Exactly 10 years ago to the day, Guus Hiddink earned hero status with the Chelsea fans by guiding us to FA Cup glory in the last game of his first spell as Blues manager.
The experienced journeyman coach, who had previously worked with clubs in his native Netherlands, Turkey and Spain, as well as taking charge of the Dutch, South Korean, Australian and Russian national teams, arrived at Stamford Bridge in February 2009 to help rescue our season after things had started to stall under Luiz Felipe Scolari, and became an instant hit with supporters and his players alike.
He started with a win, 1-0 at Aston Villa courtesy of a Nicolas Anelka goal, but it was the decision to bring another striker, Didier Drogba, back into the team which which played a big part in rejuvenating the Blues’ fortunes. The Ivorian scored four times in Hiddink’s first six matches as manager, including the crucial only goal in the Dutchman’s first game at the Bridge, in the Champions League last 16 against Juventus.
That gave us the platform to progress past the Italians with a 2-2 draw in Turin, setting up an epic 7-5 aggregate victory over Liverpool in the quarter-finals, which along with Branislav Ivanovic’s two goals at Anfield, became part of Chelsea folklore.
Unfortunately, that Champions League run came to an end in the semi-finals, when we were controversially eliminated by an injury-time away goal from Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta, just when it seemed Michael Essien’s wonder strike would send us to the final after dominating the second leg at the Bridge and having several strong penalty appeals turned down.
Hiddink also lost just one of his 13 Premier League games in charge, guiding us to third place in the table by the end of the season, although mathematically even if we won every match it still wouldn’t have been enough to recover completely and claim the title.
However, it was in the FA Cup that Hiddink’s greatest achievement, and only silverware, arrived. His faith in Drogba was again repaid, as the striker scored in all three of Hiddink’s matches in that competition, starting with a comfortable 2-0 win over Coventry City in the quarter-finals.
That meant we were off to Wembley for the semi against Arsenal, when Drogba sealed our victory, coming from a goal down with Florent Malouda’s equaliser before our number 11 beat goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to a Frank Lampard long pass and slotted home with six minutes left.
When we returned to the national stadium for the final Everton were our opponents, and the match followed a similar path. First Louis Saha opened the scoring for the Toffees with the quickest goal ever in an FA Cup final, but this time Drogba was the one to put us back on level terms, heading in an equaliser.
It was Lampard, provider for the winner in the semi, who got the decisive goal himself this time, driving a brilliant shot into the top corner from 25 yards in the second half.
That made it quite the fairytale finish for Hiddink as he left the Blues with a winner’s medal around his neck, soaked in champagne from the heartfelt celebrations that showed the admiration his players felt for their boss.
Combined with the banners which had been on display in the crowd at Wembley before kick-off, not to mention the emotional farewell he was given in his last match at the Bridge, it was clear that respect was reciprocated by the fans. No wonder he was welcomed back with open arms when he returned for a second spell as manager in 2015.