Football: Hoddle's red herrings keep everyone guessing

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The Independent Online
Amid the bluff of build-up, England's coach was saying little ahead of tomorrow's World Cup qualifier - about tactics or the state of Beckham and Southgate's health, writes Ian Ridley in Rome. Tony Adams, however, was making all the right noises.

Coaches often like the waters to be muddied before a big match. There is bluff, then double-bluff, for the benefit, or otherwise, of the opposition. Even the odd injury scare is throw in, thus diverting talk away from any tactics or team selection issues that might give ideas to one's opposite number.

It has to be said that Glenn Hoddle is up there with the best - or worst. A man who would probably like to see any prospective privacy laws extended to the England team until 30 seconds before kick-off, he can also impart more red herrings than Agatha Christie.

What to make, then, of his bulletins yesterday on David Beckham and Gareth Southgate, before tomorrow's World Cup tie against Italy? The former is said to be suffering from a heavy cold, the latter from an injury that the coach told the press he "would rather not go into", having indicated on television that it was a thigh. Beckham does have the snuffles but surely they will not keep him out of the match. The Southgate "problem", however, sounds more serious, stopping him, Hoddle said, from training yesterday.

"We've all played with colds," Hoddle said, "and with three subs you have got the option of changing. It depends if he is drained of energy levels. It is different with injuries, though. You can't take chances with ligament injuries, for example."

If Southgate is ruled out, the waters may actually be clearing finally in this longest of murky media weeks. It begins to look more likely that Gary Neville and Sol Campbell will play in a back three with Tony Adams between them, and, as captain, to put an experienced arm around each. No announcement will be made until today, but Adams was yesterday talking the talk of a leader.

Not that of the "big roar" figure of old, either, but a man - now 14 months sober after acknowledging his alcoholism - who has been through so many intense occasions in the past, not least at Euro '96, and recognises that pumped-up tub-thumping may actually be counter-productive.

"If that needs to be done, I'll do it," he said. "But you can't go and manipulate these things. You can't motivate a certain person if he doesn't want it. You need to observe people and if there is anything that has to be done you go and do it. Me banging on toilet doors never won football matches. Me scoring or giving a good display of defending wins football games."

"I can only advise, pass on some experience. You have to let people be. All of the boys will be motivated anyway so it might be a process of calming a few of the young ones. You can go over the top in these situations with the enthusiasm, running round like headless chickens.

"At Euro '96 my philosophy was calming down and using your brains. We have always had the strength, the 100 per cent effort. They are always going to give their best. Maybe it's a bit of knowledge, a bit of calm that has been lacking in the past."

Adams, 31 today, who said he was feeling "serene", was echoing a theme that Hoddle has begun to expound as match time approaches. There is a theory doing the rounds that he will throw a surprise with his team - probably an idea he would encourage himself - as he did in the match at Wembley, won 1-0 by Italy in February, when Matthew Le Tissier was selected.

We are unlikely to know until kick-off time if it has anything to do with Paul Gascoigne, since Hoddle decided against him speaking to the media yesterday, to some Italians' annoyance, probably not least the photographer who is still seeking compensation after a court agreed that Gazza had assaulted him. Given the "calm down, calm down" way Hoddle was speaking yesterday, however, he could be pondering the inclusion of a Scouser, perhaps Steve McManaman.

"One thing we have had to do every training session is take the foot off the pedal a little bit," Hoddle said. "We have had quality sessions training for an hour, no more. If we had gone on and done all I wanted to do, we would have done too much." The work he said, was always with the ball and always technical. When asked if it was similar to when he had played for England, his answer was pointed. "No," he replied.

The players are no different from the rest of us, keenly awaiting game time, not least because of the lengthy, secretive build-up of this week. England, enclosed in a training complex on the edge of the city, are detached from the mounting excitement as the first wave of replica shirts arrived yesterday, which is clearly Hoddle's aim as he seeks to take the sting from the encounter.

"The atmosphere in the Olympic Stadium will be an aspect but I don't think it will be the difference between winning and losing," he said. "As a professional, as soon as the whistle goes, you are focused on the job in hand and I can speak through my own experience. Whichever team is focused and plays their natural game will win the match."