Football: Wright and Dublin make Cole look foolish
The England coach has found his attacking options improved by encouraging win over the Czech Republic.
Glenn Hoddle, like most managers, wants positive players around him and on Wednesday night against the Czech Republic we saw why. Ian Wright, the youngest 35-year-old in the game, combined the wisdom of experience with the passion of youth as he gave gave an object lesson in the forward's art.
Alongside him Dion Dublin also justified his place with a similar display of leadership and intelligence. While both players are yet to fully convince against top-quality opposition they clearly have something to offer an England side not short of attacking options.
Their performances understandably delighted Hoddle, not least because it removed Cole's ill-judged pre-match outburst from the post-match agenda more effectively than anything the national coach could have said. In foolishly calling Hoddle "cowardly", then compounding the error by revealing this to the Sun, Cole and his agent have effectively ended his international career, at least while Hoddle remains in charge. The 27-year-old, who has played a total of 33 international minutes in two substitute appearances, may be unfortunate not to have been called up since April but, with Alan Shearer and Michael Owen about, Robbie Fowler returning to fitness and Emile Heskey emerging, Dublin and Wright confirmed that Hoddle's snub was justified.
"We looked eager and hungry, the fringe players have done themselves a lot of good," said Hoddle. "Wright's movement was a lesson for any striker. He showed he is still fit and able to do the job. He loves football, he loves life, he's passionate about playing for England.
"Dublin was impeccable. He is an intelligent player, he organises from the front which is very rare, he finds space where other players with more pace don't, he's a hold-up player but can get on back of defenders through subtle movement. The second goal [for which Dublin drew a defender before flicking the ball on for Merson] showed his awareness."
"It showed we have strength in the last third which is where games are won. Shearer and Owen have immense talent but I now know these two could go in and produce that performance if Alan or Michael were injured or if I wanted to play Dion or Ian, or both."
Or both? Is the Owen-Shearer dream team about to be supplanted? Hoddle added, somewhat pointedly considering the pair's struggle to find the same wavelength, "it needs time for Michael and Alan to blend, it doesn't happen overnight. It could happen in three or four games at club level but at international level it can be nigh on impossible unless you have a prolonged 20-match period together. These two had not played together but I was always confident that they would be a good balance."
Food for thought for the injured superheroes, especially Shearer who appears to have lost the joy of playing.
The absent Paul Ince and Tony Adams also have much to contemplate. In midfield David Beckham and Nicky Butt smoothly transferred their club partnership to the international stage and Lee Hendrie made a promising debut as substitute. In defence Rio Ferdinand impressed, albeit in a dogs' breakfast of a role. Neither sweeper, marker nor leader Ferdinand managed to overcome the uncertainty of his position to both defend and step forward with confidence.
"He was very accomplished," said Hoddle, "at times he came forward to perfection. But I don't see us playing him as a deep sweeper, it is hard to press the ball like that."
The problem with this is that until Ferdinand settles in Campbell, naturally enough as captain, is calling the line and he is a long way from Darren Anderton who, being an attack-minded wing-back, was sometimes caught ball- watching and playing opponents onside.
Hoddle was on firmer ground with his inclusion of Paul Merson in the "hole". While he had a mixed time when on the ball, his movement gave the midfield space and options which helped them avoid the trap of hoofing it long for Dublin's head, or Wright's pace, as so often happens when England play two up.
Throughout the team the most encouraging aspect was the renewed belief which owed much to the personalities involved. Hoddle alluded to this when he added: "We showed a lot of character as well as flowing football and good technique."
All these qualities will be required when, after what may now be a winter of content, Hoddle turns his energies to the intriguing game with France, on 10 February, and the crucial European Championship qualifier against Poland on 27 March.
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