England warming to week at Club Hoddle

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The Independent Online
The football pitches at Bisham Abbey are usually quiet by late afternoon on an England week, just a few advertising boards standing sentinel after the earlier exertions. The players would be back in the hotel playing cards, watching a video or trying to avoid Paul Gascoigne's practical jokes. But that was before Glenn Hoddle became England coach. Yesterday his players were still on the training ground at 4pm, almost an hour after the session was scheduled to finish.

England, under Hoddle, have gone Continental. Yesterday was the first of seven days building up to next Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Poland at Wembley. Week-long preparation periods have become more frequent in recent years but under Hoddle they are both more intensive and complete - unlike Terry Venables he will not be allowing his players home at weekends.

"We have seven days to prepare. If you are an international footballer, being together for that time should not be a problem," Hoddle said. "We will not be training every day, there will be a rest period - that is part of the preparation. But the players will be at the hotel every day."

Hoddle wants a full week, partly because, as the new coach, he has a lot of ground to cover - and partly to ensure the players are not compromised by photographs of themselves in night-clubs in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"They can still have a drink at the right time," Hoddle said. "They are not schoolkids but it will be controlled - nothing over the top. There is a line to be drawn, but you do not want to let the players know where it is.

"This is the way they do it abroad for clubs and at international level. If we are going to do well then a certain amount of sacrifice is required from the players, myself and everyone. You cannot do it without that sort of dedication. That is what is needed. Others may see it differently but what is needed is the most important thing."

Hoddle does not speak lightly of sacrifice; though he probably lives closer to the team hotel than anyone, he will not be going home either.

"There are benefits on and off the pitch," Hoddle said. "It gives me time to work out characters and gives me more scope in training. I can work hard some sessions but also have relaxing ones.

"Seven days is enough to get the team spirit going and to do what we need. It will be broken up - we will train at Wembley and there will be a leisure day when they can play golf, go fishing or visit the cinema."

Steve McManaman agrees that the week together would help rekindle the mood of Euro 96. The Liverpool winger - who has even gone so far as to stay in the same room - said: "We've no problem with it at all. The players enjoy each other's company, there's plenty to do with videos, table tennis and whatnot."

Hoddle added: "In an ideal world we would have seven days for every game but it is not an ideal world and I may have to be flexible."

He already has in allowing Manchester United's three representatives to arrive today after attending a club function yesterday. Also missing yesterday's training were injury victims Dominic Matteo (knee), Robbie Fowler (ankle), Ian Walker (back) and Sol Campbell. The Liverpool pair are the more seriously troubled and Hoddle will decide at the weekend if they are fit.

Ticket sales have gone past 60,000 for Hoddle's first home match as England coach. "I'm going to be very proud," he said. "I've had a great story with Wembley, I played there for England as a 21-year-old, I hope it continues."

One veteran commentator recalled Hoddle being one of a group of players revealed to be in a club late one night before an England game. The players initially denied the allegation only for Ron Greenwood, the then manager, to have said: "I don't know why they denied it - we did not have a curfew." They do say poachers become the best gamekeepers but Hoddle also has a sense of perspective. "The image [of the team and himself] is part of the job but not No 1. The priority is to qualify."