Football: Dublin talks Hoddle's language

International: England coach's admiration of substitute centre- forward started with a smack in the face and has grown
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The Independent Online
DION DUBLIN has scored a few goals in his career but it was more of an own goal that first left its mark on the England coach. Asked whether there was any time when he viewed the Aston Villa striker as just a big target man, Glenn Hoddle smartly replied: "Yeah, when he put an elbow straight in my face while I was playing for Swindon against Cambridge."

While his experience with Chris Sutton might suggest otherwise, Hoddle has evidently not held any grudge against Dublin because he is almost certain to award him his fourth cap tomorrow when he is expected to lead England's attack against the Czech Republic in the absence of Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Teddy Sheringham.

Dublin has come on somewhat since those up-and-at-'em days of John Beck at Cambridge, maturing into a striker who has a lot more going for him than just size and the occasional errant elbow. "They were a bit physical in those days, Cambridge, as a I recall," Hoddle said. "You couldn't tell whether his touch was any good because the ball was always in the air, but if he'd played for a footballing team who wanted to get it down and play, I'm sure he could have done."

Clearly, in the absence of Shearer, his captain, and Tony Adams, Hoddle will be looking to Dublin to talk a good game as well as play one, and in that respect, at least, he can be relied upon not to fail Hoddle. A strong character, Dublin's influence on the Coventry team in recent seasons has been monumental, and after just a fortnight at Villa Park it is evident that his contribution to the Premiership leaders will also go beyond being a prolific striker, if the response from the enigmatic Stan Collymore is anything to go by.

"You've got a centre-forward who talks like a centre-half, because he's played there a few times," Hoddle said. "He organises people. He listens off the pitch, he wants to learn. I can see him possibly going into coaching or being a manager himself. He's got that sort of head."

In fact, that could be Hoddle's secret weapon against the Czechs; in the absence of pace (Owen) and strength (Shearer), the England coach is endeavouring to talk the opposition to death, Dublin is expected to line- up alongside a compulsive chatterbox with whom he admits even he cannot get a word in edgeways - the TV chat show host-cum footballer, Ian Wright.

"I try to be like him but he always takes centre stage, his is always the voice you can hear," Dublin said. "I hope to be like Ian Wright when I'm his age (35). His mentality and fitness is brilliant. My being a little younger (Dublin is 29) than him, he's one of the players you look up to. You need players like that around the place to keep the lads smiling all the time. If you don't have a particularly good training session, he'll be there at your shoulder having a bit of a laugh with you."

They complement each other rather well; Wright the late starter, and Dublin the late developer. An overnight success in 10 years is how one might describe the Leicester-born Dublin. He started out as a packer in a hosiery factory earning pounds 80 a week - "I remember it clear as day" - before his brother's friend, the former England Under-21 winger Dale Gordon, got him a trial at Norwich. He eventually moved on to Cambridge where for a time he was loaned out to King's Lynn in the Beazer Homes League, playing before crowds of 400 - "if we were lucky".

Chris Turner gave him his League chance at Cambridge before Beck took over, imposing his unorthodox but highly successful coaching methods on impressionable young players like Dublin. He has no regrets about his humble origins and, in fact, one suspects he is rather proud of them. "It's good to sample all the warts of football," he said. "I've been in the Fourth Division, the Third, the Second, the Premier and now I'm here today. I think it's good to experience all the different standards of football. It makes you appreciate what you've got."

Dreams of playing for England then must have been a bit fanciful, but no not a bit of it, said Dublin. "I've always dreamed of playing for England having a No 9 shirt on one day," he said with genuine sincerity. Missing the cut in England's World Cup squad of 30 was "hard to handle", although according to Hoddle he handled it "like a man".

"Yeah, but as soon as he left the room I cried," Dublin half-joked. "The disappointment was with me probably right up until the first game in Marseilles when I saw the boys walk out - that was the hardest thing. But you've got to keep plugging away and that's what I've done."

It has taken Dublin a long time to lose that "big target man" tag and even Hoddle seemed to infer that the reason why Dublin did not go to France was because they were well catered for in that respect and needed players with pace. A couple of years ago, as Dublin agreed, clubs seemed more interested in buying "quick, tricky foreigners". He said: "But I think you need to have a player like myself in your side that can help you out in other departments."

Wright may be a role model for Dublin but the West Ham striker, for his part, has also tried to copy one or two traits of his soul brother, like learning to play the saxophone, just how successfully Dublin was not sure. "I haven't heard Wrighty play," he said, "but I've seen his sax and it looks a bit too nice and clean to me".