Gazza fears refuelled

Ian Ridley says Glenn Hoddle will continue to be a good health guide
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The Independent Online
The England coach Glenn Hoddle says he will this week continue the education of his players in diet and what one of his predecessors, Graham Taylor, once famously referred to as "refuelling" in connection with Paul Gascoigne. Here the recalled Paul Merson might be able to offer some help.

Gascoigne, going for one over the eight with Rangers this season, has landed himself in fresh controversy after the press preview of a documentary on him, Gazza's Coming Home, to be screened by Channel 4 tomorrow week in which he talks of drinking almost being encouraged in the game.

Not this week, it won't. Hoddle began his campaign about the virtues of healthy eating and refraining from alcohol before the Moldova match last month and says in advance of the England squad gathering on Wednesday for the World Cup qualifying match against Poland at Wembley a week later: "We will be discussing it again."

If Gascoigne's supposedly jocular comments, which probably contain truths, are an irritation to Hoddle, then recent events at a coaches' conference in Copenhagen will encourage him. When Terry Venables took over as England's coach, he attended a similar event in Lisbon and was miffed - then motivated - by the comments of several of his peers about the nation's standing in world football. Now progress has been made, it seems.

Rinus Michels, coach to Holland's World Cup finalists of 1974 and European champions of 1988, rose to speak in Copenhagen about Euro 96. "He picked out outstanding individuals from the countries who reached the last eight," Hoddle said. "There was one per team except for England. We had four."

It is a measure of the progress under Venables that David Seaman, Gascoigne, Steve McManaman and Alan Shearer outnumbered the rest of Europe in catching Michels's eye. A danger may be that such an accolade puffs the chests of the English too readily just when a mood of realism had resurfaced.

But at last and at least there is a sense of hope for dear old Blighty, though club results continue to concern and tactical appreciation and coaching methods are still deficient. Heartened maybe, but lulled, one hopes, Hoddle will not be.

Hoddle's first squad contained, in David Beckham and Matthew Le Tissier, reflections of his character and thinking, as did Darren Anderton and Graeme Le Saux for Venables. Now in Dominic Matteo and Paul Merson, prodigy and prodigal, the process is extended.

Matteo, late developer that he is at 22, has the potential as an unruffled spare man at the back that Hoddle seeks. Though fortunate to finish Liverpool's match against Chelsea last week after fouling Mark Hughes, Matteo otherwise impressed the watching Hoddle with his tidying up work around Hughes and Gianluca Vialli.

Merson's re-selection is simply for footballing reasons of form, though it is also vindication of the FA's enlightened policy of rehabilitation rather than condemnation after his admitting an addictive illness. With his heightened appreciation of space and angles he is at present playing the best football of his career.

The pair will have to absorb for the first two days this week as Hoddle, who has realistically revised the time the squad needs together from nine days to seven with players needing two days' rest after this weekend, goes through the lessons of the 3-0 win in Moldova before addressing the problems the Poles will pose. "We need to hunt the ball down better as a team," he said. "As we go through, we are going to be up against better technical players and we must get better as a team. That and the movement off the ball are the two major things."

The newly industrious Merson will have no difficulty with that. Graham Taylor once said that the player needed a pint to be placed in the penalty box to encourage him to penetrate there. No longer. Gascoigne might do well to confer with him.