Saintly Hoddle prefers mild to bitter

Steve Tongue meets the manager finding new direction after rejection
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The Independent Football

Alive and well and working in a delightful setting in the New Forest, Glenn Hoddle has watched the latest machinations of his previous employers at Lancaster Gate with something close to Schadenfreude. Sitting at Southampton's tree-lined training ground, with the ink only just dry on a new two-year contract, he did not quite say that the Football Association deserved all they got, but was clearly of a mind that what goes round, comes round.

Alive and well and working in a delightful setting in the New Forest, Glenn Hoddle has watched the latest machinations of his previous employers at Lancaster Gate with something close to Schadenfreude. Sitting at Southampton's tree-lined training ground, with the ink only just dry on a new two-year contract, he did not quite say that the Football Association deserved all they got, but was clearly of a mind that what goes round, comes round.

"I got the sack from the England job for things unrelated to football," he said of his unguarded comments to a journalist about the disabled some 20 months ago. "That's their problem now, not mine, and I think it's panned out that way. They made their decision, I thought it was the wrong decision.

"They were a little bit weak in their management, they weren't strong enough, but for me, it's on to the next situation. I'm not one of those people who looks over their shoulder and is bitter about things."

Ironically, he meets just about all the quality-control measures listed by the Football Association's gang of seven last week, and believes that, with a full World Cup campaign behind him, he is "a far better coach" than when he took the job after Euro 96, with the FA almost as strapped for candidates as they are now. "I'm not going to get involved in who should take over. All I'd say is that whoever comes in should be in as soon as they can make a decision. And thebottom line is that there should be plans for the future.

"We're not going to win the World Cup in Korea, not in those circumstances with only three weeks to acclimatise. The idea is to qualify, of course it is, but we're not going to win it, so plan for the next port of call. But again, that's for other people."

Southampton became an unexpected port of call for Hoddle almost exactly a year after the FA forced him to walk the plank, giving him the opportunity for the sort of sabbatical that would benefit most football men. The South Coast club were in the bottom four, much as normal, and had rather cynically decided that their manager, Dave Jones, should concentrate on his court case, even though the date set for it was nine months distant. It proved to be the right move for the wrong reasons, Hoddle and John Gorman, his trusty assistant from Swindon Town and England, pulling a limited squad to safety by the comfortable margin of 11 points.

Members of the top division for all but four years (1974-78) in the past 34, Southampton have become hopelessly shackled by the limitations of their stadium, where in the past few seasons the average attendance has been smaller even than Wimbledon's. Having sent the south London side down by beating them on the final day of last season, they again have the lowest Premiership crowds by a distance, a situation that makes it all the more imperative to stay up there with the big boys until the new ground at St Mary's, on the other side of the city, is ready next August. The capacity there will be 32,000, and it is estimated that the club's income will treble as a result.

The best Hoddle could do with available funds in the summer was pay £1.5m for Aston Villa's Mark Draper and bring the former Manchester City striker Uwe Rösler back to England on a free transfer (Rösler is now injured and not available to face his old club tomorrow). But Hoddle insists that even with no more funds available until the insurance money is collected on three players (John Beresford, David Howells and David Hughes) who have been forced to give up the game, the team must not settle for merely avoiding relegation again: "I've set my sights a little bit higher than that. There are three divisions in the Premiership, and Southampton have been in the third one. Now our aim is to become more consistent and get into the middle stream and stay there, so we're not in the same old relegation battle with eight or 10 games to go. And that can be achieved."

Results this season have been almost uniformly close, though unpredictable, with only one home win and one away defeat so far. That has meant a familiar, lowly position going into tomorrow's game, though, as Hoddle points out, the Premiership table is a particularly volatile one this season: "You can jump four or five places in one week and then drop four or five. We were eighth the other day, then dropped seven places just on one result. Normally the championship's settled down by now, but it's taken longer this time and might be the same right until Christmas, say. I've been very, very pleased with the way we've been playing, there's more resilience about us away from home and we've played some very good football."

Like Lawrie McMenemy and others before him, he has discovered that Southampton is not a bad part of the world to play it either: "It's a very well-run, friendly club, with a nice environment, players who work extremely hard and a first-class chairman."

When England return next month to Rome, the scene of his most impressive achievement in charge of them - the critical drawn World Cup qualifier against Italy - Hoddle could be forgiven a pang or two of regret. But from his oasis of calm in Hampshire, he won't look back in anger.

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