Football: Hoddle reaches his Rubicon

The coach's job will never be the same again, as history shows.
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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE'S next formal meeting with the Football Association will be to discuss extending his contract. Seemingly his employers have conveniently overlooked their own rules which should have him appear before them on a charge of bringing the game into disrepute.

FA rules warn against improper "methods or practices" which fail to protect the game against abuses. The publication of Hoddle's book in which he gives his admittedly brief version of a private meeting with Paul Gascoigne is a breach of those rules not because the revelation was anything spectacular, but because the resulting outcry has been damaging and avoidable. The fact that so many players go to the press with their own versions of private meetings does not excuse the "boss" doing the same.

Hoddle's claim that his remarks were made because Gascoigne had issued his own account of events seemed a weak excuse before the book was published. Afterwards it became understandable, though no more defensible. Without those few headline-catching sentences about Gascoigne's reaction, this would have been an even more bland publication, certainly not tabloid serialisation material.

Hoddle will escape censure. Having allowed another employee to ghost the book, the FA is too closely involved to criticise. But if Hoddle believes his career is still on an upward path, he is oblivious to old avenues walked by his predecessors who also came to defining moments. He will have to be spectacularly successful to recover from last week's attack on his credibility.

Only one England coach has left with that credibility and humour completely intact: Joe Mercer, but he held the position for only seven games in 1974 while the FA found a more permanent replacement for Sir Alf Ramsey. They chose Don Revie, who never escaped criticism for constantly changing his team - he fielded the same side only twice in his 29 games in charge. His point of career decline from which there was no recovery could be traced to November 1976. Italy beat England 2-0 in Rome in a World Cup qualifying match. That in itself was not a resignation result but to have made six changes against a team predictably at ease with themselves because seven came from Juventus was a damning error and, to be fair, far worse than Hoddle's sensitive though ill-conceived decision not to include the inexperienced Michael Owen in the early World Cup games this summer.

In most cases, the defining moment in an England coach's career is as much to do with his relationship with journalists than any tactical errors or team selection. Once a few of the leading tabloid writers become critical, the writing is on the wall as well as in the headlines. For some time Revie kept several of them happy with his careful seeping of information. In the end, though, he was a victim of his own insecurity and jumped ship.

Only one England coach has given a convincing impression of being "one of the boys" both with his players and the popular press. Because of his accessibility, Terry Venables had the most casual and largely open relationship with the critics. Had he stayed longer, that might have changed, but without doubt he would have been given an easier ride than that offered his predecessor, Graham Taylor.

Taylor began his term with the naive idea that if he courted the media from the outset there would be a reasonable chance of most of them being forgiving when things got tough. In the end, he discovered that being talkative did not alter the fact that it took a very few words in large headlines to demolish a career. In his case just one word: turnip.

To his credit, Taylor refused to rush into print after his departure. He said it would open too many wounds, not all of them his own. As a result, his considerable work in the development of a proper England structure from youth level upwards went unobserved. In an international career of several strange diversions, he really headed for the wilderness in June 1993 in a World Cup qualifying game against Norway in Oslo. Most of the headlines at the time concerned his references to Gascoigne's "refuelling", but in fact it was his fear that Jostein Flo would dominate England's defence that caused him to ask Gary Pallister to do a marking job in an untried formation. Defeat was as predictable as Taylor's departure, which was surprisingly delayed.

Even Sir Alf could identify the downward turn that led to his dismissal following a World Cup draw with Poland in 1973. England's earlier 2-0 defeat in Chorzow was the direct result of his defensive attitude. Unlike his successors, he simply ignored press criticism, but in those days it was never as crude or personal as that suffered by Taylor and, particularly, Bobby Robson. Robson proved his worth in the 1990 World Cup but had realistically accepted why people called it "the impossible job" as early as September 1983 when, in his 13th match in charge, England lost 1-0 to Denmark and failed to qualify for the European Championship finals. The knives twitched. He endured nearly seven more years of little praise and much abuse.

Hoddle, it should be remembered, was not a player noted for his endurance.

Book review, page 9

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