Football: The cynical managers, now long in the tooth, might tell Hoddle that he is wasting his time and will, inevitably, be let down

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The Independent Online
The dressing-room at a football club is a very special type of place for those granted entry. It can even become a player's second home. It is a club within a club, with very few secrets.

I was once told of a player who beat his wife. In that particular dressing- room there was also a thief, a university graduate and two very heavy drinkers. Otherwise, it was a typical cross-section of players. In company, they would generally be very good, very generous and very funny people to be around.

Apparently, the player who beat his wife was not a high-flyer. He earned fairly ordinary money by the standards at the time. His best chance of international honours came when England played the rest in the weekly five-a-side.

The manager of the club in question was, I know, very aware of the dressing- room's individual characters, but showed little or no inclination to get involved. His preference was to turn two blind eyes. He picked the team, hoped they won, and moreover hoped he kept his job. His involvement and influence over the lives of his players began and ended with their performance and the result they produced.

Unfortunately, some years later the player in question finished up in jail and subsequently - tragically - took his own life.

Football managers generally tread a very precarious tightrope, trying to balance their responsibilities to the club and results with their wider responsibilities to the individuals for whose performances they are also responsible.

Managers vary. Some choose to subjugate deep personal disapproval in stomaching all manner of personal and social inadequacies in their players, in the interests of that ever-elusive victory.

Others demand a much stricter code in terms of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. This wide judgemental policy is pursued, in some cases, no matter what the cost might be in performances, points or personal popularity.

Paul Gascoigne is a footballer of very exceptional talent, a player who on his best days can be right up there with the best. His personality has prevented him producing as many of these days as he should have. His inclusion in the England squad for tomorrow's match in Georgia may well have been touch and go anyway, even without his off-the-field diversions.

In those circumstances, Glenn Hoddle must have known that to omit Gascoigne from the squad would have been the easier, safer and definitely more popular option. He well knew he had more to lose than he had to gain.

Hoddle's position is obviously slightly different to that of a club manager because his players are representing their country. If playing for Rangers equates to a consular post in Andorra, representing England is like being the ambassador to the United States. However, this is only Hoddle's third game and at the moment this particular loose cannon has, since he took over, remained loaded and primed, but not discharged.

So why did Hoddle get involved? Managers are eternal optimists, all of them endowed with a totally illogical, even arrogant belief that they can change and affect the player with whom all before have failed. They also know they have to win, and that requires playing the best players available. That never changes.

Some like - even need - their players to be the sort of people they like, even admire. They believe and are committed to affecting their players in the widest sense. Hoddle, it would appear, feels this way about his job. He also understands his very wide responsibilities to the game and must therefore place a heavy onus on players to share that responsibility.

Gascoigne must now, once and for all, accept that responsibility and appreciate the risk taken on his behalf by his manager. The cynical managers, now long in the tooth, might tell Hoddle he is wasting his time and will inevitably be let down.

If Gascoigne does not appreciate this great risk, there can be no second chance. If he does, we could see a person and a career saved. Years ago, a similar managerial intervention might have seen a life saved.