Fowler's operation angers Hoddle

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The Independent Online
Glenn Hoddle revealed an iron fist in the velvet glove yesterday, warning Liverpool that they have jeopardised Robbie Fowler's chances of appearing in next year's World Cup finals by withdrawing him from England's five summer internationals.

Within two hours of naming his squad on Friday, Hoddle received a fax from the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, informing him that Fowler and Steve McManaman were being pulled out on the grounds that both needed surgery. The news, particularly its timing, left the England manager "as disappointed as I've been" since he succeeded Terry Venables last autumn.

The pair will miss Saturday's friendly against South Africa at Old Trafford, as well as England's World Cup qualifier in Poland on 31 May and the ensuing four-nation tournament in France. Hoddle's attempt to persuade Evans to release them for the Polish trip alone - an arrangement similar to the one with Arsenal over Tony Adams - proved unsuccessful.

"The club have let me down, purely in the sense that they knew these five games were coming up," Hoddle said. While apparently accepting that McManaman's knee injury required urgent treatment, he argued that the nasal operation to cure Fowler's respiratory problem could and should have taken place as soon as his season ended in suspension.

Hoddle pointed out that Manchester United's Andy Cole, originally a replacement for Les Ferdinand, now had "the opportunity Robbie might've had" if Liverpool had rescheduled his operation.

He explained: "My main concern from the players' point of view is that they could miss the World Cup in 12 months' time. Because as one door shuts, another swings open for other players. They come in and get the chance, and we've got time in the next three weeks to get to know people." Asked specifically whether the Liverpool striker's absence might count against him for the finals, Hoddle replied: "It could do."

With the loss of the Anfield duo, and the eternal controversy of club- versus-country rearing its head, Hoddle has been made acutely aware of the difficulties endured by Venables, Graham Taylor and Bobby Robson. He acknowledged that the dilemma would not go away, adding: "I can understand the club's position, but the way it was done needs to be addressed."

Liverpool had failed to give him "a satisfactory answer" as to why Fowler was still awaiting surgery. "He could have had it done earlier and been ready for Poland," Hoddle said. "I've seen players have that operation and they need three to four weeks."

Communications do seem to have been unusually poor. Liverpool, who pay the players' salaries, were understandably protective. However, Hoddle was perhaps naive to assume that since McManaman and Fowler were playing in the Premiership each week, they were automatically available.

A Liverpool spokesman said last night: "We're waiting until Roy Evans returns to the country from holiday before replying."

For Cole, whose England pedigree amounts to a 10-minute cameo against Uruguay in 1995, the call-up was the second shock of a week that began with Eric Cantona's retirement. The pounds 7m striker did not enter United's attack until late February because of illness and injury, and he had been due to fly to New York today for a holiday.

Cole said he had improved "100 per cent" since moving from Newcastle and was now more of a team man. Despite criticism of his failures in front of goal against Borussia Dortmund, and "hurtful" comments about his lack of rapport with Cantona, he felt he was "a better player than I'm given credit for".

The enigma's sudden departure from United had, he admitted, stunned him. Would the players try to change Cantona's mind? "I haven't spoken to any of them," Cole said, "but I should think they might contact Eric."

Hoddle, who expects Cole's pace to enhance England's counter-attacking options, said: "The more I find out about this job, the more I realise that club management is no apprenticeship for it."

Referring to Howard Wilkinson's recommendations for improving continuity in the England set-up, he said: "I'm a bit younger than most and plan to stay around longer. Maybe they'll have to look for a 12-year-old coach."