BRENDAN RODGERS won’t come up against many managers who have had a stadium named in their honour.
But then the Northern Irishman is unlikely to often pit his wits against opposition with experience and track record of Guus Hiddink.
Hiddink was afforded the rare tribute by the South Korean city of Gwangju after guiding the home country to the semi-final of the World Cup in 2002.
The celebrated Dutchman, who has proven a success with a string of club and national teams, was handed the reins at Anzhi Makhachkala by billionaire Russian owner Suleyman Kerimov in February this year.
So far, so good. Moneybags Anzhi stand two points clear at the top of their domestic league and, in all competitions, have lost just one of 21 games.
And goalkeeper Brad Jones, who will deputise once again for the injured Pepe Reina this evening, expects a testing encounter.
“This season has started a lot better for Anzhi,” says Jones. “I know a lot of players came in at first and maybe they struggled a bit making sure everyone was on the same page.
“Obviously they have a very good manager who is very experienced. This season he has concentrated on more of what he wants and they are seeing that in their league position. They will be strong opposition.
“Anzhi are probably the strongest team in the group given the money they have spent. If they continue doing that then they will be a force.”
Hiddink returns to the scene of former glories this evening having qualified for Euro 96 with Holland by beating the Republic of Ireland in a play-off at Anfield and, when caretaker manager of Chelsea, winning 3-1 in a Champions League quarter-final first leg tie three years ago.
“You get a reputation by achieving what he has achieved,” says Australia international Jones, whose home country Hiddink led to the World Cup in 2006. “Everyone he seems to have been has been successful.
“He was involved with the Australian national team and everyone speaks highly of him back home.
“He has certainly proved what he can do in any league and any country, he has always achieved something. He is very experienced and I’m sure he will have his side ready for us.”
That this is only Anzhi’s second European campaign underlines the rapid rate of progress of a club that was only formed in 1991 and was languishing outside the Russian top flight as recently as four years ago.
In sharp contrast to the pragmatic approach of Fenway Sports Group, Anzhi owner Kerimov has spent big to bolster the squad: £10million on former Blackburn Rovers defender Christopher Samba, £14m on Ivory Coast striker Lacina Traore, £13.2m on Chelsea’s Yuri Zhirkov and £21.8m on Samuel Eto’o – plus a cool £20m a year wages after tax.
And of facing the Cameroon striker this evening, Jones says: “Eto’o is a fantastic player and has been for a number of years.
“You know you have to be on top of your game against players like that, but you have to do that every day anyway with the likes of Gerrard and Suarez in training.”