Hateley out of the shadows

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MARK HATELEY was chatting away at the Queen's Park Rangers training ground in west London last Friday when along came one of the groundstaff to tell him to park his car properly.

"Would you mind putting it one of the bays, please?" the woman said, sounding tetchy. "It's blocking people in."

"I don't think it can be mine," said Hateley, a little aggrieved.

"Yours is the Jeep, right?"

"No, mine's a blue Range Rover. The jeep must belong to someone else."

Poor Hateley. The forgotten man of English football, back on home soil for the first time in 12 years, giving all that his battered, 34-year- old body has left to the cause of struggling QPR, and still he is being wronged.

Perhaps it is not too late for Hateley to make an impact in the country that effectively turned its back on him a decade ago, and kept it turned away during the five seasons from 1990 in which his 115 goals in 217 games for Rangers marked him out as one of Europe's best strikers.

Hateley goes into tomorrow's FA Cup fourth-round tie against Chelsea buoyed by his first goal for QPR since leaving Glasgow in the autumn - a stylish shot on the turn at Wimbledon last week. Surgery on his foot - the 14th operation of his career - is behind him, and the problem of a broken nose was apparently eased when he broke it again. "I'm 95 per cent fit," Hateley said. "I can see light at the end of the tunnel. When you get to my age there are always things going wrong. It takes time for them to heal, and time is something I haven't got."

It was 1984 when Milan made their pounds 900,000 purchase of a raw 21-year- old banging in the goals for Second Division Portsmouth. Even by then he had acquired the knack of being overshadowed. Everyone remembers his first full match for England. It was against Brazil in the Maracana - the night of John Barnes's "wonder" goal. England's other scorer in their 2-0 win? Hateley.

For the next two years Hateley was a hero of the San Siro and a fixture in the England team. But in 1986 he took a lot of flak for their disastrous start to the World Cup in Mexico and as Bobby Robson stumbled upon the Gary Lineker-Peter Beardsley partnership, Hateley's more rumbustious style went out of fashion overnight. It has never really come back in. He won 12 more caps for England, but 10 of them were as a substitute.

The resentment Hateley feels about his England career is directed not towards Robson ("He always kept in touch with me") but his successor. Graham Taylor's appointment coincided with Hateley's move to Rangers after three injury-ravaged years at Monaco, but in spite of playing in Scotland what he said was the best football of his career, he receded further into the background - the victim, he feels, of a manager who "couldn't be bothered" to keep up with deeds being performed so far away.

"I was surprised," Hateley said. "Because when I was a young lad and Graham Taylor was at Watford he wanted to sign me." Taylor picked Hateley once - in 1992 for a friendly in Czechoslovakia. "I think it was mainly media pressure," Hateley said. "It was too late. But we drew 1-1 and I had a hand in the goal." And what was said to him after that? "Nothing."

Ray Wilkins, though, never forgot Hateley. They were team-mates at Milan, and friends through their families (Hateley and his wife have four children). And once Hateley realised that the presence of two new foreigners at Rangers, Paul Gascoigne and Oleg Salenko, might limit his opportunities in Europe, a move was always likely. Wilkins, looking at a large hole where Les Ferdinand once roamed, moved quickly to bring Hateley to QPR for pounds 1.5m, and was happy to ignore the fitness problems that came with him.

"He's a terrific buy," Wilkins said. "Our young lads needed someone around who's done it all. Mark's lost a bit of his mobility, but he makes up for it with experience." Hateley doesn't disagree. "I just want to show people I can still do it." He has already begun to. Let's face it, you don't get to where Hateley is without knowing how to steer yourself into the right positions.