Football: Wright warned not to keep up appearances

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The Independent Online
Drink, drugs... charity work? Arsenal have had many off-the-field worries in recent years, but the England coach Glenn Hoddle identified a new one yesterday when he expressed concern about Ian Wright's lifestyle. Guy Hodgson reports.

For once the problem is body damaging only in terms of jadedness. When Ian Wright became Arsenal's all-time leading scorer two months ago, he said a load had been lifted off his back. Watch the goals flow, he said. Instead, the England striker has almost come to a halt.

Yesterday Glenn Hoddle, England's coach, put his finger on his striker's lapse in form: too much on the peripherery of his life. Wright has been devoting himself to so many off-the-field activities that he has lost his spark.

"It's not only commercial things," Hoddle, who is peparing for Saturday's friendly against Cameroon, said. "He does a lot for charities and stuff. He's got to concentrate on football. There's a few players who, if they are injury-free, they are cast-iron certainties to be in the World Cup squad and he knows he isn't. He has a lot of work to do."

It was not a warning from Hoddle - indeed, he praised Wright for bringing the problem to his attention - more a realistic assessment. In the absence of Alan Shearer, Ian Wright is probably the best goalscorer England have and he wants him in prime condition when the squad of 22 reaches France in seven months' time.

Yet since Wright surpassed Cliff Bastin's mark with a flourish against Bolton on 13 September he has scored only three goals in 10 matches. "That record was a bit of a barrier," Hoddle said, "and maybe he needs to imagine there's another record to beat."

Hoddle was urging rest in the light of Wright's performance in Italy six weeks ago which took Engand to the World Cup finals and, if he had scored instead of hitting a post, would have been word-perfect close to the coach's instructions. "He did magnificently for us in Rome, he really did," Hoddle said. "I asked him to do a specific job and he did it almost to the T.

"I told him: `You're not going to get many chances today but if you can be up there and battle it will help us.' The amount of fouls that he drew was to our adavantage and frustrated them. I was very pleased with his performance.

"Since then he knows his standard has dropped a little. He knows that, he's the first to admit it. He was on the phone after Arsenal played Aston Villa last month to discuss it with John Gorman [Hoddle's assistant]. He's putting in too many appearances here and there and he needs to cut them down. He's aware of it, he's doing something about it. You can get away with it at 23 but not when you're 32."

Wright wrote in Arsenal's programme on Sunday that a goal would solve all his problems. "I've heard comments that I'm not the same player since I got the record," he said, "but I've been through such dry periods before in my years as a striker with Crystal Palace and Arsenal before and got through them... When the ball isn't going for me I don't become negative."

Hoddle concured: "It's not a question of complacency. A lot of things have happened to Ian, mostly positive some negative, but he has to recharge himself. A goal will do it. We all know that if he sticks one into the back of the net the big smile will come back."

Wright aggravated an ankle injury in training on Tuesday which is expected to heal by Saturday, but if it does not then Blackburn's Chris Sutton will be straining at the leash to be the replacement. He was called into the national squad for the first time this week, an embodiment of the improvements at his club since Roy Hodgson became manager last summer.

Last season, albeit in an injury-ravaged period, he managed 11 league goals while this term he has managed the same number in all competitions already. He credits Hodgson for rebuilding confidence and for changing the practice schedule. "I've never trained so hard in my life as I have in the last four months," Sutton said. "We don't have a day off in the week and that's good mentally for us. We realised after last season, when we were close to relegation, that the only way we can be successful is to work hard and get the right structure to the team.

"We seem to have more strings to our bow these days. We can be direct but we can also vary it like we did against Everton on Saturday. We weren't just pumping balls forward we played it a lot more through midfield. It's what Roy Hodgson wants, to have options."

So does Hoddle. "Chris has nothing to prove to me," the England coach said. "He's done that already. He's been impressive in training, he's got the right attitude."

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