Football: Old but golden is Hoddle's outlook

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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE had no misgivings yesterday about sending in Dad's Army to do battle with the Czech Republic in tomorrow night's friendly at Wembley. A strike force with a combined age of 94 is being asked to succeed where even the dazzling young Michael Owen has failed this season - by putting a smile back on the face of English football following the grim start to the European Championship campaign.

Dion Dublin (aged 29), Ian Wright (35) and Paul Merson (30) are expected to lead England's attack in the absence of Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham and Owen. It had been hoped that Leicester City's 20-year-old Emile Heskey might bring the average age down to a less geriatric level but he is struggling with a hamstring injury which prevented him from training yesterday. If he plays at all, it will only be as a substitute probably late in the game.

Hoddle seemed to be expounding a variation to a theme: if they're old enough they're young enough. "It's not a problem for me if they're performing well - and they are," he said. "Ian Wright, for instance, was terrific on Saturday and as for Dion Dublin I saw him put in a marvellous performance down at Southampton. Those boys are keeping themselves fit and are in good habits - they're prolonging their careers."

There was clearly a hidden message here for the absent Paul Gascoigne, who is still recovering from a drink problem. As Hoddle added: "It's a good lesson for some of the youngsters who are coming through and certainly for the 27 to 28-year-olds - if you look after yourself you can prolong your career."

Hoddle felt that the change of club had helped all three, though I am not sure whether Messrs Robson and Strachan would agree with that, and after the way Arsenal have struggled to score of late, perhaps Arsene Wenger, too. "There comes a time when you've been at a club for a long period when a change of club, a change of coach, even a change of supporters can be good for you. It probably comes at the best time when you're round about thirtyish, it can give an added spring to your step," Hoddle said.

"Another set of curtains open up when you get to that age, it did when I was a player. You're not in your prime, but the game becomes so much easier providing your legs and mind are still able."

The England coach refused to be drawn on the sending-off incident involving David Beckham at Old Trafford on Saturday. "I will talk to David about that privately," he said. "I'm sure if it was David Beckham who'd got sent off [rather than Blackburn's Tim Sherwood] you would have been asking me about that, too. He has dealt with the spotlight as well as he could have done since the World Cup."

Hoddle said he did not think Beckham's apparent temperamental frailty had made him the target of opposing players trying to provoke him. "I've seen good performances from him and controlled performances at times that I like to see. But there's still an element to him that can improve on that side as well. But he's trying to deal with it."

Paul Scholes is another doubtful starter and though Merson, Wright and Jamie Redknapp all missed training yesterday, due to the weekend's exertions, they are expected to be fit. Gareth Southgate was not due to join up with the squad until last night because of a personal problem.