Hoddle rides out storm of criticism


Glenn Hoddle professes not to read the newspapers. Probably just as well. The England coach might get the idea that the press are trying to get rid of him.

Over the past 72 hours the strident condemnation of many headlines must have suggested to the uninitiated that England lost their European Championship qualifier in Luxembourg instead of winning it, albeit unspectacularly, 3-0.

On Friday there was "Quit now Hod!" followed yesterday by "Hoddle fights for survival" and "We've Hod enough".

Hoddle's career as coach of the national team has reached a critical point. England's attempt to qualify for Euro 2000 has begun badly. In all probability they will have to beat the Poles twice next year to stand a chance of reaching the tournament proper.

Hoddle though has angrily fought back at the newspapers, his ire aroused by a report in Saturday's Sun. It alleged that during a heated post-mortem after the Luxembourg game Alan Shearer, the England captain, had broken ranks. It was said that when Hoddle demanded an explanation for the team's poor display, Shearer retorted: "Have you ever thought it might be you?"

Shearer has dismissed the claim as "nonsense" and "pure fiction", and is said to be taking legal advice. Hoddle said, "if they think they can force me to quit through vicious lies and fabricated stories they have another think coming".

Mere headlines will not hound Hoddle out of office. Losing the confidence of his players or the backing of the FA would be another matter, but the team is clamorous in his support while the FA is about to give him a rise.

Yet something is not right. Whatever the players may say in public, the body language of the last three games has suggested that some of them, Shearer included, are not happy with the 3-5-2 system to which Hoddle has rigidly adhered.

Healthy, even heated, exchanges of views between players and managers after poor performances are commonplace. But is Hoddle as receptive to the views of his team as was, say, Bobby Robson, who made crucial changes of personnel and tactics after England had made poor starts in the 1986 and 1990 World Cups?

Despite the public acclaim heaped on him for getting England to France '98 from a dfficult qualifying group, and the gallant elimination from the finals, Hoddle undermined his own position with his ill-advised World Cup Diary and also the fact that Eileen Drewery, Hoddle's faith-healing guru, has never gone away. His position is precarious.

Hoddle has to stay on. To go now would establish the precedent of an England coach being ridiculed to oblivion by the media.

The only people who can help Hoddle to come through this are the England players. Shearer insists he is totally behind Hoddle. The friendly against the Czech Republic on November 18th will be his opportunity to demonstrate this support - if selected.