Football: Hoddle actions speak volumes

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The Independent Online
THE WEIGHT of expectation that is always brought to bear on managers of England's national football team makes it difficult for them to exploit friendly matches and conduct experiments with players and tactics.

This is as true of poor Glenn Hoddle as it was of his predecessors - one of whom, Bobby Robson, was booed off at Wembley after a flirtation with the extravagance of a 4-2-4 tactical system led to defeat by the then Soviet Union.

Probably, in an attempt to defuse the criticism that would have undoubtedly resulted from a loss to the Czech Republic last night, Hoddle put forward the view that he attached no great importance to the fixture. In the circumstances that have arisen from England's lacklustre form in three qualifying games for the European Championship this was no nearer the truth than some of the statements Hoddle made about his selections during last summer's World Cup.

Anyone who took Hoddle at his word would have found his reaction to England's opening goal, scored by Darren Anderton in the 21st minute, educational. The sight of the England coach leaping to his feet and embracing his assistant, John Gorman, was that of a man being relieved of some pressure.

Before that, Hoddle might have felt that there would be no easing of the campaign that has developed against him since the injudicious publication of a World Cup Diary and some bizarre statements of policy.

Despite their failure to qualify for the World Cup finals, the Czechs were unbeaten in 10 matches and began slickly enough to suggest that England's principal defenders - the back three of Martin Keown, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell - would be pushed to prevent an extension of the Czech record. This certainly looked to be the case when Vladimir Smicer sped 30 yards through England's centre to set up Pavel Kuka, who hit the crossbar.

Anderton's goal and another scored confidently by Paul Merson - both made by the veteran Ian Wright - put a different complexion on the proceedings. It was not so much that the Czechs lost heart as that they appeared to lose interest. The bite went out of their tackles and England began to enjoy themselves, especially David Beckham, who rarely enjoys as much room in the Premiership.

When the Czechs made four changes at half-time, and another with 15 minutes left to play, the match lost all relevance as an improvement in Hoddle's credentials. He will have learned things from the outing, but little more than an endorsement of known strengths and failings.

When Yugoslavia, who were originally scheduled to fulfil last night's fixture, pulled out, Hoddle might have felt that it made sense to keep his head down until England's European Championship match against Poland next March.

Instead he took the Czechs as opponents, which at least says something about his courage.