Football: Hoddle's heartbreak hotel

If they hear a knock at the door tonight, six England players will know their World Cup dream is over
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The Independent Online
Ian Ridley

in La Manga plays

coach and picks his

22 for France 98

SOMETIME tonight, possibly tomorrow morning, there will come a knock on the door of their hotel room at the training camp here in La Manga, southern Spain, for six unfortunate England players. It will be the coach Glenn Hoddle to tell them why they have been omitted from his squad of 22 for the World Cup finals.

"I will do it individually and I will go to see them," said Hoddle. "It would be a horrible walk down the passageway to be told you are not in a World Cup squad. It's the only way to do it. Then if any of the players wants to talk about it, I will be there for as long as he wants to talk.

"You are just looking at how you would want it to be done if you were in their shoes. A phone call isn't right. I have heard of a letter being put under the door and that's just not on. I will do it the best way I can but I have to say I am not particularly looking forward to it."

The task, which Hoddle has delayed as long as possible with Tuesday the deadline for submitting squads to Fifa, has been simplified with injuries to Jamie Redknapp and Ian Wright, the latter understandably crestfallen because age will preclude him again. Wright would almost certainly have gone. Some other decisions would also seem to make themselves, with Ian Walker the likely goalkeeper to be left at home, not having played in England's three warm-up matches last week, unlike David Seaman, Tim Flowers and Nigel Martyn.

Hoddle will definitely take three, though there is a rule that a third goalkeeper can be on standby at home; an impractical plan, the coach believes. He was among those coaches who lobbied Fifa for a squad of 23. Thus with 19 rather than the 20 outfield places available - making it impossible to have cover for every position - versatility has been the main factor.

"With injuries and suspensions, you need flexibility and you need cover in all areas," he says. "I do believe that all the sides who go a long way in the tournament will be calling on players they haven't started with. You have got to be a strong squad to deal with that. And I have to plan for seven games. It's the only approach."

It is why Dion Dublin may well have played himself into the squad, his assured performance as a central defender in the second half of Friday's warm-up match against Belgium in Casablanca adding to the case made by his competent display up front two nights earlier against Morocco. For the way he swiftly placed Michael Owen in the recovery position after the teenager was knocked out last Wednesday, Dublin may get to go as part of the medical team.

On the two-birds-with-one-stone principle, Dublin's presence may well preclude that of the two Ferdinands; the young defender Rio whose time will surely come, and the ageing Les, whose time has probably passed. His goal in Georgia in qualifying will have nagged at Hoddle, however.

The criterion of versatility will again apply in a crowded midfield, where a still developing but unexciting Nicky Butt seems the most dispensible. If Hoddle is to be bold, and actually consider the possibility of winning the tournament rather than simply containing the better sides, then the extra quality and potential of Darren Anderton and Steve McManaman will surely find places. Of the others, Paul Scholes will certainly be included and it was encouraging to see England play against Saudi Arabia with both him and his Manchester United team-mate David Beckham in midfield.

Much has been made of the fact that Hoddle's England are a better side away from home, on the counter-attack, and with David Batty and Paul Ince forming a formidable screen for the defence, enabling Paul Gascoigne to remain further forward. Games in France 98, which opens on 10 June, will not be strictly away matches, however. With other teams also likely to sit back then break, the attacking talents of Scholes and Beckham, more mobile and durable than Gascoigne, will be needed. Mobility was still a problem yesterday as Gascoigne and Sol Campbell, dead-leg sufferers, rested as the others played golf.

It would be good to see Paul Merson also being taken, with his ability to play either up front or in midfield. Then again, Robert Lee offers the option of either central midfield or right wing-back. He could even be the holder, but then Martin Keown offers that possibility. It is probably the most difficult call Hoddle will have had to make.

The other cut is likely to be made at left wing-back, where Andy Hinchcliffe should get the nod over Philip Neville, assuming he recovers from the thigh injury he sustained in training last week. If Hinchcliffe does not go, it will leave England with just one natural left-footer in the squad in Graeme Le Saux to deliver the kind of service that Alan Shearer enjoys from that flank.

Whichever 22 Hoddle settles on, the feeling persists that the backbone of the team that his predecessor Terry Venables established in Seaman, Tony Adams, Ince and Shearer is the crucial element. Around them other issues and items - Gascoigne's mental and physical fitness, Beckham and Owen's readiness for this stage - will then determine whether this is a functional or formidable unit. All that after the night of the long walks.

Possible 22: Goalkeepers: David Seaman, Tim Flowers, Nigel Martyn. Defenders: Gary Neville, Martin Keown, Tony Adams, Gareth Southgate, Sol Campbell, Graeme Le Saux, Andy Hinchliffe. Midfielders: David Beckham, Paul Ince, David Batty, Steve McManaman, Darren Anderton, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Merson, Paul Scholes. Forwards: Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Michael Owen, Dion Dublin.

Shapeless England, page 14