Faith in flair fortifies Hoddle FA CUp countdown: Chelsea's principled manager talks to Glenn Moore

`We have to be more consistent; we have to win games playing attractive football'
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The Independent Online
To the mischievous, the thought of Glenn Hoddle taking his Chelsea team to Millwall today for their FA Cup fourth-round tie brings to mind the 23rd psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

Unfair, both to Millwall - though some of their fans revel in their notoriety - and to Hoddle, who does not preach or flaunt his religious beliefs.

But those Christian principles are an important element in his make-up, one of the ingredients that give him the inner strength required to be a manager. The strength and steel few suspected he had when he was a gifted, but apparently lightweight, player.

Of course, the money helps, too. Hoddle's lucrative spell at Monaco means he manages more from professional desire than to pay the bills. There is pressure to succeed, of course, but not the same pressure there would be if his mortgage were at stake.

This makes it easier to stick to his footballing principles, as Hoddle did last December when the team were second from bottom of the Premier League and some pundits suggested he should adopt a less attractive style of play. Still, nobody likes to lose -or be sacked - and Hoddle's determination to maintain a passing game was admirable. In the event, it was also successful, the team finishing 14th and reaching the FA Cup final.

Hoddle felt last summer that his team had learned from the travails of the winter and he could approach this season with confidence. However, after a bright start, the team have slipped within four points of the relegation zone and are without a League win in two months and a home success in three.

"We have had 16 first-team players injured at some stage but strangely, the problem has come now we have everyone fit," Hoddle said at Stamford Bridge this week. "Sometimes competition for places can go against you. Players are too scared of losing theirplace in the team to play well; too many players are looking over their shoulder, thinking too much about what they are doing rather than going out and playing."

Today's match thus represents a chance to break the pattern of Premiership failure, but also carries the threat of perpetuating Chelsea's apparent preference for the jam of cup competition to the bread and butter of the league.

"It is not a distraction," said Hoddle. "A good cup run would go hand-in-hand with getting ourselves back on track in the League."

Neither is Hoddle, a young-looking but cagey 37-year-old, concerned about having to visit the New Den. "I think it is an advantage to be away - I would not have liked to have been at home at the moment. We have played quite well away, we have passed the ball exceptionally well and if we can create as much as we have done in the past few weeks away from home I will be happy.

"There will be a good atmosphere over there. After all the hype, most pitches are the same size, you play with a same size ball and the intimidation - or atmosphere - does not come into it. When that whistle goes players are focused and they are going tohave a good day or they are going to have a bad day. A full house, wherever you are - and they have a nice stadium now - adds to the cup."

Ironically, the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge means that Chelsea's pitch is narrower than most, which has not helped the team's passing game. The pitch will be enlarged next year, but for the moment Hoddle has to put up with it and look to the long-term benefits.

After years of legal wrangling over the ground, Chelsea have regained control of their destiny, and are finally continuing the ground reconstruction that nearly bankrupted the club when begun more than two decades ago. "The long-term situation looks verygood, but whether I will still be here I don't know. It could be five to 10 years down the line," Hoddle said.

"At the moment, there is a transition going on, on the football side and off the pitch. I appreciate the chairman's [Ken Bates'] position and I am sure he knows what I want. It is marrying the two together that is very difficult.

"The best players are going to five or six clubs and they are becoming an elite group. It would be nice for us to say we can become that, but you are talking a lot of finance. If the things being thought about at the club at the moment become practical, then there will be money to invest in the football club.

"It would be nice if I had the money for players that would put Chelsea into another bracket, but you can't do that on gates like Wednesday night's [17,890 against Nottingham Forest].

"We took 60,000 to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final last year - but then you can play here and get 16,000. The next time it is a full house. We have to be more consistent; we have to win games playing attractive football."

The Forest match, lost 2-0, saw the return from injury of Dennis Wise who, though embroiled in problems off the field, has been a major influence on it.

"He has played exceptionally well this season; we've missed him," admits Hoddle, who picks out John Spencer, the top scorer, and Dimitri Kharin, the goalkeeper, as Chelsea's other key players this season. All three have been instrumental in Chelsea's runto the quarter-finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup in which they meet Club Bruges in March.

Wise is expected to start for the first time in eight games today, as Hoddle seeks his fifth cup final appearance. A loser, by 4-0, to Manchester United last year, he won (1981, 1982) and lost (1987) at Wembley with Spurs. The other appearance came with Monaco in the French Cup final, a 4-3 defeat to Marseille in 1989. It was, said Hoddle unexpectedly, the most memorable match of the lot.

"We always think that Continental sides do not regard their own cup competitions highly, that they almost discard them. It is not true. It was fantastic, the atmosphere was better than any final I played in over here."

Hoddle's record in a 19-year career - one French title, two FA Cup wins and one French, 53 England caps - stands comparison with Chelsea's over 90 (one title, 40 years ago, one FA Cup, an early League Cup and a European Cup-Winners' Cup). n Last year's FA Cup final was their first tilt at glory for more than 20 years, which makes their image as one of the glamour clubs laughable - Ipswich and Nottingham Forest have achieved more.

Perhaps, if things go well off the pitch and in Europe, that is about to change.

With Hoddle - snappy dresser, BMW driver, erstwhile pop singer and legendary player - in charge some of the glamour has returned. There were lots of expensively dressed Blues supporters at Wembley last May. At Millwall today, however, it will be dungarees and denim time.