Football: Hoddle on the ball with key to success: Trevor Haylett talks to the manager whose stylish beliefs are beginning to pay off as Swindon seek to join the Premier League

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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE has never been one for thumping fists on tables but he makes his point forcibly as he issues the challenge: 'Name me the top goalscorers in the division?' The homework pays off. You confirm that it is indeed Swindon but what he did not know is that his team have more goals (27) than any of the other 91.

'What really gets under my skin,' Hoddle, 35 today, continues his theme, 'is when people say we play nice football but . . . and then criticise us for being over-elaborate, too pretty- pretty. It was said after our FA Cup tie here with Aston Villa last season when we absolutely hammered them, created no end of opportunities and lost to two outstanding strikes. I accept the criticism when it's justified but the way we play we are always going to create chances.'

Failure to make the most of them, and disappointing away form, conspired to deny Swindon the promotion place they deserved last season.

Three days ago came signs that things may be about to change. A far from convincing performance at West Ham brought the reward of three points courtesy of a deflected goal six minutes from time and a place ahead of their opponents and behind the leaders Newcastle.

It was the ideal way to round off a week when Hoddle's managerial reputation was further enhanced by the 3-1 victory, but more importantly by the cohesive performance, of his Barclays League XI against their Italian counterparts.

The obvious England manager of the future? He does look tailor- made for the role. Naturally he has the respect of all his players, he talks a good game and has a definite strategy that takes no account of injuries and withdrawals - the traditional quicksand of international management.

'Considering we had only been together a few days our football was tremendous, you would have thought we had been together all year,' Hoddle said. His comments seemed particularly pertinent given that Graham Taylor's chief complaint is a lack of quality time with his squad.

Hoddle, always the diplomat, said: 'I can only comment on my circumstances. I knew the way I wanted to play and with the cream of the country to choose from it did not matter too much who dropped out, we had other players up our sleeve who would be as strong if not stronger.'

The 'way' was the Swindon way with a sweeper, defenders playing intelligently out from the back, a midfield comprised of bright minds, good passers and clever movement and with a striker laying just off the front two.

Among those to be impressed at Ashton Gate was the Italian Serie B manager and former World Cup winner, Marco Tardelli. 'Your team played in the traditional English style but with more emphasis on technique and less of the long ball,' he said.

It's the gospel Hoddle has preached since he arrived at the County Ground 18 months ago with just eight games between them and the drop to the then Third Division.

Relegation was averted, narrowly, and he now recalls: 'Those eight games were a great foundation for the job. I remember my emotions during that period, the way I kept to my principles and held my nerve.

'It stood me in good stead last season when we had twice lost to Cambridge and were due to face them again in the Cup. One or two players said that they thought we would have to adapt but my argument was that we hadn't once got the ball down against them and played. If we did that and still lost maybe I would then have had a rethink but as it turned out we played like we can, won 3-0 and have since also beaten them here 4-1.'

Swindon do not have a monopoly on good football among the lower orders, mind. Their player-manager, who says he prefers to watch the First Division fare - 'the emphasis in the Premier League seems to be on getting the ball forward quickly, managers don't seem to be confident that their players can pass the ball,' - cites Oxford and Tranmere as admirable exponents as well as the more obvious beacons of style, Newcastle and West Ham.

'People shouldn't underestimate these sides. Sunderland got to the Cup final, Portsmouth almost did while this season Millwall took Arsenal to penalties, and Grimsby came close to knocking out QPR, not through kick and rush but with good intelligent football.'

Tonight in the Coca-Cola Cup Swindon have the chance to cause an upset against Oldham, a town and club almost their duplicate and showing you can survive with the elite on sound principles and good habits.

Hoddle will be out there in the No 4 shirt, ostensibly his team's sweeper but so much more besides. Their organiser, cajoler, ever willing to launch attack from defence with those long passes that even now no one does better. The left knee that cost him nearly two years out of the game still gives him pain but the joy he has from playing is transparent.

He was wondering where his career would next take him when the call came offering him the chance to succeed his old Spurs soul-mate, Ossie Ardiles. 'The

directors had written me off as a player and were only talking

about the manager's job. But I trained hard, came through the next pre-season and I still feel I'm useful to the team out on the pitch.

'They got me on a free transfer and it was probably the best bit of business I've ever done]'

His assistant John Gorman chuckles and motions as if to disagree. Close friends at Tottenham, their partnership is genuine and endearing. 'I always said to my wife that if ever I became a manager there were only two people I could work with, John and Peter Shreeves.

'We feel at home here in Swindon; I believe that there are places for people to be and this is our destiny. And we are desperate to give the supporters the

Premier League status they deserve.

'They had it once only for it to be taken away (the Football League demoting Swindon two divisions, reduced to one on appeal, in 1990 following a financial scandal).

'The problem was money and it should have been dealt with financially as much as the League wanted to put on it.

'The fans were the scapegoats and all the time Swindon are outside the top division they will share this grievance. It will be there until the record's put right and I would love to be the manager who puts it right for them.'

THE HODDLE FILE

Born: Hayes, Middlesex

Date of birth: 27 Oct 1957

CLUBS

1975-1987: Tottenham

(479 League and Cup

appearances; 110 goals)

1987-1990: Monaco (France)

4 April 1991: Swindon

appointed player-manager.

PLAYING HONOURS

FA Cup: Winner's medal 1981 and 1982 (scored winning goal in replay against Queen's Park Rangers).

Loser's medal 1987.

England: 12 Under-21 caps

53 full caps, eight goals.

(Photograph omitted)

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