Football: The Hoddle Sacking - Wilkinson steps into the void

Hoddle departs with pounds 500,000 pay-off as FA's technical director takes charge for England's friendly with France
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The Independent Online
AFTER THREE days of stout resistance Glenn Hoddle finally accepted the inevitable last night and became the first England manager to be dismissed since Sir Alf Ramsey was sacked in April 1974. He was immediately replaced on a temporary basis by Howard Wilkinson, the Football Association's technical director. The FA now has a caretaker chairman, a caretaker chief executive and a caretaker England coach.

Hoddle was finally persuaded that his departure was unavoidable shortly before 5pm. This was poignantly confirmed at a press conference two hours later in the same room, in London's Royal Lancaster Hotel, in which Hoddle, who has been given an estimated pay-off of pounds 500,000, had been unveiled as England coach two years and 10 months ago.

Wilkinson will be assisted in his preparation for next Wednesday's friendly international against France, the world champions, by Hoddle's assistants, John Gorman, Peter Taylor and Ray Clemence. The FA will then look for a long-term replacement. Wilkinson, who will give a press conference today in which he may announce his squad for the match, may offer himself as a contender. If he is still in charge for the crucial European Championship qualifier with Poland on 27 March, David Platt, who yesterday resigned as team supervisor of Sampdoria, in Italy, may become involved.

Hoddle's fate had been sealed by midday after an intensive series of meetings and telephone discussions since the affair broke in Saturday morning's Times. Hoddle went on Football Focus that lunchtime before meeting Noel White, Liverpool director and chairman of the FA's international committee, and the FA's acting chief executive David Davies, at Liverpool's match with Coventry.

Hoddle's television appearance failed to quell criticism of his comments about people with disabilities and, by Sunday evening, Davies was rounding up the key figures in the FA. Geoff Thompson, the acting chairman; White; David Richards, the chairman of Sheffield Wednesday; David Dein, Arsenal's vice-chairman; and David Sheepshanks, the chairman of Ipswich, were contacted. They cleared their schedules and all but Sheepshanks, who went to Barcelona to represent England at the Fifa Player of the Year Gala, finally met at Lancaster Gate at 6pm on Monday. Hoddle had by then been on ITV and Sky TV without turning the tide, while the FA, in an indication of the changing nature of the game, had canvassed senior England players for their opinion.

Meetings were held in various hotels that evening and, at 10pm, Hoddle joined them in one in the Hyde Park area. The mood was said to be serious. Hoddle is understood to have admitted making the remarks, but felt that they had been misinterpreted.

The meeting broke up just after midnight. Richards went home to Sheffield and Hoddle to the house of his agent, Dennis Roach, in Hammersmith. Yesterday morning the FA men joined up again. The lunchtime deadline passed. Then the mid-afternoon one. A tea-time deadline came and went.

The FA had by now moved on from its morning meeting of movers and shakers to a wider one involving most of the full 13-man full international committee, Sheepshanks having joined them from Barcelona.

Eventually, a unanimous decision was reached. Soon afterwards Hoddle was clearing his desk, with some staff reported to be in tears.

Hoddle's departure was announced by David Davies, the FA's acting chief executive, who said Hoddle and the FA have agreed, after 24 hours of meetings, that the "termination of his contract" was "the right decision for English football". Davies said the FA "accepted" Hoddle had not intended to cause offence to disabled people but his position had "become untenable" after a "serious error of judgement". He added that the controversy had "damaged Glenn and his employers".

Davies' statement was interrupted by the intervention of a man wearing a Liverpool away shirt who burst into the packed press conference and screamed abuse about Hoddle. He later explained he had a disabled close relative and was upset at the time it had taken to sack Hoddle.

It was an indication of the pressure that forced Hoddle's departure. Had he been there at the time, it would have further distressed him. Though his departure had long appeared inevitable given his team's patchy displays and his own gaffes, the manner of it is sad. Hoddle probably does more work for disabled causes than most people in the country and he will have to live with the stigma of abusing them for the rest of his life. There was a sense of tragedy about his parting. Had he been better advised on Saturday morning he could have stopped the affair before it developed the hysterical momentum which made his departure inevitable. Instead it became akin to a witch-hunt.

Hoddle then gave his own press conference in the same room in which he reiterated that he had not intended to cause offence to the disabled, thanked the players for their efforts under him and the friends and colleagues who had worked with him to "establish the truth" about this affair. He left in a scrum of police, security men, TV cameras and photographers.

Sitting in the front row of the ranks of media facing him, not 10 yards away, was Matt Dickinson, the Times reporter whose interview last Saturday had led to his departure. Hoddle, his eyes fixed on his statement, did not appear to notice him.

Wilkinson's most immediate change is likely to be one of formation. He is a confirmed supporter of playing a conventional back four rather than wing-backs and a central three, and had clashed with Hoddle in the past over this issue.

Wilkinson could stay in place until the end of the season and possibly beyond. Jim Smith, the manager of Derby County and a long-time friend, said: "I personally think Howard could do the job for a long time. He will be going in as a stop-gap, but I think he has everything that is needed in the modern game to be England manager. Howard has the respect of everyone in football."

Sir Alf Ramsey was dismissed after England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals. While there remains some criticism of his personality and methods, his success in leading England to the 1966 World Cup still stands as the apex of national footballing achievement.

History is likely to judge Hoddle more harshly. He was regarded as a talented player who failed to reach his potential, especially at international level. While he may yet achieve success at club management, probably abroad, as an international coach he may come to be seen as a crank whose early promise was dissipated by his confused ideology and inflexibility.