As stunts go, it was on a par with the time Daniel Amokachi was asked to pose with a missile launcher before the 1995 FA Cup Final (his nickname was "Ammo") but Glenn Hoddle was having none of it.
Green Flag, the sponsors of Team England, had driven a white Mini, as used by Michael Caine and company, down from Leeds and parked it on the lawn at Bisham Abbey with the words "Italian Job" on the number plate and the flag of St George on the roof. As rain threatened, the England coach would not be coaxed into posing beside it. Thanks, but no thanks was the response; having posed with Dermot Gallagher to promote next week's national eye-test day Hoddle had enough of cheesy grins.
Given what football folk are usually prepared to do it was another example of Hoddle being his own man. He is, said Ray Clemence, his former Tottenham team-mate and now a member of the national coaching staff, "thriving" on the pressure and expectation. "He has dealt with various situations and done so well. He has come through them stronger."
Hoddle certainly looks at ease. The biggest match of his career, Saturday's World Cup qualifying tie in Rome, is less than a week away but yesterday he was trading jokes with the press and insisting he could not wait for the game to be played.
For once the fates have been kind. With the exception of Robert Lee, since replaced by Paul Merson, all his squad are pretty much fit. Graeme Le Saux, Gareth Southgate and Gary Pallister sat out training with minor thigh problems and Tony Adams was given a rest after a busy return from injury, but all should train today. Hoddle has thus already picked his side and will tell the players tomorrow, shortly before flying to Rome. The public, and the Italians, will have to wait until just before kick-off at the Stadio Olimpico.
The rest of the week will be spent fine-tuning tactics and set-pieces, and getting minds right. England are travelling earlier than usual and will effectively be in purdah in Italy, with newspapers - and media pack - barred from their country retreat. They will even have their own chef, which led to an FA official anxiously reassuring the Italian press that this was not a slight on Roman cuisine but standard practice.
All this preparation is designed to let the team focus on the football. "The team that settles to play as naturally as possible will go on to win the game," Hoddle said. "It is about who can go out there and get closest to their natural way of playing in that pressure-pot.
"I have got to ensure every player who stands in that tunnel believes we can do it. Not 70 per cent, but 100 per cent. It is a matter of being positive, not arrogant. They are up for it; I even had to halt training early today because they were so enthusiastic."
To that end Gary Neville's cool assertion that "we have better players than the Italians" will encourage Hoddle. Buoyed by last week's victory over Juventus the Manchester United player, not given to outrageous pronouncements, added: "We build these teams up but when you've played them a few times you realise they are not superhuman. Their forward line does not have the zest of the Brazilians."
While Liverpool's Steve McManaman was enticed into the Mini, Neville managed to avoid it. He had already had his surreal moment on Sunday when United played Manchester City in Paul Lake's testimonial. "We came off together after 25 minutes and the announcer said it was because we were off to join the England squad and wished us all the best," Neville said. "Even the City fans gave us a big ovation. I never thought United would be clapped at Maine Road."
England were dividing their time between fishing and a visit to the cinema yesterday afternoon. One assumes The Italian Job was not playing at the local Odeon.
Cesare Maldini, Italy's coach, has called up Internazionale's Fabio Galante for this weekend's match against England to replace the injured Juventus defender, Ciro Ferrara.Reuse content