Strained faith in Hoddle

Nick Townsend says England's coach is still awaiting a ringing endorsement
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HACK your way through all the extraneous and irrelevant comment within and outside Lancaster Gate on Friday and somehow you detect that Glenn Hoddle, a man of the Faith, may finally be losing that of his employers.

For all the reaction that the meeting of the Football Association's International Committee, to receive his report on the World Cup, was nothing more than a whitewash, the reference to a new contract and the brave words about Hoddle taking England through to the next World Cup, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the national coach does not have anything like their overwhelming support.

It is finally permeating the skulls of the FA's mandarins that the coach they hired in 1996 carries enough suspicious baggage to set off every X-ray alarm at Heathrow at one go. While that may not concern them unduly, the European Championship qualifying defeat in Sweden a fortnight ago - the third reverse in four games - suggests that extramural activities are affecting the players as much as they are worrying the public.

The England coach, presumably trying to bring some levity to the occasion with his blue suede shoes, was in a typically ingenuous frame of mind as he departed afterwards. He looked like the prankster who had lit the blue touch paper of rockets all round the school and couldn't understand quite why he had been dispatched to see the head. "You needn't have bothered wasting your time," was the gist of his comments to reporters. "We just discussed what was on the agenda."

Yet afterwards the comments from the FA's chief executive, Graham Kelly, and Noel White, chairman of the International Committee, scarcely constituted a ringing endorsement of the man's continued employment. Indeed, they may as well offer to circulate his CV, having decided to set up a sub- committee to enquire into his off-field activities, including the presence of pub landlady turned faith-healer, Eileen Drewery, within the England set-up, and the notorious World Cup diary.

"We'll want conditions, and he'll want conditions," Kelly spoke of the possibility of a new contract, but the more he and White attempted to be candid about the whole situation, the more embarrassing it became.

There are clearly some among the powers that be who clearly wish that the hand of Hod should quietly lead his flock into the wilderness before he does the same with England's football fortunes. Should his team, deprived of David Beckham and Paul Ince - the sending-off of those two important midfielders has been another source of FA irritation - fail to beat Bulgaria at Wembley next month, the voices of disapproval can only grow in number.

Even victory in two games which England really should win will not prevent the drip-drip effect of criticism in the media which has ultimately ended the careers of those before him.

One newspaper has already suggested that the FA should "shoot the lame duck" but the only reservation must be - what other targets are sitting pretty in the football pond? There are decoys aplenty, but unless the FA change their policy and, like many other nations, pursue a foreign coach - something akin to the Lord's cricket members admitting ladies - you can rule out the obvious suspects such as Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, both of whom have anyway already rejected overtures from England and France respectively.

Roy Hodgson, with his considerable international experience and dignified demeanour, would almost certainly be the man, even though his star is temporarily on the wane. At least Chris Sutton might get a game.

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