Football: Hoddle and Shearer dismiss rift claims

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GLENN HODDLE, finally rising to continuing tabloid taunts, dismissed newspaper stories yesterday that his England captain had openly criticised his coaching of the national team.

According to the reports, Hoddle asked his players in the dressing-room after the 3-0 victory over Luxembourg why they thought the team had not played well. Alan Shearer was reported to have to responded: "Have you ever thought it might be you?" Hoddle was said to have walked out after that.

Shearer described the story as "nonsense" and is understood to be taking legal advice with a view to seeking an apology.

Hoddle, who views the story as a serious escalation of what he perceives as a press campaign against him, was angered by the report, describing it as "a vicious lie", and said it had been written without any checks with himself or Alan Shearer about what was said.

"If their aim is to undermine me, it has had the opposite effect," he said. "What they clearly aren't trying to do is to help England qualify for Euro 2000. That's what I want. So does Alan Shearer. So do millions of people around the country."

Hoddle has let much of the tide of tabloid attacks wash over him, but he clearly felt that published criticisms purportedly from his captain had to be countered. On BBC Grandstand yesterday, he admitted that after the match neither he nor the players had been happy with the second-half performance in Luxembourg, but he said the discussion was no different from any post-match exchange. "They go on time and time again," he said. "In every dressing-room this afternoon at quarter to five there'll be heated moments, there'll be some good discussions, there'll be some feedback from players, and that's exactly what it was. There is no truth in the story whatsoever. I spoke to Alan this morning and he's of the same opinion."

Shearer said as much himself. "There was a discussion in the dressing- room after the game but I'm not prepared to say what was said. I believe that dressing-room conversations are and should remain private. But I never used the words that appeared on the front page of the newspaper today."

Hoddle's assistant, John Gorman, corroborated those versions of events: "We asked Alan for an opinion after the match. We felt that things could have been better in the game and Alan obviously had his opinion which was really just general. He gave his opinion but never was a word said about Glenn Hoddle being the reason [for England's disappointing recent performances]."

The League Managers' Association have urged Hoddle to "ride out" the tabloid newspaper-fuelled storm over his reign as England coach. The LMA's chief executive, John Barnwell, insists that the fans must support Hoddle if England are to reach the European Championship finals in 2000. "We have to be behind him because he is the manager," Barnwell said.

The Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, took up that rallying cry, and added: "The trouble with this country and football is that we have impossible and ridiculous expectations."

Nick Townsend, page 14

Peter Corrigan, page 8