Football: Hoddle: I am strict behind the scenes

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AFTER A fortnight in which referees, opponents and team-mates have been assaulted in turn it was no surprise to find Bisham Abbey swarming with security guards yesterday. However, they were not there to protect the England players from each other but to keep prying eyes away from preparations for Saturday's European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria.

The only violence was verbal as Glenn Hoddle put the boot in on the fashionable theory that the game is descending into anarchy. The England coach, whose ankles still betray the scars of many a foul tackle, dismissed the notion out of hand.

"The game is less violent than it used to be," he said. "There are more incidents being highlighted because the media hype things up more. There are more bookings and sendings-off because the laws have become stricter and referees are under more pressure. It is much easier to be sent off now and players, coaches and the media need to adjust.

"I am strict behind the scenes and that is what is important; if I see something violent on the pitch then you'll see that side of me. David Beckham was sent off in the World Cup for what the referee saw as `violent conduct' but I didn't think what he did was violent. It was worse in my day - I remember a right battle in a [Spurs- Arsenal] derby game, and it was even worse before then."

Many an old pro, grateful for the absence in their day of television cameras in every nook and cranny, will agree. Many a modern one will also think wistfully of such times.

One of those is Paul Ince, who may have escaped censure for his V-sign after being sent off against Sweden but is likely, today, to be penalised for his abuse of the referee in that game, Pierluigi Collina.

Uefa's disciplinary committee is considering Collina's report in Switzerland today and Hoddle said: "Realistically I think he'll get the two games. If he doesn't we'll bring him in when we see fit." That, he suggested last week, would be immediately with a view to playing Ince against Luxembourg on Wednesday.

From Hoddle's point of view one match is inconvenient enough, especially as, to judge from yesterday's turn-out at Bisham Abbey, the index of fit footie players is as volatile as that of the footsie. Forty-eight hours after the England squad appeared to be undergoing a recovery there has been a significant downturn in Hoddle's fortunes with the stock of half- a-dozen players declining.

Darren Anderton and Ray Parlour are most in danger of missing Saturday's European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria but Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Ian Wright and Teddy Sheringham may also have a reduced rate of interest in the Wembley game.

Anderton is having trouble with a thigh injury that is rather ironic considering he was singing the praises of Eileen Drewery's healing hands only on Wednesday. Parlour, who would be a possible replacement on the right flank, is still unable to shake off his ankle injury.

"Neither of them trained," said Hoddle yesterday, "they need more time. Sheringham [knee], Wright [knee], Keown [back] and Adams [back and ankle] have had a session with the physios and they should do full training tomorrow. At this moment in time I wouldn't put my hat on any of them for Saturday but they're all improving."

There is no need, at present, to panic. In the unlikely event of all six being unavailable on Saturday Hoddle would still be able to field a strong team, albeit one that was short of experience in midfield. Even so, an XI consisting of: Seaman; G Neville, Southgate, Campbell; Lee, Redknapp, Scholes, Butt, Le Saux; Owen and Shearer ought to be good enough to defeat a Bulgarian team described succinctly by one veteran observer of the international scene as "crap".

Not that Hoddle, wisely, is making the same assumption. "They have not got off to the best of starts losing 3-0 at home [to Poland] but they had decided to experiment with some of the squad players from the World Cup.

"They have now brought back some of the old heads and, with a new coach, I would expect it to be a different Bulgaria to the one that played against Poland."