Football: Wenger kills off England rumours

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The Independent Online
ARSENE WENGER, the Arsenal manager, yesterday killed growing speculation that he could be the man to succeed his protege, Glenn Hoddle, as the England coach in two years' time. Speaking after completing preparations for tonight's European Champions' League match against Dynamo Kiev at Wembley, Wenger said he would shortly sign a four-year contract with the club. He also urged the Football Association to support Hoddle, whose interest in coaching was first awakened by the Frenchman's encouragement while he was a player at Monaco.

"I have enough worries," Wenger said. "I'm committed to Arsenal and that's enough for me. I will sign a new contract until 2002. There are just a few details left, no major problem." Having led Arsenal to the Double and now to the top of their Champions' League group, with a lucrative contract on the table as reward, Wenger clearly sees no attraction in putting himself in the international firing line.

"What's the pleasure?" he asked. "You never see the players, then when you do you absolutely have to win and straightaway you don't see them again. You have to be a bit of a masochist. The FA have certainly made no approach to me although I once talked to them some years ago about the role of technical advisor and decided not to do it."

Wenger admits he feels great sympathy for Hoddle who is currently suffering a media grilling after England's poor results since the World Cup. Wenger, although admitting Hoddle no longer seeks his advice, said: "The FA must just keep showing patience and support for Glenn. You cannot let newspapers rule FA decisions."

Hoddle has vowed to battle on in an effort to get England to Euro 2000 despite dropping points against Sweden and Bulgaria. "Every human being needs support and I think the FA are showing the right attitude to him. Up to now Glenn has shown he is a strong character," Wenger said.

At the weekend Wenger blamed last week's double whammy of internationals for Arsenal's lethargic performance in failing to see off Southampton at Highbury. Emmanuel Petit missed that game with an injury sustained playing for France and will again be absent tonight, a misfortune compounded by the suspension of his compatriot Patrick Vieira.

Standing together in midfield, the Gallic pair were a significant force in the two previous group matches, a 1-1 draw in Lens and a 2-1 win over Panathinaikos. Unfortunately, Vieira's indiscipline led to yellow cards in the 93rd minute of the first game and the 92nd minute of the second, which now rule him out.

The only certainty about Vieira's replacement is that it will not be an Englishman: Nelson Vivas, Remi Garde, Gilles Grimandi and Alberto Mendez are the contenders.

Kiev's performance last season in winning their Champions' League section ahead of Barcelona, PSV and Newcastle, plus the presence of the gifted young striker Andriy Shevchenko - scorer of a hat-trick as Barcelona were routed 4-0 at the Nou Camp - had led Wenger to make them "strong favourites" to win Group E this time. Losing 2-1 to Panathinaikos and then drawing at home to Lens has instead left them bottom.

Coached by the lugubrious Valerii Lobanovskyi, who had three spells in charge of the old Soviet Union national team, they won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1975 and 1986 and were twice European Cup semi-finalists, missing out on a final against Liverpool in 1977 at the penultimate stage. Just as that Kiev team provided almost the entire Soviet Union side, so Lobanovskyi now picks most of his current Ukraine team from their ranks. Three other players represented Belarus against Wales last Wednesday.

Shevchenko's partnership with Sergei Rebrov is expected to test Tony Adams and Martin Keown, who found themselves having to rescue their strikers by scoring the goals in the previous Wembley match with Panathinaikos. A more telling contribution would be welcome from Dennis Bergkamp - who will miss the meeting in Kiev next month because of his fear of flying - and Nicolas Anelka.

An Arsenal victory tonight would effectively kill off Kiev's lingering chances of qualifying, making the away game far less daunting in a stadium that can hold 100,000 but had only 1,000 for their most recent league game.

Arsenal (probable): Seaman; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Vivas, Parlour, Hughes, Overmars; Bergkamp, Anelka.

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