Football: Anderton willing and able to repay Hoddle's faith

England's midfielder is ready to enjoy the challenge of a full and injury-free season for club and country.
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The Independent Online
AFTER ALL Darren Anderton has been through it may seem a little cruel, but it still comes as a surprise to find him playing for Spurs and in the England squad, not out injured after his exertions in the World Cup. So far, since his third hernia operation in February, it is looking good for all concerned and earlier this week at Burnham the 26-year-old midfield player was enjoying a welcome change from explaining his latest injury or defending Glenn Hoddle's decision to pick him at all.

"It is a little strange seeing everyone from the World Cup again," he said. "That all finished so suddenly, but now we're back here it just seems like yesterday. Not a lot's been said about it, it's more just looking forward to Saturday's game against Sweden."

For Anderton and club-mate Sol Campbell linking up with England is probably just the escape they were looking for given all the fuss over Tottenham's poor start to the season, notwithstanding last Saturday's win at Everton. "It's nice to be here with everyone being so positive towards the game and looking forward to it," Anderton admitted. "Before last week's game against Everton there were a lot of people saying that things weren't going well within the club. But one win changes all that really.

"Whenever we have a couple of bad results it's blown up because we haven't been successful over the past four or five years and after last season, to come back and lose the first two was not what people were looking for. It wasn't even so much the scoreline as the way we played. It was shocking really. But we changed a couple of things on Saturday, we had four in midfield, we knew we had to battle for a win and that's what we did."

It was pointed out that even he looked as though he was getting stuck in at times, not a side of his game Anderton is generally noted for. "I've always tried, I'm just not particularly good at it," he said.

As far as criticism of the team and its manager, Christian Gross, is concerned, Anderton said: "It seems at the moment that all the players are behind him, but of course results are what count. When you start losing games everyone wants to blame each other.

"The fans went crazy at the first home game of the season. We could sense we needed a good performance, but as soon as the first goal went in they turned on us. We know their frustration but in the position we're in now it doesn't help. They need to get behind us, especially at home."

Anderton's own relationship with the Tottenham fans has been stretched to the limit by the injury problems that have restricted his appearances at club level over the past three years, despite playing in both Euro 96 and the World Cup. "I don't think I've got anything to prove to the fans," he said. "I just want to do well for myself and right now is the best I've felt for three or four years.

"I think I owe Tottenham a bit, but at the end of the day I was under their care and maybe if things had been done differently at times I wouldn't have been out injured for so long.

"But that's all in the past now and yes, I want to do it for Tottenham but I want to do it for myself as well. I showed my loyalty to Spurs by turning down a move to Manchester United at a time when things were going very well for me."

Looking back on the World Cup, the doubts about his fitness and the criticism over his selection ahead of David Beckham at the start of the tournament, Anderton said: "It would have been nice if people had said it's good to see him back playing again after the injuries he's had. I guess it was a bit of a gamble but Glenn [Hoddle] showed faith in me and the medical staff said there would be no problem with my injury as long as I continued to do the exercises. From then on it was just a matter of getting my match-fitness, and I've always been naturally fit in that way.

"I had a few doubts after the first game against Tunisia when we won 2-0. I thought I did okay but I got slaughtered in the press and after that I thought, `Well, I'm just going to go out and enjoy it'. Scoring against Colombia after all I'd been through, with the injuries and the stick, made it very satisfying.

"I wasn't too surprised it went well though because I was playing with great players. In that wide position you're relying a lot on your team- mates to give you the ball, but with England you're always going to get involved."

With Beckham and David Batty missing from tomorrow's England line-up, Anderton might find himself as involved as he was against Argentina when he took over Beckham's central midfield role following the sending-off. "I enjoyed that," he said. "It was a huge challenge, backs against the wall, but everyone just worked very, very hard. I was absolutely shattered when I came off - it wasn't just the physical side, it was the mental side as well."

As for the future, Anderton speaks optimistically without taking anything for granted. "I hope my peak years are still ahead of me," he said. "I've lost three years, apart from playing in the European Championship and the World Cup.

"I'm lucky with all the injuries I've had to have played in those tournaments, but now I just want to get a good full season under my belt and take things from there."