Hoddle launches spear of destiny

At just 12, the England coach knew the job would one day be his.
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THEY thought he was a soft touch as a player, all sweeping passes and diamond highlights. They thought he would be the same as a manager. Paul Gascoigne now knows they were wrong.

When Glenn Hoddle sacked Gascoigne from the World Cup, most people, including Gascoigne himself, were stunned. Even Gascoigne's critics thought that Hoddle would never dump him. Yet now that most of the evidence is in the open, the only surprising aspect is that Gascoigne was surprised.

Hoddle's action was entirely in character. He had stood by Gascoigne through various controversies, given every indication he was building his team around him, and appeared to regard saving Gascoigne from himself as his personal mission. However, throughout his time in management, with England and elsewhere, Hoddle's most dominant trait has not been his Christian compassion, but his single-minded Old Testament judgement. When Gascoigne, already struggling for form and fitness, let him down in La Manga by getting drunk on the Saturday night and drinking on the golf course on the Sunday, Hoddle decided the policy of tolerance had failed. There were no half-measures. Gascoigne, like Chris Sutton, was cast into the wilderness.

Though his prevarication over his team has been perplexing, Hoddle is not afraid to make decisions, nor of the consequences. He was ridiculed for bringing the faith-healer, Eileen Drewery, into the England set-up, pilloried for standing by Gascoigne after his wife-beating became known, and criticised by many contemporaries for dropping Gascoigne. Each time he acted on instinct and conviction, sure in his own mind he was right.

This has sometimes led him to be a backer of hunches, not all of which have been correct. He was proved right to give early debuts to David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen. He was less successful in playing Matt Le Tissier against Italy after giving him only 10 minutes in the previous three matches. His belief that England could play the German way with a sweeper and markers has also unravelled. He came to realise there was no other Englishman capable of playing the way he had when he was the player-manager at Swindon.

Mistakes like this bring into question his choice of coaching staff. While Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson and Terry Venables all leaned on the expertise of senior coaches like Don Howe, Hoddle, like another insular England manager, Don Revie, prefers his friends. John Gorman, Peter Taylor, Glenn Roeder and Ray Clemence all had decent playing careers - an exceptional one in Clemence's case - but none has made a significant mark as a coach. Nor do they have previous experience of international coaching. Like Hoddle, they are learning on the job. Has Hoddle chosen them because he knows he can trust them, or because he would rather not have someone with greater experience than him? Either way, it suggests there is a measure of insecurity to go with the self-confidence.

Not that his coaches are all yes-men. It is understood not all agreed with the decision to dispense with Gascoigne's services. But only if Gascoigne had still been as important to the team as Alan Shearer or David Seaman are, would Hoddle have kept his faith with the maverick midfielder. Then his personal disappointment at Gascoigne's betrayal might have been tempered - as appears the case with Teddy Sheringham's indiscretions - by his desire to succeed.

This, after all, is the job he believes he was destined to do. At the age of 12, he was not only telling friends that he would play for his country but also told them that he would manage it. That ambition dwindled during his playing career as management appeared less attractive. Then he moved from Tottenham to Monaco, was inspired by Arsene Wenger, and that old desire was rekindled. He has since been single-minded in his pursuit of the honour.

Like many successful people, Hoddle's prime interest is himself. As a fledgling manager he walked out on Swindon knowing Chelsea offered him better prospects than Swindon ever could. He had done his bit, he had led them to promotion, he had earned the right to better himself. Having insisted on a get-out clause in his contract he now exercised it.

Three years later, he walked away from Chelsea after several months keeping them guessing. Again, he broke no contract, just exercised his rights.

He has also walked out of his marriage. Maybe it was the years of injury which made him hard, or of feeling under-appreciated in the English game. Maybe it was always there. A playing contemporary at Spurs, Paul Miller, said of him: "I often think he's too serious." His championing of David Batty, rather than Matt Le Tissier, has certainly been unexpected.

With England he has become known for his counselling philosophy but this is not entirely altruistic. If it meant Gascoigne, Ian Wright, Paul Merson and Tony Adams, who all benefited from his sympathetic ear, played better, then his England would perform better.

Hoddle had a head start with the players as many of them idolised him as youngsters and all respected him. Even now, his individual skill is on a par with anyone in the squad but the respect he retains as a footballer is no longer automatically conferred on the person. Some players question his tactics, some his promotion of Mrs Drewery. It is not just the discarded like Le Tissier; there are also unsympathetic players within the squad. If it goes wrong there will a few with tales to tell.

Such dissent will be eagerly printed as nothing illustrates Hoddle's single-mindedness better than his relationship with the press. Outwardly civil, it is cool to the point of contempt. Even Garth Crooks, the former Spurs player now working in the media, has said: It will take me half an hour before he treats me like an old team-mate. He's now in a profession that has made him extremely cautious."

Hoddle has happily lied about injuries, confused on team selection, denied access to players and been obstructive in arrangements. His argument is that the England team is his only concern and if that means subterfuge, disinformation and inconvenience that is not his problem. He believes there is no point in cultivating relationships: if he loses matches, he will be hammered anyway. The treatment meted out to Bobby Robson and Graham Taylor, who were both far more helpful and loquacious, backs up Hoddle's view, but no one really benefits from the current cold war: Hoddle, the media or the wider public.

If it all goes wrong in France, the knives will be out and a first-round exit will lead to calls for Hoddle's resignation. The Football Association islikely to stand by him even though headlines surrounding Hoddle's infidelity, faith-healing and belief in re-incarnation are not what they anticipated, having previously replaced Venables for fear of bad publicity.

Hoddle, himself, is unlikely to resign. He would find reasons for his failure and then stay on to to prove he could do it right. Only if he felt the people who were supposed to be backing him, the FA and the players, were against him might he go - and then maybe only if a good offer was lined up somewhere else.

Such speculation is likely to be irrelevant. England should do respectably in France and may do as well as Hoddle believes. The team has a solid spine, while players such as Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and the young debutants have blossomed under Hoddle's command. He is extremely thorough and, apart from the home match with Italy, has got his team right when it mattered. Unpopularity with players and press is no bar to success, as many managers have proved down the years.

As a player he never touched the heights he should have and disappointed in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. He may argue that the team structure did not create the right environment for his skills to flourish, but great players should adapt.

Now he has a second chance to make his global mark. If it goes wrong there will be no one else to blame, if it all works out he will deserve his vindication.