Hoddle's problems stem from the front
Friday 11 October 1996
Glenn Hoddle went home after Wednesday night's 2-1 win over Poland and went to bed. The new England coach said the video, ready within minutes of the final whistle, would probably remain untouched until after the weekend.
Maybe. Hoddle is a man of strong will, but it is hard to imagine he will resist having a look before then. Curiosity, as much as anxiety, will draw him to the tape.
Where, he will wonder, did I go wrong? For something broke down in England's lengthy preparation. They may have won - which was the most important thing - but the victory was by no means assured.
Better performances will be required away to Italy, Poland, and, in the next match on 9 November, Georgia. England are nigh on unbeatable at Wembley - they have only lost to Brazil in 29 matches. While they need to ensure they win all the home games, it is away that World Cup qualification will be decided.
It is thus imperative that Hoddle gets the balance right next time. Playing Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand together did not work, even if they did combine for a goal. The problem was more the impact their pairing had on the rest of the side. Without a Barmby or Sheringham to knit the play, the strikers became isolated. Steve McManaman played in a forward role but he is more of a runner than a passer. His advanced position also left the midfield a player light.
In that area there were too many players seeking to attack and not enough taking defensive responsibility. "You have to get the shape right," Hoddle admitted, "and then go hunting the ball in packs. We went hunting the ball as individuals."
This is an area where Jamie Redknapp contributes well but he cannot gain a regular club place. Hoddle added: "The players that want the ball need to understand they will get more possession if they get that right first. The midfield players probably ran harder than they had for several games but there was no reward."
The wide men, David Beckham and Andy Hinchcliffe, seemed unsure of their role. Hinchcliffe was often an auxiliary left-back - with Pearce uncomfortably drawn into the centre - and made few overlaps. Beckham, after a slow start, played well but in a more conventional midfield role. The consequence was a lack of width. Combined with over-playing and poor passing it meant England rarely had possession for long.
With the midfield "strung out", to quote Hoddle, the defence was exposed. Once again English defenders were seen to be vulnerable on one-on-ones. It was another night when David Seaman's quality proved vital.
Quality decided the match. The Poles had the best performer in Piotr Nowak but England had the edge where it mattered - in goal and in front of goal. Of Shearer, Hoddle said: "He's got a great temperament and he is single-minded when it comes to goalscoring. He's quite similar to Gary Lineker - though he scores more spectacular goals."
Eight of Shearer's 13 goals for England have come in the last seven matches, and Hoddle added: "After Euro 96 he knows he can score against the best defenders in Europe and that has given him the confidence to take it on to the world level. With the levelling of standards, that is where games are won and lost at international level. If he is on the pitch you have a chance. He works hard, he is a leader."
A leader he may be but Hoddle would not be drawn on whether he would retain Shearer as captain if Tony Adams returns for the Georgia game. However, he may be spared that dilemma should Shearer require a second groin operation, which Newcastle would almost certainly arrange during an England training session. Adams's presence would certainly strengthen the defence, especially if Gareth Southgate's knee injury proves serious.
The coach backtracked on his request, in the Wembley programme, for two days with the team after a match. The clubs would offer strong resistance and Hoddle admitted: "I meant in an ideal world. I can't see it happening."
As well as the various World Cup results there was a friendly worth noting. France, so bereft of forwards even Eric Cantona was apparently considered, put four past Turkey. If England do make it to France 98 they will not want to encounter the hosts too early on.
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