Elephants. Whereas he did wonders in the past with teams with modest expectations (South Korea, Australia, even Russia), this time around the expectations will be high. Ivory Coast is stacked with great players: Chelsea’s Drogba and Kalou, Arsenal’s Eboue, Gervinho, Kolo and YaYa Toure, Zokora, Arouna Kone, Arthur Boka and others. If this team develops the right chemistry and gets into a groove, not only will it get out of the Group of Death (with Portugal and Brasil) but will go far in the tournament with the support of the entire African continent. On its best day, Ivory Coast is sensational.
So what is the problem? Hiddink’s contractual issues have not been resolved. He is under contract with the Russian federation through July 15 and he has signed on to take over Turkey on August 1. Guus wants out of his Russian contract now, so that he can give the Ivorians an answer sooner rather than later and start to oversee preparations. The Ivorians must be patient to get their man, but also cannot wait forever. Hiddink’s representative is working hard to come to an agreement with the Russians, never mind that he has not been paid since January. But right now, the Russians feel slighted and are in no mood to pave the way. All due respect to Sven and Troussier, it would be a tragedy if Guus is not Ivory Coast’s coach at the World Cup.