Southgate ready for armband's burden

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The Independent Online
England's footballers will be keeping their heads down this weekend as Glenn Hoddle prowls the corridors of their home counties retreat like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, writes Glenn Moore.

Instead of an axe, the England coach will be wielding the captain's armband, the most revered but feared honour in the game. Leading the national team out at Wembley may be every young Englishman's dream, but those close to doing so against Moldova on Wednesday are all too aware of the jinx which has stalked Hoddle's leaders.

Captain No 1 was Alan Shearer, now laid up until Christmas at least with a broken leg.

Captain No 2 was Tony Adams, still struggling to overcome a knee injury which has dogged him ever since.

Captain No 3 was Paul Ince, who misses the World Cup tie through suspension.

Captain No 4 was Stuart Pearce, who limped out of Newcastle's European Cup match in Croatia, and this England squad, with a pulled hamstring.

Captain No 5 was likely to be Teddy Sheringham, until he underwent a bone scan on a bruised chest this week and discovered two broken ribs.

"There must be a curse on the captaincy," bemoaned Hoddle.

So when the team, who go home this morning, return tomorrow night he will be roaming the rooms, calling out: "Gareth? David? Rob? Anyone home?" Sadly the player who would appreciate the honour most (though he is also the most superstitious) will not be subject to the coach's entreaties. Paul Gascoigne may be the most experienced player left in the squad, a veteran of nine seasons as an international and 51 caps, but he still appears to have the mind of a child too often for comfort.

Not that Hoddle admitted this yesterday, instead he paid tribute to Gascoigne's new "maturity". "He's stayed injury-free, which was my main concern and he looks in good condition. He is the most experienced player in the squad and he enjoys the responsibility of being `senior pro'. He is showing more maturity. When he had those problems [the allegations of wife beating and subsequent confession] I said I did not expect him to learn in five days, nor even six months. It was up to him to mature and he is doing so."

Hoddle felt this also applied on the pitch, and he added: "There are things you don't understand at 22; you think you know it all. His understanding of the game has matured."

So, Captain Gazza then? Hoddle, when asked directly, refused to rule it out, insisting: "He has a chance." But he then spelled out exactly why Gascoigne will not be leading the team on Wednesday. "I have to consider the whole occasion. It will be very emotional. It is a one-off, both an important World Cup game and a unique occasion. Whoever is captain must be controlled."

That rules out Ian Wright as well as Gascoigne, leaving the most likely candidates as Gareth Southgate and David Seaman. Newly appointed skipper of Aston Villa and long a captain in the making, Southgate has the right blend of diplomacy and will to handle both the occasion and the Moldovans.