Germans a model for Hoddle

Ian Ridley examines the lessons learnt from Euro 96 as a new era dawns
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The Independent Online
This week comes that wonderful summer sound, not of leather on willow or plonk on nylon string, but of groan on training ground. Pre- season - that time to remind you what life would be like without football - begins, and after Euro 96 the anticipation of 17 August and a new domestic start is likely to be as never before.

All of a sudden, being English and a follower of the game doesn't seem so shameful after all. Hosting competently a major tournament, allied to the wave of euphoria for the national team, has marked a rehabilitation beyond simply moving up to 13th in the world rankings for what until recently has been a pariah state.

There was the xenophobia directed at Spain and Germany, and the violent bitterness of some inadequate attention-seek ers in Central London, but these were elements out of step. Some 40,000 all-singing, all-dancing home supporters helped Wembley joyously stave off anti-climax for the final.

It is a mood that is beginning to captivate overseas players in their prime, as Chelsea's capture of Roberto di Matteo from Lazio indicates, even if the money helps, as Middlesbrough's throwing of it at Juventus and Fabrizio Ravanelli confirms. With Karel Poborsky also preferring Manchester United to Lazio, Italy - seen as the model of style on the pitch and passion off it - may be feeling just a twinge of concern.

Certainly, the Germans were appreciative, placing a pounds 17,000 advertisement in a British newspaper thanking the host nation. They had their luck in defeating the Czech Republic 2-1, but yet again they had found a way in adversity. It is curious how the harder the Germans prepare and work, the luckier they get. They have been fortunate now to win three European Championships as well as three World Cups.

Theirs is a system of thoroughness and stability, the Deutscher Fussball Bund president Egregius Braun retaining faith in Berti Vogts, the seamless successor to Franz Beckenbauer, when defeat in the World Cup quarter-finals of 1994 was seen as failure. At that tournament, Rudi Voller was asked about being dropped and replied that there were seven games to consider. Only the Germans would talk of plans for the duration.

It happened in England, too; Mottram Hall received faxes of their minute-by-minute itinerary months in advance and laid a pitch the dimensions of Wembley in case they made the final.

For Terry Venables, the Dutch were the models; for Glenn Hoddle it seems the Germans will be, even if his developmental ideas are modified for his first game, against Moldova on 1 September, as the quest for World Cup points sensibly falls to Venables's nucleus.

The English should resemble the Germans in morale at least but though they are clearly an appropriate role model, uninformed copying will not do. For example, three at the back for the English has often simply meant a belt-and-braces trio of big central defenders. Wing-backs can just form a back five.

At Chelsea, Hoddle sought more to develop the system along German lines of two markers and a free player with attacking potential, joined by wide players who spring forward. Due to the process of buying and building, his team often looked less sophisticated than their coach and Ruud Gullit no longer the mobile libero that Matthias Sammer is.

Who in England can emulate Sammer? Given that Venables's players proved themselves rather more versatile than expected, perhaps it will be Gareth Southgate, probably the most adaptable of them all. In this new mood of enlightenment, we await other candidates this season. With Stuart Pearce now retired from the national team and Graeme Le Saux still a long way from match fitness, Southgate's Villa team-mate Alan Wright may be a replacement on the left. And with David Platt possibly nearing the end of his international career, a personal preference would be for another Villa player, Mark Draper, to be tried in midfield.

It is clear that Hoddle intends to implement other Germanic ideas such as a code of conduct and technical back-up in dieting and conditioning. He would like as technical director Arsene Wenger, his coach at Monaco.

While some of the aims may be laudable, other fussy measures may not suit English players - Hoddle never did quite wean his Chelsea boys off the sausages in the canteen. And there remains an ideal candidate for the technical director's post in another Frenchman, Gerard Houllier. An Anglophile, Houllier has twice turned down the post because he wants to be part of his country's World Cup two years hence but after that he would be willing. Perhaps the FA could ask Don Howe to keep the seat warm.

Another FA appointment will be made this week with Sir Bert Millichip due to be replaced as chairman on Thursday. His successor - one from David Richards, Geoff Thompson, Sir David Hill-Wood and Keith Wiseman - may well have a World Cup bid to contest with the Germans for 2006.

By then, the game's authorities may have rectified the flaws of a tournament rescued by an English enthusiasm that was almost dampened in places by inflated ticket prices. In addition, only England and Germany entered the spirit of the euphemistically entitled golden goal rule. The conviction here remains that the American-style shoot-out - a player given seven seconds to advance from 35 yards out on a goalkeeper allowed to move - projects more skill. Along with that, the whole question of cards and suspensions will need review.

As Glenn Hoddle is recognising, however, the future is with us already. After the end, a new beginning.

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