Advocaat follows in Hiddink footsteps again

MOSCOW - It was almost inevitable for Dutchman Dick Advocaat to become Russia's national team coach, given the way that his career has long been intertwined with that of compatriot Guus Hiddink.

This week, the 62-year-old Advocaat replaced Hiddink, signing a four-year contract with the Russian FA (RFU).

Hiddink, 63, led the Russians to the Euro 2008 semi-finals but opted out of renewing his contract after failing to guide the team to this year's World Cup finals.

Ever since Sergei Fursenko was elected the RFU's chief in February, he had made no secret of his desire to hire Advocaat as the country's coach.

Fursenko, a former executive at Russian energy giant Gazprom and a close friend of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has known the Dutchman since their days together at Zenit St Petersburg.

As Zenit president, Fursenko hired Advocaat in 2006 and the following year the Dutchman steered the club to their first national title in nearly a quarter of a century, becoming the first foreign coach to achieve such a feat.

In 2008, he led them to victory in the UEFA Cup.

Now Advocaat, who resigned as Belgium coach last month, can expect a hefty pay rise and could earn as much as seven million euros a year to match Hiddink's salary.

While former RFU chief Vitaly Mutko relied on Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich to pay Hiddink's wages, Fursenko can count on Gazprom, the world's largest gas company, to step in with the cash for Advocaat's services.

MAIN REASON

Although Advocaat admitted money had played a role in his decision to take the job, he said football was the main reason for his move.

"Russian soccer is of a higher level than Belgian soccer. It matches the level I am used to working at," the man dubbed the Little General told Dutch media.

Advocaat had been considered a frontrunner to land the Russia job in 2006 before Hiddink, backed by Abramovich, was selected instead.

While Advocaat, a strict disciplinarian, may lack Hiddink's charm and charisma away from the pitch, he has been just as successful.

Soon after joining Zenit, Advocaat made it clear what kind of legacy he wanted to leave behind.

"I want to win trophies for this club. That would be the best legacy I could have of myself here," he told Reuters at the time. True to his word, he became the most successful coach in the history of the St Petersburg side.

Despite all his achievements with Zenit, Advocaat's new appointment received a mixed reaction in Russia.

While many said he was the best choice to succeed Hiddink, others argued that Russia should not have hired a man who had previously reneged on his contract.

Former long-time RFU chief Vyacheslav Koloskov has even called Advocaat "persona non grata" in Russian football.

"I would not shake his hand if I see him," Koloskov said.

RUSSIAN ADVENTURE

In 2007, Advocaat agreed to coach Australia's national team before turning his back on the Socceroos and staying put in St Petersburg afte