Football: Hoddle's rhetoric hides shortcomings

world cup: England coach happy with victory in a match that 'needed to be won' and ascribes second-half slump to Ince injury
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Listening to Glenn Hoddle in the aftermath of Wednesday night's 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Georgia made one wonder whether Peter Mandelson had been seconded to the Football Association's PR department.

The England coach gave a performance which Mandelson, New Labour's notorious spin doctor, would have been proud of. The bright young leader was constantly upbeat as he talked at length while saying little of note. Self-contradictions, inconvenient facts and unwelcome questions were brushed aside. Like his team it was effective, but hard to warm to.

One questioner asked: "Apart from the goal did you feel there was a lack of invention?"

Hoddle replied: "Well, the goal was a superb goal. It was well created. There was lots of invention in that. It was a cutting-edge goal. Those are the sorts of things you put together and if they don't go in the back of the net people forget about it. That has come off for us on the night."

This specifically does not answer the question. Which is unfortunate because England's lack of flair in midfield was a problem. Although they had plenty of attempts on goal many of them were pot-shots from the edge of the box or from the second ball after a cross into Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham. The first goal was beautifully constructed and finished but similar chances were rare. Moreover, at times in the first half, and for 20 minutes at the beginning of the second, England's workman-like midfield could not stop Georgia from running through them at will.

Hoddle admitted he was "disappointed" by the second-half spell but explained: "That was partly due to Paul Ince. He had an injury at half-time and he was not quite functioning. He made some great runs in the first half and nearly ended up scoring a couple of goals. He makes things happen when he gets in the box. In the second half he was not at full throttle and couldn't do it. We ended up taking him off."

Hoddle did not take Ince off until 12 minutes from the end. Why not take him off earlier if his injury was affecting the team's potency? "He was handling it OK," Hoddle said. "I took him off after he took another knock on the same area."

One reply negates the other. If he was "handling it" Ince's injury can hardly be used as an excuse for England's loss of control. Maybe there is more to it than that, like the lack of a midfield passer, such as Jamie Redknapp.

The inclusion of Rob Lee, rather than Redknapp or a flair player such as Steve McManaman, was Hoddle said, because "with Teddy Sheringham dropping off you can isolate Alan Shearer. Rob loves getting forward from midfield. Macca does it with the ball; Rob does it with and without. You need that with Alan being marked tightly."

So, McManaman cannot be played alongside Shearer and Sheringham. "I wouldn't say that," said Hoddle, who just had.

Lee justified selection. Like David Beckham and Graeme Le Saux he was prominent supporting the attack and some valuable defensive work covering for others underlined the strength of England's team spirit.

"The match needed to be won and we have done that," Hoddle said. Agreed. World Cup qualifiers are about points first and performances second. Hoddle has also been hampered by having to do almost all his team-building in competitive games. This has made it harder to instil his ideas. Hence Hoddle's pleasure in working with players like Sheringham.

"Teddy is one of those players who remembers things on the training ground and does them when it is needed in games. In the last 10-15 minutes, when fatigue set in, Sol Campbell did not. He needs to concentrate in the latter stages."

As Campbell had a good game, within his limitations, and was the official man of the match such criticism could be interpreted as a way of preventing him getting carried away. If so it is a rare example of Hoddle using the press to get a point across. Usually he is far more circumspect, and is acutely aware of how comments can be taken out of context. He also knows results will decide his destiny, not press conferences or playing performances.

Another win, in Katowice, will effectively secure England a place in the top two of Group Two. That would ensure that, at worst, they would have the chance to play-off for a place in next year's finals. Assuming they beat Moldova at home in September they may then qualify as the best- placed runner-up - at present they look to be on a par with Belgium and Yugoslavia.

A draw in Poland would probably be enough to secure second place but defeat could mean them needing at least a point in Rome in October. Not for the first time England's fate rests on the Poles.


P W D L F A Pts

Italy 6 5 1 0 11 1 16

England 5 4 0 1 9 2 12

Poland 4 1 1 2 3 6 4

Georgia 3 0 0 3 0 5 0

Moldova 4 0 0 4 2 11 0

Remaining fixtures: 31 May: Poland v England. 7 June: Georgia v Moldova. 14 June: Poland v Georgia. 10 Sept: England v Moldova; Georgia v Italy. 24 Sept: Moldova v Georgia. 7 Oct: Moldova v Poland. 11 Oct: Italy v England; Georgia v Poland.


1 September 1996: Moldova 0 England 3 (Barmby, Gascoigne, Shearer) (Chisinau).

9 October: England 2 (Shearer 2) Poland 1 (Wembley).

9 November: Georgia 0 England 2 (Sheringham, Ferdinand) (Tbilisi).

12 Feburary 1997: England 0 Italy 1 (Wembley).

29 March: England 2 (Sheringham (pen), Fowler) Mexico 0 (Wembley).

30 April: England 2 (Sheringham, Shearer) Georgia 0 (Wembley).