Football: New chapter opens in Hoddle saga

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The Independent Online
WHEN THE mix of old hands and aspiring hopefuls arrived at Bisham Abbey last night some joked that they were there for a casting session for Glenn Hoddle's next pot-boiler rather than to prepare for the European Championship qualifying campaign.

Humour is the English footballer's automatic response to most tricky situations but, underneath the mickey-taking, there was an undercurrent of anger at the leafy Elizabethan retreat.

Many senior players, some already unsure about Hoddle's tactical judgement, are privately fuming at the timing and nature of the revelations in his serialised World Cup diary.

While Hoddle has not, in truth, revealed much that was not either known or suspected, the issue has raised serious doubts as to his position. The affair illustrates several of his biggest faults: his pettiness, his greed, his arrogance and his obsession with Eileen Drewery.

The latter is, in many respects, the most damaging. Hoddle's faith was a private matter which should have been - and largely was - respected while it remained private. He has made it a public issue by his constant reference to her "healing" and by his "encouraging" his players to see her. Now comes the assertion that his only World Cup mistake was not taking her to France from the start. This, he writes, would have improved the team by 20 per cent.

She must take a great penalty. More seriously, this graphically illustrates Hoddle's apparent inability to recognise that he, like every other manager, makes mistakes. He also asserts that Michael Owen recovered from a blow to the head in the pre-finals match with Morocco after Hoddle put his hand on Owen and said a prayer. What a pity he could not heal the injuries to Ian Wright and Andy Hinchcliffe the same way.

It is this sort of comment, and his betrayal of some players - though Paul Gascoigne, David Beckham, Alex Ferguson and Chris Sutton had all previously expressed their opinions through the media - that could lead to his losing the respect and trust of the team. Ordinarily when that happens results suffer but, given the qualifying opposition (Sweden, Bulgaria, Poland, Luxembourg), and English players' commitment to the national team regardless of management, that should not be a problem until the finals at least.

Hoddle looks like he will remain in place until then and beyond. The Football Association's extraordinary response to the furore will be to offer Hoddle an extension of his contract to 2002.

There is sense in continuity but only if Hoddle starts to temper his certainty with humility. There is something very shabby in the realisation that Hoddle and David Davies, his co-author and the FA director of public affairs, were keeping the juicy bits back for the book during a series of press conferences which were characterised by evasion and denial.

Flogging the serialisation to The Sun for pounds 250,000 and then complaining about their headlines is a bit rich. That act alone proves the motivation is financial, not a case of putting the record right, and he has plenty of journalists willing to hear his views for nothing.

A resigning matter? Not quite but he ought to be put on probation rather than offered a new contract. It is not as if the team's performances have made him impregnable. However gallant a failure the World Cup campaign, which finished on a par with Paraguay, Norway and Mexico, was still a failure not least because of Hoddle's team selection against Romania.

At the least Hoddle should apologise for his misjudgement. Davies could write that as well, as he did Beckham's and Teddy Sheringham's when they were called to account. But that will not happen unless someone is prepared to pay handsomely for it. Besides, it would be a good introduction to the paperback.