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Football: Hoddle happy to call up `victimised' Wright

No wonder Ian Wright thinks he is unfairly singled out by referees, the two most important men in his life, the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, and England's coach, Glenn Hoddle, keep telling him he is.

Wright, apparently, can jump from the team bench, run 40 yards to confront a referee, and have to be physically restrained from attacking an opponent, as happened at Leicester on Wednesday, and still regard himself as "picked on" if he is reported for his behaviour.

That was Hoddle's argument yesterday as he selected Wright for England's 10 September World Cup qualifying tie with Moldova. Hoddle implicitly criticised his own employers, the FA, for backing the referee, Graham Barber, in charging Wright with misconduct after the Filbert Street affray.

"I have watched the video and don't think there is much of a case there," Hoddle said. "There is no law in football that says you can't re-enter the pitch after the game. He was one of seven or eight people who did but he's been picked out. There were five players around the ref yet everyone is talking about him. It is over the top. He came off that pitch in a controlled manner."

A shame, then, that he went on it in such an uncontrolled mood. Hoddle did concede that "it would have been the sensible thing to have stayed off the pitch" but added "he was picked upon because he was Ian Wright. [Marc] Overmars came from the bench and said more things to the ref than Wright but he was not charged because he's not Ian Wright. Why wasn't every other player who came on the pitch reported? There was a skirmish but it was not a major issue, I've seen that sort of thing happen on occasions. In many ways he was provoked.

"He is working at controlling his anger and is getting better. He's been perfect with England. If he had run on the pitch and smacked someone in the mouth or hit the ref he would not be in the squad but he didn't. As his case won't be dealt with for weeks it would be unprofessional to leave him out."

Hoddle would not be drawn on whether he would be prepared to act as a character witness when the case is heard but the FA will hardly be oblivious of his views - their director of public affairs was sitting next to Hoddle when he made them. Hoddle said he would be talking to Wright when the England squad meet and gave a strong indication that he would play when he added: "He is probably the in the best form of anyone in the Premiership."

On recent evidence he is not even the most in-form player in Arsenal's forward line but his call-up is justified if not Hoddle's defence. More surprising is the selection of Aston Villa's Stan Collymore, last capped by Terry Venables, ahead of Chris Sutton of leaders Blackburn.

"We have a big man in Les Ferdinand but Sutton is in my thoughts and may come in if there are injuries," Hoddle said. "I've seen Stan twice and he's played well. He gives you something different, he has a gift inside him." So far only Barry Fry and Frank Clark have released that genie but one can understand Hoddle trying.

Rovers' revival has earned one Blackburn player a call-up, Stuart Ripley, who won his only previous cap against San Marino in Graham Taylor's last match as manager four years ago. He takes the place that Steve McManaman might have expected. Hoddle was unhappy when McManaman missed Le Tournoi de France in the summer, but he insisted that was not the reason, it was because "McManaman has had a lot on his plate recently."

Two teenagers, Rio Ferdinand and Emile Heskey, have been called up, although Heskey will swap to the under-21s if the senior strikers avoid weekend injury. With Sol Campbell likely to drop out, a further player, possibly his Tottenham team-mate John Scales, will be called up after the weekend.

As Paul Ince is suspended, and Alan Shearer, Tony Adams and Stuart Pearce injured, a fifth captain will be required for Hoddle's 12th match. Perhaps, following Roy Keane's successful appointment at Old Trafford, Hoddle will choose Wright.

More football, pages 26 and 27


(for World Cup Group Two qualifier, v Moldova, Wembley, 10 Sept)

Seaman (Arsenal), Walker (Tottenham), Martyn (Leeds); G Neville (Manchester United), Southgate (Aston Villa), Pallister (Manchester United), R Ferdinand (West Ham), Campbell (Tottenham), Le Saux (Chelsea), P Neville (Manchester United); Batty (Newcastle), Butt (Manchester United), Beckham (Manchester United), Gascoigne (Rangers), Scholes (Manchester United), Lee (Newcastle), Ripley (Blackburn); Sheringham (Manchester United), L Ferdinand (Tottenham), Wright (Arsenal), Collymore (Aston Villa), Heskey (Leicester).

One extra player to be added to the squad after Premier League matches at the weekend.