Hiddink makes dignified exit – but has he been undervalued this time around?

Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink

With a sheepish final wave and a smile, he disappeared down the plastic awning tunnel following the team’s regulation lap of appreciation to mark the end of the season.

There was some emotion. But it was largely being kept under wraps.

Have we seen him at the Bridge for the last time or might we just see him again – that familiar figure who Chelsea have been able to rely on in times of crisis, and who has never let them down?

But who was really thinking of Guus Hiddink when the final whistle blew to bring the curtain down on the club’s most underwhelming season of the Roman Abramovich era?

All attention was on John Terry, with home fans wondering whether they will see him in Chelsea blue again.

And it was Terry who took to the mic to address the crowd at the end of proceedings.

The skipper, who was suspended for the game, was given the bumps by team-mates and the giant banner unfurled at the Matthew Harding End proclaiming JT as ‘Proper Chels’ told of where emotions were on the final day.

All eyes were on Terry after Chelsea's final game
All eyes were on Terry after Chelsea’s final game

Little fuss was made of the other exit framing the afternoon.

But chances are that even without the Terry soap opera, Hiddink’s exit would have passed almost under the radar, and that is a crying shame.

He may not have created the buzz of his first interim spell, which ended with the exuberance of an FA Cup final win.

There was to be no fairytale finale this time around. But he was once again a safe pair of hands when the club needed it, having inherited a season already deflated to the extent that it was all about repair and damage-limitation rather than serious ambition.

Yet mere survival is hardly that appetising for Blues fans who have grown accustomed to glittering prizes and at times, it felt as if they were seriously underwhelmed, rather than grateful that the ship had been steadied after the turbulence of the Jose Mourinho months.

In fact, it sometimes seemed Hiddink was not embraced as much as before because he was simply not the adored Mourinho. Resented even.

Last time out, he had replaced the disastrous Phil Scolari and really did seem a saviour. That had been a perfectly-timed arrival.

In the 2009 final, after the 2-1 win against Everton at Wembley, Hiddink was late into the post-match press conference, apologising that he had got carried away dancing to Didier Drogba’s ghetto blaster in the dressing rooms.

Conte will take over after the European Championship
Conte will take over after the European Championship

There was some regret that he was not sticking around longer, even though the excellent Carlo Ancelotti was on his way.

Following a 0-0 draw with Watford back in February, a fellow journalist invited his Twitter followers to suggest questions he might put to Hiddink in the post-match conference. The response was mostly brutal and uncomplimentary.

‘Ask him why his line-ups are so boring and he only seems interested in avoiding defeat,’ wrote one, typically.

The succession of draws that extended a long unbeaten record under the Dutchman cut little ice with many of the Bridge faithful, who never really thought relegation a serious concern, even though the Blues had not been too far above the red line when Chelsea’s reliable troubleshooter arrived.

“Now it’s easy to say, but in December everyone was thinking Leicester would implode, and they maintained their position,” Hiddink said.

“Maybe it could have been the same for us. We were down from August to December, so why couldn’t it happen from December to March?

“We were poor in December but managed to get out very soon – smoothly, rapidly.

The man himself was very low-key about his second departure from the club. That is partly down to his conviction that he will be involved at the club again, albeit in a different capacity – like some benevolent uncle ready to help coach the kids.

Something will need to go seriously wrong under Antonio Conte next season for the Dutchman to be recalled for a third spell in charge, he acknowledged.

“I think they go now in a period where it’s not needed,” he said. “I feel full confidence they will go up now in this period.

“They will make their analysis, their strategy and they will go up where they belong – fighting for silverware and being at least fourth, third, second or even first position.”

This is a man too seasoned a campaigner to overly worry about receiving recognition for his efforts. His inner calm is what has helped him endure in a most unforgiving of professions.

When you have guided South Korea to a World Cup semi-final and Russia to the European Championship semi-finals, maybe you are not going to be fazed by something as familiar as a Premier League campaign.

“I haven’t felt tears going over my cheeks, but of course it’s always emotional,” he said.

“But not that dramatic, because I think I will be back, not soon but every now and then. Not in the limelight, just hidden a bit, because I’d like to help out with the academy boys etc.

“So I won’t say a dramatic, crying goodbye.”

Some fans may be a little lukewarm, but the players liked his approach and responded.

“He has helped me a lot this year and been there to talk to, not only as a manager, but as a father-figure too,” Terry wrote in his programme notes.

“What he achieved in his last spell here and what he has done for the players this time has been phenomenal.”

He has maybe been undervalued a bit second time around, but not by important figures at the club.