Football: Elegance in his leadership: Matthew Sturgis meets the great Glenn Hoddle as he brings his skills to bear at Stamford Bridge

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The Independent Online
AFTER yet another disappointing campaign last season Chelsea FC have enjoyed a spectacularly successful summer. First they captured the managerial talent of Glenn Hoddle (still aglow from carrying Swindon Town into the Premier League via the most thrilling of play-off finals); then they acquired his expertise as a player for the laughably small consideration of pounds 175,000 (as decided by the laughably unimaginative Transfer Tribunal); and finally, last weekend, they saw these first two elements combine thrillingly to bring home the silverware.

Chelsea, inspired by Hoddle's cool head and rare passing ability, brushed past Tottenham Hotspur to claim the pre-season Makita Trophy. It is the first domestic honour to grace the Stamford Bridge sideboard since the Blues carried off the Zenith Data Systems Cup back in 1989-90.

Things are moving fast in SW6. And, as ever, it is Hoddle - the greatest playmaker of his generation - who is making them move. Chelsea's new player-manager is rapidly imposing his own sense of style upon proceedings. The unflappable calm and economy of purpose which he has always brought even to the most crowded midfield is becoming the hallmark of Hoddle's approach to management.

He has said with typical candour that he took the Chelsea job not because he needs it but because 'I want it'. Financially secure after his years in Monaco, Hoddle can be true to himself and his footballing beliefs. His forthright chairman, Ken Bates, has given him money to spend, a three-year contract and the vision of 'lead(ing) Chelsea into the next century'.

Backed by these endorsements Hoddle has already brought in his own men. As youth coach he appointed Graham Rix, the former Arsenal star and another creative England midfielder who left north London for the sophisticated playing-fields of France.

His first-team assistant is his erstwhile Tottenham manager, Peter Shreeves - appointed after Hoddle's original plan of bringing his Swindon deputy, John Gorman, with him foundered when Gorman accepted the vacant Swindon management job.

Hoddle has stepped briskly and confidently into the transfer market, selling the influential but unsettled Andy Townsend to Aston Villa, and buying Darren Peacock from Newcastle, as well as Andy Dow, a young attacking full-back from Dundee.

It is, of course, too early to estimate the effect of such moves, but they are statements of intent. As Hoddle sagely remarks, 'As a manager you can't guarantee results but you can guarantee style of play.' And for Hoddle, playing is all about 'style'. He wants Chelsea to produce what he calls 'the right sort of football'.

'The style of play will be the same as we used at Swindon,' he says. 'It's what I've always believed in - the ball played to feet rather than punted down the channels or over the top.'

It remains to be seen whether the speed-and-power obsessed Premier League will provide a better - or a worse - platform for expressing this football philosophy than the hurly-burly of the Second (or First) Division. 'It is difficult to gauge,' he admits. 'But I think you just have to set your foundations and then build from there.' Certainly the first signals are encouraging.

'We don't want to get carried away,' he says, 'but the Makita trophy was an exciting weekend for us. And when you're winning games there is a lot of positive energy in the side.'

Much of that energy has been supplied by Hoddle's own on-field contributions. He has been able to instruct his new charges by example. Age has added a rich fund of knowledge to his always prodigious natural talent. Last Sunday, after Chelsea's 4-0 drubbing of Spurs, Ossie Ardiles admitted regretfully that Hoddle 'was a different class.' Whether dropping deep to collect the ball or pushing up into the midfield (as he did against Tottenham), Hoddle, according to Shreeves, 'has been our most influential player during the pre-season games.'

At Colchester in midweek, it was his arrival as a late second- half substitute which ignited the match: a low drilled pass through the middle to Damian Matthew created the first goal; a gloriously precise ball flighted down the flank for Gareth Hall to chase, created the second.

The other players seemed to respond to his presence, tightening their concentration and raising their game, a state of affairs that bodes only so well for the coming season.

Although Hoddle managed an impressive 47 appearances for Swindon last season, at 35 his legs cannot be expected to last 90 minutes on a regular basis. David Lee is being schooled to operate in Hoddle's free sweeping role and (despite an astonishing resemblance to 'Rodders' from Only Fools and Horses) is showing a ready aptitude for the task.

Other players seem still to be coming to terms with the new system. As Shreeves explains, it is important to teach them 'not passing for the sake of passing, but passing for a purpose. There must be an end product.' In Hoddle they have an exemplar. But, with the new season about to begin in earnest, much will depend on how quickly - and how well - the class of '93 can learn the lessons of their pass master.

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