Guy Hodgson was at Bisham Abbey to hear Glenn Hoddle pour cold water on a change of tactics for France.
As a player Glenn Hoddle was hoisted on top of one or two bandwagons, and yesterday the England coach moved quickly to apply the brakes on another. Rio Ferdinand, he contends, will be a good player, but maybe he has not arrived yet.
Ferdinand, young, gifted and centre-back, stood out in training at Bisham Abbey yesterday as any 19-year-old aiming to be counted among the cream of the country's footballers should. He was not gauche, cowed or out of his depth as England prepared to meet Cameroon on Saturday.
It was not his defending that marked him out as special - Gareth Southgate, Sol Campbell, to name but two, excelled in that department - but his use of the ball in possession. He looked the epitome of the sweeper Hoddle is looking for to swiftly change defence into attack. The irony is that the youth who has defied time to arrive so soon might have too little of it left to become a fixture by next summer's World Cup finals.
If he had 14 games to experiment with instead of six, Hoddle said, he could risk a new system whereby the third central defender becomes the offensive starting point. "But to play a real sweeper, someone who can come out with the ball like Germany's Matthias Sammer, I'm not so sure we've got the time. Maybe Rio in the future, but I think seven months is probably going to be too quick."
Ferdinand was removed from one England squad because of a drink-driving offence, a lesson amid others the West Ham player needs to absorb, according to Hoddle. "He can hit it right to left 60 yards, but I'm not sure he can go left to right," he said. "He's young, he's got time to learn." As for off the field: "We are keeping an eye on him."
There will be just as much attention on his play, too, because a lack of time to build tactics around him does not mean Ferdinand will not be included in the 22 for France. On the contrary, Hoddle was yesterday throwing open the doors to players aspiring on the fringes.
Liverpool's Jamie Redknapp and Michael Owen, who will train with the squad this week, are just two of the "35 or 36" players in Hoddle's mind. The lesson he had learned in last summer's Tournoi, he said, is not to think in terms of a dream team. And if the first 11 is not settled, the final party for France is nowhere near.
"You need a spine in a team but going into a World Cup it would be a mistake thinking you have a best 11," he said. "The reason is that you reach the quarter or semi-finals and you're never going to get that team. Suddenly two get injured and two get suspended and you can feel in a negative mood. I don't want to send that message to my players."
That spine probably includes Tony Adams, whose right ankle injury has forced him to with draw from Saturday's game amid talk of the Arsenal defender needing another operation and a six-week lay-off. The news of Teddy Sheringham's knee, which was the subject of Alex Ferguson's concern last weekend, was likewise not good.
Hoddle will talk to the Manchester United manager about the striker this afternoon when the telephone bill is unlikely to be piffling, because United's Paul Scholes (chest cold), Gary Neville (hamstring) and Nicky Butt (arm) are the other players causing concern.
Their potential loss is another's gain, as Hoddle wants his players to be scrambling over each other to get to France. "That's the challenge I've laid down to the players: give me the biggest headache they can," he said.
No one will be happier than the England coach if he is reaching for the aspirin on Saturday night.Reuse content