Harding leads battle to keep Hoddle

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The Independent Online

Chelsea were last night fighting to persuade Glenn Hoddle that a future with the Blues was brighter than one with England.

Were they to succeed, the Association is believed already to have sounded out alternative successors to Terry Venables, the retiring England coach. They are thought to be Frank Clark and Howard Wilkinson, the managers of Nottingham Forest and Leeds United respectively.

Chelsea's effort was led by Matthew Harding, the club's vice-chairman, who spent almost four hours with Hoddle in a secret home counties location. In the meeting the millionaire outlined his dream of a partnership between Harding and Hoddle which would make Chelsea a power in the football world.

Meanwhile, Ken Bates, the club chairman, was locked in discussions with Hoddle's agent. He also weighed in with a counter-attack accusing the FA of breaking their own rules by approaching Hoddle before asking permission from himself.

The approach, the probability of which was carried in later editions of yesterday's Independent, was first confirmed by Harding yesterday morning. It had been made, he said, on Tuesday.

Before going into yesterday's meeting Harding said: "I've got to convince Glenn that we can give him three to four years of more fulfilling football management than England can."

Afterwards he said: "I am doing everything I can to keep him at Chelsea. That we are still talking is a good sign. A lot of people thought it would just be 10 minutes over a cold cup of coffee and Glenn saying 'that's it, I'm off. Say 'thank you' to everyone at Chelsea'."

Hoddle himself said: "I've got a few hours, a few days, to chew it over. There are obviously other issues as well."

Hoddle would not go into those but one of them is bound to be the continuing boardroom wrangling at Chelsea between Bates and Harding. The Chelsea player Terry Phelan, who Hoddle signed earlier this season, admitted: "I don't think he knows whether he's coming or going, he's tried his best."

The dispute, which at one stage was bitterly conducted through the tabloid media, has calmed down but Harding is yet to find a way to persuade Bates to relinquish control to him.

It is possible that he is using England's interest to lever either change at Chelsea, or better terms for himself. He is certainly thought to have been made an offer far in excess of the likely pounds 250,000 a year for managing England. Then again, he may have delayed signing a new contract (his present one expires this summer) in the hope of his country calling him.

Bates was quick to dispel suggestions that Ruud Gullit might assist Hoddle in the England job. "There is no way he is leaving. He is under exclusive contract with this club until June 1997 and under no circumstances will we release him."

Gullit himself said he was "surprised" at the speculation and added: "I am enjoying myself at the club at the moment and all I want to do is play football. We will have to wait to see what Glenn does. I am happy they have given him the opportunity. If he takes the job, it would mean things changing at Chelsea, but you cannot think only of yourself."

Gullit would be a candidate to succeed Hoddle at Chelsea, as would George Graham, a former Chelsea player. Graham Rix and Peter Shreeves, both of whom work with Hoddle at present, may be more likely to move with him than replace him.

The possible impact of Hoddle going was made clear last night when a bid for John Spencer, Chelsea's Scottish international striker, was received.

Hoddle himself was believed to have had a lengthy discussion with Jimmy Armfield, the FA's special advisor, over the England job. The full implications of the job may only have become apparent when he woke up to find reporters camping on his Ascot doorstep yesterday morning.

Hoddle was the only one of the new wave of young managers not to rule himself out when Venables announced in January that he would not be seeking a new contract after Euro 96.

While the FA may have had their hand forced by the growing prospect of Hoddle following the original favourite, Middlesbrough's Bryan Robson, and agreeing a new contract with his club they need to have the new coach installed before Euro 96. That would give him the chance to study both England and Italy - the national side's main World Cup opponents.

That campaign opens on 1 September in Moldova. It is an unromantic location to give birth to a new era, but Hoddle will be aware from is faith that the most modest beginnings can give rise to the momentous of futures.

The England succession,

Ken Jones, page 26