Hiddink ready to sign off by ending Spurs challenge
Dutchman says visitors will suffer from nerves Terry returns to squad after injury problems
Chelsea have an opportunity to salvage something from their dire season by ending Tottenham’s title challenge tonight, but Guus Hiddink believes they could have still been competing for trophies themselves if only John Terry had been fit.
The captain will return to the squad today as he steps up his recovery from Achilles and hamstring injuries that have restricted him to just two appearances since February.
As it stands, though, Terry will make a maximum of just four more appearances for the club with Chelsea unwilling to offer him an extension to the deal that expires this summer.
This, however. is the match that counts - and Hiddink believes that nerves could cause Tottenham to slip up when they know anything less than victory will gift the title to Leicester.
“It’s the first time in their history they’re now in the end competing for the title,” he said. “In some players it might cause nerves and, not by attitude, they might under-act a bit. Leicester are fearless and some players might be affected by being on top and think ‘what now?’ ”
Yet Tottenham are not the only ones thinking “what now”, with Terry determined to play on at the age of 35. He hopes that will be at Chelsea – and his chances of being retained have been boosted by Hiddink’s comments that the centreback was sorely missed as his side crashed out of the Champions League to Paris St-Germain and the FA Cup to Everton.
So desperate has Terry been to prove his point that Hiddink says the former England captain was “unapproachable” when he suffered a setback in his recovery a fortnight ago, with the interim manager having to tell Terry to take it easy in training.
And while Hiddink has warned Tottenham that their players could be affected by nerves during their first title challenge, it is more likely that a motivated Terry will harm their chances as he aims to show incoming manager Antonio Conte that he deserves a new deal.
“Have we missed him? Yes, that is the problem,” said Hiddink. “I don’t like to complain a lot, I mustn’t grumble, but at the time we have not got through in the FA Cup and Champions League, we had a bit of lack of players in central defence.
“Do we miss him so much at his age? Of course. He will react if there’s competition [saying]: ‘Don’t touch my spot.’ He had a little bit of a setback. He was almost unapproachable when he got this setback physically, which shows a big desire to play. The desire is there, you see it in training sessions as well. He’s always motivated. He’s tackling whenever it ’s one day be- fore the game or one or two days after the game. I had to put the brake on him a bit which means the desire is still high.”
Yet whether or not he is offered a new contract Hiddink believes Chelsea should ensure the likes of Terry and Frank Lampard are brought back to be part of the Stamford Bridge coaching set-up.
In Hiddink’s native Holland, former internationals Frank de Boer, Dennis Bergkamp, Jaap Stam and Edwin van der Sar are all part of the Ajax coaching staff – and he says that Chelsea should follow suit. “My opinion of him, Lampard, [Didier] Drogba, [Michael] Ballack, you can have them somewhere in the club and they can influence the development of young players,” the Dutchman added. “We have that with Ajax and PSV. Those players will be able to give their experience to other players or sections at the club.”
Badly missed: Injuries restricted John Terry to just two games since February