Football: Le Saux `needs to calm down'

REPORTS OF the death of England's midfield turned out to be greatly exaggerated yesterday as Glenn Hoddle mustered enough bodies to conclude training with an eight-a-side match at Bisham Abbey.

This still left seven invalids on the sidelines but, to the England coach's relief, they did not include either Paul Scholes or Rob Lee. Their possible absence had left Hoddle contemplating a reprise of Ossie Ardiles' infamous Polo formation (5-0-5) for Saturday's European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria.

Of the walking wounded only Ray Parlour and Ian Wright, neither of whom are likely Wembley starters, are regarded by Hoddle as seriously doubtful. Both are staying with the squad for the time being. "Even if they are not fit for Saturday, they could be fit for Wednesday [when England play another qualifier in Luxembourg]," Hoddle said.

"The first port of call was Scholes. Both he and Rob said they thought they could train today and they did. That was a bonus."

Scholes had picked up a foot injury playing for Manchester United in Munich last week while Lee has been suffering from a cold virus. With Paul Ince and David Beckham suspended, David Batty short of match fitness and Steve McManaman injured, Hoddle would have been struggling to raise a midfield without them.

Not that the England coach is without injury worries. As well as Parlour (ankle) and Wright (knee), Darren Anderton (strained muscle), Martin Keown (back), Tony Adams (ankle), Andy Hinchcliffe (bruising) and Graeme Le Saux (ankle) were all excused training in the rain yesterday. Rio Ferdinand and Teddy Sheringham both trained despite minor knee concerns.

"Most of them are just precautionary," Hoddle added, "battle wounds from the weekend." The inevitable rejoinder, about what sort of battle Le Saux was injured in, went without response, but Hoddle did admit to "having a word" with the left-back about his contretemps in the Anfield tunnel with Paul Ince after Sunday's game between Liverpool and Chelsea.

"We've spoken about it but the conversation remains private," Hoddle said. "Until I speak to Paul, who's not here [because of his suspension], I won't know both sides of the story." Hoddle said. "Graeme's got to calm down at certain moments, but I've had a good chat with him. He knows the situation and needs to make sure it doesn't happen in the future."

Le Saux has already been sent off once this season, after a fight with Lionel Perez of Blackburn, and been involved in the dismissal of Lee Dixon.

He has long been a spiky player, as his infamous punch-up with David Batty in Moscow illustrated, and in the last year he has often struggled to hold his temper when provoked. There is a belief that part of the problem is a perceived need to be uncompromisingly macho in response to the nasty personal abuse he gets from opposing supporters. Like David Beckham and David Ginola, Le Saux is a victim of the greater hostility of crowds towards some individuals these days.

"There is more pressure on players now - the rules have changed, so have the media and supporters," Hoddle said. But, he added, "don't believe for a moment that these things [tunnel fights] weren't going on in the Bremner and Mackay era, or in my day."

Hoddle added: "If it happens down the Wembley tunnel on Saturday I'll deal with it, but I don't get involved in what happens at club level. A bad discipline record doesn't have to affect a player's future in the England team."

Up to a point that is fair enough, but something needs to be done about the proliferation of post-match scuffles, if only as an example to schoolboy and Sunday morning footballers. A bit of argy-bargy in a Premiership tunnel surrounded by stewards and policemen is never likely to lead to much more than handbags at five paces; a fight in the dressing rooms at Hackney Marshes could have far more violent consequences.

A much better example has been set this season by Gareth Barry and the 17-year-old wasted little time extending the good impression he has made with Aston Villa. "He scored with his first touch," Hoddle said. "It was a nice way to start but we've just told him to enjoy himself, get a feel of things, and we'll judge him in a year's time."

Hoddle's next judgement day is much sooner but, with his likely team now looking healthy rather than skeletal, he was able to head for the team hotel in more optimistic mood.

Ambitious Shearer, page 27

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