Football: Hoddle now has only Georgia on his mind

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The Independent Online
England arrived in the Georgian capital last night with qualifying finally taking over from counselling as, minds were trained from self- analysis to a World Cup examination awaiting them on Saturday. It was in that context at last that the names of Paul Gascoigne and Tony Adams cropped up.

Both, said the England coach Glenn Hoddle, had seen their respective counsellors this week but it was time for football to take prominence. Where their selection for the squad had taken into account issues of personal rehabilitation, Hoddle now made it clear that their selection for the team, the latter perhaps as captain, depended solely on form and fitness.

"I saw the plane journey as a significant cutting-off," Hoddle said. "We are 100 per cent on the football side now. I wouldn't be doing my job right if we weren't focusing on that.

"I need to see a couple of training sessions away from England. I need to judge Paul now as a player, though I also want to see how settled his mind is. I know what he can do as a player and by Friday I should know more about what is going on. Paul has been under a lot of mental pressure and I think this trip can relieve that. He can lose himself in pure football." One hopes that it is more beneficial than the way he lost himself in football against Poland last month.

Hoddle, it seems, has decided who will captain the team in the absence of the injured Alan Shearer but is not yet ready to make it public. "I am pretty clued up in my mind," he said, "but I will explain the issues later in the week. You need leaders in a match like this and we have a few in the team who are candidates as a 90-minute captain."

Adams appears to be a prime one after his leadership during Euro 96. The absence of the supportive fellow-recovering alcoholic Paul Merson, who withdrew from the squad late on Tuesday night with a groin strain, will not be a problem, said the coach.

"I have spoken to Tony and he is in good spirits," Hoddle said, before quickly correcting himself. "Better make that in good health."

With midfielder Merson's absence coming on top of the withdrawal of the defender Dominic Matteo because a knee injury, England are down to 18 outfield players. Hoddle, however, has decided against replacements. "There are areas of the team where we are strong in depth," he said.

He believes that any tough decisions he has to take this week over Gascoigne and Adams hardly compare with that at Swindon in his first few weeks as player-manager, when forced to inform three distraught YTS boys they would not make the grade. "Everything after that is simple and easy," he said.

Let us hope that he sees the decision with rather more clarity than the pilot of England's plane, who had to circle a half- dark Tbilisi airfield to make a check before landing. "I have just got to get it right on the day," Hoddle said. "We are top of our group so I have got it right so far, although I believe we can play better."

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