Football: Future of Hoddle in the balance

Football: Stockholm setback increases pressure on England coach as Shearer expresses concern over bad publicity
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The Independent Online
IT WAS against Bulgaria, 19 years ago, that Glenn Hoddle began his career as an international player. Next month, in another European Championship qualifier against the Bulgars, he could end his career as an international manager.

If Hoddle's entrance was spectacular, a stunning volleyed goal from 20 yards announcing his talent, his exit would be just as dramatic. There is no sign that the Football Association would sack him but growing indications that, should the result go against him, he may quit.

On Saturday, in the wake of England's 2-1 defeat to Sweden in Stockholm, he walked out of a press conference when asked if he could refute speculation that he would be interested in the newly-vacant Tottenham job.

Yesterday he did so, but it was hardly a ringing declaration of intent. "I've a contract for the next two years and there are talks around the corner about a new one," he said. For a man who claims to have dreamed of being England manager since he was 12 it was a low-key affirmation of his pride in the job.

Should Hoddle leave, Tottenham, who are thought to be more interested in George Graham, is an unlikely destination. The club is in a far worse shape than England and, as Ossie Ardiles, Gerry Francis and Christian Gross found out, the media spotlight, being on a daily basis, is no less intent.

If Hoddle goes it will be to an overseas post. But should he go? Though Saturday's performance was poor it is too early to call for his departure. Equally it is premature for the FA to try to extend his contract. While England still have every prospect of qualifying for the finals there are worrying signs.

The most serious is that, increasingly, it is the players, as well as the press and public, who have reservations about his judgement. Tony Adams has already expressed doubts and Alan Shearer, a man who chooses his words carefully, is clearly unhappy about the manager's contribution to the recent bad publicity surrounding the team. Late Saturday night he suggested it may have contributed to the defeat.

"I couldn't understand how it all went wrong during the game but I don't think all the crap that went on beforehand helped," he said. "I mean all the stuff about books and all the publicity. It didn't affect me because my skin is thick, but it may have affected others. One thing is for sure, it certainly didn't help. In the circumstances this was the worst possible result. We could have killed off all of this and instead we have allowed it to continue."

More supportively, Shearer added: "We can expect fierce criticism and we deserve it. We can't complain about all the things that will be said, the players have to take responsibility, too. We are a unit and the players are behind the manager. We have to take things on the chin.

"I just hope nobody presses the panic button. It is very important that nobody should react without thinking. It would be crazy to start making wrong decisions. I wish we could play on Saturday and get this out of our system, instead we have a long wait which will allow all the nonsense to build up again."

The build-up to the Bulgaria game will not be helped by the controversy about Paul Ince's behaviour on Saturday and more forthcoming books by Teddy Sheringham and Eileen Drewery. There may also be problems from Tottenham, once they have sorted out their own problems, about the condition of Darren Anderton.

Anderton was injured just after Sweden went ahead and Hoddle said: "As soon as he did it we all knew on the bench there was a possibility it was a cartilage or ligament. Yet Anderton, who had a scan yesterday, was allowed to carry on for another eight minutes before coming off, time in which he could further have damaged his injury. Hoddle said he wanted to try to continue, but if the injury was that obvious he should not have been allowed to.

Hoddle admitted that if Anderton failed to recover in time for next month's match with Bulgaria choosing his midfield would be "a major concern". David Beckham and Ince are suspended and David Batty, because of domestic suspension and injury, unlikely to be match-fit. There may also be further injuries before 10 October.

After Hoddle's debut goal he was dropped for England's next match, Ron Greenwood, the then-manager, declaring that "young players had to learn to live with disappointment". He has had plenty of disappointments since but now hopes that another meeting with Bulgaria will not provide the biggest one of all.