The Hoddle Sacking: A sad and unnecessary departure

`Hoddle will not be out of work for long. His self-belief and inner strength will soon bring him back to the fore'; Graham Kelly, the former chief executive of the Football Association, says that the deposed national manager has been treated unfairly
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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE, Terry Venables, Graham Taylor and Bobby Robson have all experienced the impossibility of managing England.

Robson went grey resisting imprecations to Allah for him to go. Taylor woke up wringing in sweat from the tension of the job. Venables walked when some of his employers went "wobbly" on him at the thought of his impending court appearances. Now Hoddle has got the bullet in the wake of the controversy generated by his musing over karma. Even Tony Blair joined the chorus - and Tony Banks maintained the pressure yesterday.

It is not a healthy state of affairs when Prime Ministers comment on football coaches, no matter what the subject matter. It tells us more about the current Government than the high-profile nature of our national game. Certainly Hoddle's goose was well and truly cooked by this new and unwelcomed trend.

Traditionally the Football Association does not sack its international managers. Sir Alf Ramsey was the only previous incumbent to receive his P45, though Graham Taylor was left with no option to resign after England's failure to qualify for USA 94, and the insecure Don Revie felt he pre- empted dismissal by decamping to the desert in 1977. But times are changing, Lancaster Gate is very sensitive. Hoddle's easily prompted spiritual reflections completed a trio of public relations fiascos.

First, he upset Lancaster Gate with his employment of the faith healer, Eileen Drewery. Then he published his World Cup diary, to the consternation of the football reporters who contended he was guilty of misinformation in France. Neither was sufficient to cost him his position. But the latest episode made his departure inevitable. Results were only average and he had "previous". The Football Association found it impossible to maintain its hitherto lukewarm support.

I do not believe he should have gone yesterday. In reality, his book revealed very little. Mrs Drewery did no harm, although Hoddle should have realised how insular football can be. And, as for the hereafter, surely we live in an age and a country of free expression, no matter how unorthodox?

After all, why did he call the Times reporter, Matt Dickinson, last week? It was his natural inclination, rather than part of the FA's express policy of making Hoddle more media friendly. He was to shed his image of aloofness and arrogance, encouraged by conducting individual interviews with the main reporters. And inadvertently - just as I did - he gave his enemies a stick to beat him with.

Anyone who takes the England job becomes a major celebrity overnight. He is never just the coach responsible for winning matches for the country. He is expected to fulfill a wider PR role for the game. He promotes the FA's policies on social issues such as anti-racism. Thus it is wholly unrealistic to restrict his utterances to the sweeper system.

Moreover, the new open-door policy was always doomed to failure. Once the pack has scented blood, it will not be distracted until the ultimate vengeance has been extracted.

Whatever your opinion, that is a fact of media life as we approach the new millennium. Bobby Robson was mocked for his absent-mindedness; Hoddle has his grammar ridiculed unfairly.

It is alleged that Glenn has lost credibility with the players. Yet ,if the FA really sounded out senior members of the England squad, I find that almost as disturbing as the political interventions we have seen this week. Will future England coaches have their position so undermined?

As ever, continuity is paramount. Howard Wilkinson needed little encouragement to take over. He has sought to expand his influence for some time now. The FA's technical director, the only Englishman to win the Premiership, has always believed the Under-21s should come under his authority; Hoddle has hung on to them because he wanted the last link before promotion to the full squad.

A few incautious words have resulted in the departure of a decent man, the most gifted, if not the shrewdest, former player to manage England.

It is all very sad and unnecessary. Howard Wilkinson has proved himself adroit at negotiating a path through the labyrinthine corridors of power at Lancaster Gate. A number of observers criticised his dourness before he became technical director, so he will have much to prove but little to lose.

Wilkinson's short period in charge of the development of our elite young players won immense goodwill from his former colleagues in management. That will now stand him in good stead as he faces the ultimate challenge.

Hoddle will not be out of work for long, though. His self-belief and much-criticised inner strength will soon bring him back to the fore.

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