Football: Hoddle's evasive defence on issue of trust and truth

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The Independent Online
NO REGRETS, no apologies, no promises not to do another. Glenn Hoddle faced his own Grand Jury yesterday but, unlike Bill Clinton, he was not in confessional mode.

In other respects the two inquisitions seemed much the same, even if the one question that attempted to link them was ruled out of order at Hoddle's press conference. Both national figures noted for their youth and flair, both publicly religious yet also confessed adulterers, each were trying to talk their way out of an own goal.

The charges against Hoddle are far less serious than those against the American President but the core questions - Is he untruthful? Has he betrayed those close to him? - are much the same. Trust and veracity are at issue.

The setting for Hoddle's interrogation yesterday - an oak-panelled room at Bisham Abbey, the Elizabethan pile England use as a training base - had a Star Chamber feel to it. So did the inquisitors. Assorted feature writers, columnists, photographers and cameramen filled the room but the questioning came from a core of 15 specialist football writers, their chairs grouped around Hoddle like wagons in a cowboy movie.

The mutual antipathy between the media and Hoddle - largely prompted by his preponderance to disinformation - ensured yesterday's encounter was every bit as probing as the hearing Clinton had undergone. Instead of lawyers, Hoddle's support was co-author David Davies, the Football Association's Alistair Campbell figure, now making the news as well as managing it.

Hoddle was ostensibly present to talk about this week's get-together before the qualifying campaign for Euro 2000. However, the question of whether Rio Ferdinand is ready to play as a sweeper in Sweden next month had been overtaken by the consequences of Hoddle adding author to his CV.

The serialisation of Hoddle's book in The Sun meant the new season began with headlines such as "Drunk Gazza trashed my room", "Keegan talked absolute rubbish" and "I thought Alex's timing was crazy". As well as Paul Gascoigne, Kevin Keegan and Alex Ferguson, Hoddle also criticised David Beckham, Teddy Sheringham, Chris Sutton, Terry Venables and Ken Bates.

Apart from the Gazza headline, which Hoddle said he did not get the chance to approve due to "a broken fax machine", Hoddle said he was happy with the serialisation but said the book had to be read in context.

This prompts the question why, if Hoddle merely wanted to outline his views to the public, the book needed to be serialised at all? It was suggested that an estimated pounds 250,000 fee for the rights provided the answer but Hoddle responded that it was a contractual requirement with the publishers and thus out of his hands.

Though Hoddle never satisfactorily answered that question he was a model of control and composure throughout the 43-minute ordeal. Fresh from the training pitch he sat calmly in his still sweaty kit only betraying his nerves by the way his hands constantly toyed with a bottle of mineral water. He never lost his cool, always sounded eminently reasonable and appeared absolutely mystified as to the fuss. It was only when the detail of his answers was studied that the inconsistencies and evasiveness was apparent. Again, very Clintonesque.

Most obvious was the Gascoigne issue. Hoddle said he only revealed what happened because Gascoigne went public. This motive does not explain the two-month delay nor the addition of other juicy details. He also contradicts his testimony at the time.

In La Manga Hoddle said Gascoigne was "not drunk" on the Saturday night and, when he was told he was axed, "did not get abusive" and "shook my hand then went to his room". In his book Hoddle says Gascoigne "was drunk" on the Saturday, he gave Hoddle "a barrage of abuse" when he was dropped and, after shaking his hand, "flew into a total rage" kicking a chair, punching a lamp and had to be "ushered out" by his assistants, John Gorman and Glenn Roeder.

Hoddle yesterday said he was trying to protect Gascoigne when he denied all this in La Manga; similarly he defends his regular attempts to mislead the media about players' fitness as being for the greater good. This may be so, but it makes it hard to see when he is telling the truth about anything.

Hoddle's bottom line was that he had no regrets, had not considered resigning and had not lost the trust of his team. "I wanted to put things on record; I wanted a memory of the situation," he said. "It helped me deal with the stresses and I've no regrets. There is nothing in the book that is confidential, about tactics or players' opinions. It's been blown way out of proportion. People haven't read the book. If I felt I needed to apologise to anyone I would have done that by now."

The book, Glenn Hoddle: My 1998 World Cup Story, will be released tomorrow after pre-launch publicity unmatched since the last Oasis album. Hoddle yesterday put back a signing session scheduled in London that day to the following Tuesday.

Though several influential figures in the game have criticised Hoddle, his employers, the FA, have not only stood by him but even offered to extend his contract to include the 2002 World Cup finals. Hoddle said nothing had been agreed but talks are planned. Presumably he has made a note in his diary.

Hoddle's 'catharsis', page 23

Football, pages 22 and 23