England coach in danger of falling foul of the media

KEN JONES on Monday
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The Independent Online
It helps, of course, but football managers are not hired to light up a room with conversation. They are given all that money to produce winning teams, not because they spread sunshine. The majority, in fact, are not comfortable with the chore of public communication.

The most successful England manager, Alf Ramsey thought it a bind, and you sense that Glenn Hoddle shares the sentiment. In moments of reflection Hoddle may even think that the designation coach should afford him some protection.

Lately, there has been evidence to suggest that the honeymoon period for Hoddle is over. The World Cup loss to Italy didn't help but it does not entirely explain the resentment that appears to be growing up in some of the people who deal with him on a regular basis.

There was a whiff of this on Sky television the other night when three prominent football writers were asked for an interim report on Hoddle's progress. One went as far as to suggest that the information Hoddle puts out is frequently misleading. Much was made of the delay, understandably I think, in announcing his team for the friendly against Mexico.

Hoddle's explanation was that you do not communicate battle plans to the enemy. A personal point of view is that football managers should not employ military metaphors. Invariably, it makes them sound ridiculous, as Bobby Robson once did before an important match against Sweden in Stockholm. "We didn't tell the Germans about D-Day," he said when refusing to go into detail about selection and strategy.

However, a golden rule of stewardship in football, I think, is to avoid debates beforehand with representatives of newspapers and television, some of whom regard themselves foolishly as technical experts. This was one of the things that led to Graham Taylor's downfall.

In view of the problems it created for him, and the changed order of things, maybe Ramsey's example is not one Hoddle should pick up on but there was something to commend it.

In matters of communication Hoddle, a decent man, suffers by comparison with Terry Venables who, we can be sure, would have avoided the mistake of stating that the box office returns for Saturday's match were not his responsibility but the Football Association's commercial department. This ignores the pretty obvious fact that the public are of paramount importance.

The programme for Saturday's match included comments from Hoddle about issues of reporting that have clearly irritated him. "The press have been trying to make a story out of the upcoming tournament in June... Brazil, Italy and the French. I have spoken to a lot of Premiership managers, and although some feel rest is needed at this time, they fully understand the needs of the national team," he wrote.

Understanding those needs and going along with them are two different things as the Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, made clear when expressing concern for the welfare of his players. For Hoddle to complain that too much was made of this indicates naivety or, at the very least, a gap in education.

Another issue that he touched on sharply was the controversial inclusion of Matthew Le Tissier against Italy. "...there would have been a whole set of different headlines if Matt had scored, but these people in the media will not affect us, we have to rise above that, as coaching staff and players."

There is nothing new in this. Even with the World Cup in his grasp Ramsey was criticised in some quarters for leaving out Jimmy Greaves, and the England team's tactical deployment. Six years before Bobby Robson almost got England into the 1990 World Cup final he was under heavy fire in newspapers and suffered intrusions into his private life. Making himself available at all times to football writers did not work for Taylor who eventually found himself almost friendless.

There is no way of getting the relationship absolutely right but at this early stage of Hoddle's reign it would be a shame to see him fall into the traps that caused some of his predecessors more anguish than they could comfortably handle.