LONDON, March 20 – The more success Guus Hiddink enjoys at Chelsea, the more thumping his headache over his long-term future.
The Dutchman has remained adamant ever since he first accepted the task of being Chelsea’s temporary manager as a favour to his friend Roman Abramovich that he will quit the club and return to his full-time duties as Russian national team manager on 30 May, three days after the Champions League final.
But with each victory and each eulogy delivered by one of his increasingly impressed players, the pressure grows for him to stay put.
Sympathy will be in short supply. For his managerial peers, Hiddink’s position – which sees him enjoy two hugely lucrative and high-profile posts, with little risk of being sacked from either due to his close bond with Abramovich – must be the cause of rampant envy.
But the man himself finds himself engaged in the most delicate of balancing acts as he attempts to juggle his contractual obligations to Russia with those to Chelsea, who remain in contention for three trophies as the season reaches its sharp end.
With that in mind, the next two weeks promise to serve as the sternest test of Hiddink’s abilities, for not only must he maintain his club’s quest to regain the English Premier League title with a victory at near-neighbours
Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, he must then prove to his Moscow employers that his time spent in England has not proved a distraction by leading Russia to success in their World Cup qualification double-header against Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein.
Hiddink is not the sort of character to buckle under such pressure, and he has given a hint that his insistence on leaving west London at the end of the season might not be as concrete as once suspected.
"I will focus on Russia after this project but people are saying: ‘Think about it, stay’" he revealed. "I enjoy it with the Russians but I do have a clause that says we can stop in November if Russia don’t qualify. Then, the Russian FA can choose another direction and I would also be free to go."
That is a tantalising prospect for those Chelsea players and supporters who want nothing more than for Hiddink to lead the club on a permanent basis, after a dream start to his caretaker stewardship.
Chelsea remain unbeaten since his arrival, having won all six of his Premier League games and ensured progress to the Champions League quarter-finals over two hard-fought meetings with Serie A side Juventus.
There has been a plethora of plaudits from his playing squad, and while Abramovich has retained his characteristically monastic approach to public comment on Hiddink’s future, there seems little doubt he would favour brokering a deal with the Russian Football Federation, with whom he enjoys close ties.
Of course, such enthusiasm may yet burn off if Chelsea begin to falter in their pursuit of an unlikely treble and Saturday’s short trip to White Hart Lane certainly has a decisive feel to it.
Tottenham would like nothing better than to upset their fierce rivals’ hopes of regaining the title. Harry Redknapp’s side have banished their relegation concerns with a fine recent run of results and Chelsea will need to be at their steeliest to avoid a slip-up.
"It’s much better that we’re looking up rather than down," said Vedran Corluka, the Croatian international defender. "I think we’re in a good situation and we need to continue playing our game.
"We can’t stop now and be satisfied with what we’ve done. We can do more. We can save this season and finish in the top half of the table. We all believe we can push on."