Football: The end is nigh for Hoddle

Football: England coach runs out of support at the FA and faces the sack despite a shortage of likely successors
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The Independent Online
THE TELLING phrase that Glenn Hoddle used when making his ill- advised and offensive remarks about people with disabilities - "what you sow, you have to reap" - is drawn from St Paul's Letter to the Galatians in the New Testament. This morning he may wish to consider a similar quotation from the Old Testament: "They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."

Hoddle today stands in the centre of another storm of his own making. As with previous tempests - over his World Cup diary, his promotion of Eileen Drewery, the reaction to poor performances against Sweden and Bulgaria, the premature World Cup exit and a series of minor gaffes - he is being sustained by the support of the Football Association.

That support, however, is no longer unquestioning. The removal of Graham Kelly and Keith Wiseman through their own misjudgements has cost him two of his greatest supporters in the committee rooms of Lancaster Gate. He was busy building bridges this weekend, meeting Liverpool's Noel White, a key player on the FA's International Committee and the man who brought down Terry Venables, and preparing his defence to a summons by Geoff Thompson, the acting FA chairman.

He will speak with Thompson, a down-to-earth Yorkshireman and JP, by tomorrow night. There is much at stake for both men. Thompson has designs on filling the chairman's post permanently and this issue will be seen as a test of his judgement and strength.

There will be others, too, with an eye on this summer's election. Ken Bates has already reiterated his opposition to Hoddle while two other likely candidates, David Richards of Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich's David Sheepshanks, are on the International Committee.

Thus this affair may not be entirely judged on its merits, nor be entirely decided by the thoughts of the usual coterie of senior International Committee men - Thompson, White, Richards and Sheepshanks, David Dein of Arsenal and Aston Villa's Doug Ellis, together with David Davies, the acting chief executive.

Not that the issue can be judged in isolation anyway. Though Hoddle's suggestion that people are disabled because of sins committed in a previous life is gratuitously offensive it is unlikely to be viewed, in itself, as a sacking matter. If it had been a solitary incident, and had been followed by a humble apology, it would blow over; no one disputes the time and energy Hoddle has put in, over many years, to disabled causes. He is also understood to be upset at the offence he has caused - yet appears either too conceited, too inarticulate, or both, to issue that humble apology.

However, this is not just the latest in a string of embarrassments Hoddle has caused his employers, for it also follows a poor start to the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign. It increasingly seems inevitable that, eventually, the FA will decide enough is enough and show the door to Hoddle, who recently negotiated a pay rise taking his basic income to pounds 350,000 pa.

This may not happen until the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign is in ruins but, with the public mood hardening against him, led by three Cabinet ministers, it could be as early as this week. The FA has become pro-active in working with people with disabilities and this is deeply embarrassing. It also has that World Cup 2006 bid, which needs Government support, to consider.

The difficulty for the FA is that sacking Hoddle now would leave the national team in chaos. On Thursday Hoddle is due to name a squad for next week's Wembley friendly with France, the world champions. Next month England entertain Poland in a European Championship match they cannot afford to lose if they are to maintain hope of qualifying.

If Hoddle goes, who takes over? That is another quandary for the FA. Even in the long term it is a difficult question. Bryan Robson is the bookies' favourite but he has turned down the job in the past and, though he is clearly progressing, is yet to convince as an obvious candidate on the basis of his stewardship of Middlesbrough.

Even were the FA to choose him, and if he was keen to accept a job that carries an enormous amount of extraneous pressure, it would take a while to persuade Middlesbrough to release him. The same applies to such contenders as David Platt, Kevin Keegan and Arsene Wenger. The only people available at short notice are Terry Venables, who carries a lot of baggage, Roy Hodsgon, recently sacked by Blackburn, and Howard Wilkinson, the FA's technical director; Hoddle's assistant, John Gorman, can be discounted. Wilkinson is the most likely caretaker but it is hard to imagine him doing the job long-term.

At times like this it is hard to imagine anyone wanting to do the job permanently. On the football side the manager is hamstrung by the English game's surfeit of fixtures, concentration on club football and addiction to foreign players. In addition there is a sensational, unforgiving press to be dealt with. In the same interview as the one where he espoused his unconventional views on reincarnation Hoddle made the untimely comment, with regard to his media relations, that "the gloves are off".

They are now and Hoddle is as much to blame as the tabloid media. This episode has underlined his lack of judgement as well as his lack of sensitivity. If he does not go now it seems inevitable that he will go sooner rather than later.

Given his beliefs, and the way he attempts to proselytise at every opportunity, he will doubtless regard himself as a martyr to his faith. To quote a more secular source, George Bernard Shaw, "martyrdom [is] the only way a man can become famous without ability".

NAMES IN THE FRAME TO BE THE NEXT ENGLAND MANAGER

BRYAN ROBSON (odds 6-4)

A surprisingly warm favourite. The credibility of Venables' former right- hand man seemed to have been shot to pieces two seasons ago, but has made a strong comeback this season with Middlesbrough.

JOHN GREGORY (5-1)

Clean-cut, confident young man who will appeal to the patriotic, having steered Aston Villa to the top with a side made up largely of Englishmen. Too inexperienced and too much going for him at club level.

KEVIN KEEGAN (5-1)

Inspirational leader whose attacking virtues will appeal to the populace. Criticised in the past for being defensively naive, he appears to have made some concessions in that department at Fulham.

DAVID PLATT (7-1)

The most inexperienced candidate of all, having only just taken up his first coaching appointment at Sampdoria. Highly thought of, though, in the FA corridors of power and a definite future contender.

GERARD HOULLIER (8-1)

Former France coach who is finding the switch to club management in England a demanding experience. It is just possible he may be better suited to the more gentle pace of international management.

ARSENE WENGER (10-1)

If the day when a foreigner is appointed England coach is getting ever closer then the Frenchman heads the queue. With a major refit job in the Arsenal defence looming on the horizon, he feel that this is a good time to go.

MARTIN O'NEILL

(14-1)

Passionate performer who has vast experience of international football from his Northern Ireland playing days. But still a relative newcomer to the managerial game and yet to prove he can handle big names.

ROY HODGSON

(16-1)

The man-in-waiting barely six months ago. His star, however, plummeted along with Blackburn's decline Nevertheless, he remains one of the best qualified for the job after his achievements with Switzerland.

GEORGE GRAHAM

(20-1)

The League game may have forgiven him for the the bungs scandal but it is unlikely that the FA has. Yet he is a winner, as he has proved at all his clubs, if too cautious for some minds. He is also Scottish.

RUUD GULLIT

(20-1)

Still to prove that great players can make great managers. His reputation after an impressive start was tarnished by the Chelsea sacking and his commitment has been questioned at Newcastle.

BOBBY ROBSON

(50-1)

Without doubt the most experienced candidate of all but surely too old at 62 - and would he want the hassle all over again? Probably yes. Enormously successful on the Continent since resigning in 1990.

TERRY VENABLES

(50-1)

Once his friends in the media get to work those odds will come tumbling. Ideally suited to international management, as he proved last time, but has his enemies at the FA.

Odds supplied by William Hill

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