Anybody wondering just what Glenn Hoddle can bring to Greg Dyke's FA Commission should have a word with a young Mansfield Town footballer called Sam Clucas.
The 23-year-old wrote one of the stories of the FA Cup first round last weekend with four goals in the space of 16 minutes in an 8-1 win at non-league St Albans City. Clucas had never struck a senior hat-trick before, but then he had never scored a goal in the Football League either until joining Mansfield from Hereford United in the summer and is already their leading scorer with five in League Two.
Rejected by Leicester City and Lincoln City as a teenager, he is making up for lost time – and all thanks to a spell at Hoddle's former academy in southern Spain. "Glenn was all about building your confidence and working on your weaknesses and trying to get you back into the game," says Clucas.
In his case that meant "working on my [weaker] right foot" among other things, and the consequence of just over a year of Hoddle's tutelage was a transfer to Hereford two years ago this week.
During a five-year period up to 2012, Hoddle practised what he regularly preaches by offering a second opportunity for young players otherwise bound for the scrapheap.
The former England and Tottenham manager has lamented the premature judgement passed by clubs on teenagers and Clucas's story provides a case in point. "Clubs were releasing players too early in his mind, and before they'd had a chance to fully develop," Clucas says. "That was my problem: people develop at different times and as soon as I got released [after six years at Leicester], I grew to about 6ft in a year. That is what Glenn was focusing on and he wanted to get hold of us, nurture us and get the full potential out of us."
Clucas actually went back to college between the age of 16 and 18 – spending his Saturdays working at Debenhams – before a year at Lincoln led to another rejection in 2010 after just one first-team outing. Only then did serendipity finally smile on him.
Chris Fagan, a Lincoln team-mate, had graduated from Hoddle's academy and provided an introduction. "I spoke to Craig and he rang Glenn Hoddle and put in a word for me," recalls Clucas.
That brought the opportunity to not just train every day under Hoddle and his coaches Graham Rix and Dave Beasant, but also to play for Jerez Industrial, the local club with which Hoddle developed a link. "It was equivalent to the Conference or League Two. Playing games every week in front of fans was a good experience, especially a more technical game that suits me down to the ground."
Clucas was not the only beneficiary. From his own intake, he cites Jordan Hugill and Ben Williamson, now at Port Vale, and Ryan Burge at Newport. The biggest success story, Watford's Ikechi Anya, scored his first international goal for Scotland in September. Christian Mouritsen, another who passed through the academy, played for the Faroe Islands against Germany on the same night.
According to Mansfield's manager Paul Cox, Clucas – who plays on the wing or as a second striker – has the potential to step up to Championship level. The man himself, though, is just savouring the present. "Loads of people I know got released because they were too small and gave up football. When I was at college, I always wanted to get back in football but it is so hard. I was fortunate to get the break, and now I'm in it, I relish every minute."Reuse content