Gascoigne justifies his coach's loyalty

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The Independent Online
The debate over which role will get the best out of David Beckham was given fresh impetus at Wembley last night when Glenn Hoddle deployed him on the right side of a midfield diamond.

One school of thought is that Beckham would be most effective in a central position but so far this has not coincided with decisions taken by Alex Ferguson, his manager at Old Trafford.

Since given a rest at the start of this season Beckham has been seen closer to the right touchline in Manchester United's colours than many would prefer, and whatever ideas Hoddle may have as to future selection this is likely to continue.

Hoddle may want to wait for Beckham to gain more international experience before offering him greater responsibility but technical considerations come into the equation.

One is that Beckham does not have enough genuine pace to free himself from close marking and explode into shooting positions. Another is that he looks more comfortable when moving on to the ball rather than being required to turn and make a space for himself.

Then there are the things which help to make Beckham such an exciting player. Working along the right he can make full use of impressive ball flighting and still come inside to strike shots that are often models of accuracy and timing.

Running with the ball from midfield remains one of the problems Hoddle will find himself addressing. It is asking a lot but nobody carries remotely the threat that helped to distinguish Bobby Charlton once Alf Ramsey decided that he could be most dangerous when breaking into areas opened up by the intelligent movement of his strikers.

Beckham was eventually replaced last night by Stuart Ripley of Blackburn, an out-and-out winger who has been in fine form this season but quickly went off with a thigh injury.

The fulcrum of England's attacking play last night was Paul Gascoigne, who cleverly provided a goal for Ian Wright with a thoughtful pass after closing in on Moldova's penalty area.

The significance of that strike shortly after half-time was that until then England had struggled to create a clear cut opening.

Playing against a packed defence is never easy. The longer the opposition keep a blank sheet the more difficult it becomes to open them up.

England were a goal to the good when Gascoigne unlocked the door for Wright and in showing enough energy to break through from midfield and score late in the game he justified Hoddle's continuing faith in him.

The truth is that no midfield player available to the England coach has yet attained Gascoigne's level of imagination and initiative.

Injuries have restricted the Rangers player's mobility, but as things are Hoddle simply cannot afford to go ahead without him.

England's defence had so little to do in the first half that lapses in concentration were perhaps inevitable but that doesn't make them excusable.

Certainly there will have to be some tightening up if the important advantage England gained yesterday when Italy were held to a draw in Georgia is not to be wasted.

Last night they moved from a five-man defence to a more familiar four but there were times when uncertainty crept into the formation. It wasn't long in fact before Hoddle's assistant John Gorman was on the touchline issuing instructions that related to the occasional hesitancy of England's defenders.

Despite the enthusiasm with which it was received by a near capacity audience not too much should be read into this performance. Moldova may have managed to prove that every victory in international football these days has to be worked for but in truth they were never up to it.