This article originally appeared in Tale Of Two Halves in October 2018
Glenn Hoddle is perhaps the very embodiment of missed opportunity in the English game – both as a player and a coach.
Hoddle had extraordinary talents in both playing and coaching, and should be in a position now in his late-fifties where he is revered on a par with foreign contemporaries such as Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff who are, or were, idols in their home countries, and the footballing world at large, for their playing and coaching achievements.
The fact that he is not says something about both him and English football at large.
Glenn Hoddle the player is best known for his dozen or so years at the heart of Tottenham’s midfield, and his spell spent playing under Arsene Wenger at Monaco, as well as his fifty-three England caps.
As a player, Hoddle in his prime was simply magnificent: one of the most naturally gifted players the British Isles has ever produced. His passing and shooting ability was almost unprecedented and it is perhaps only his perceived reluctance to track back and tackle that prevented him from being hailed as England’s finest ever player.
It was this perceived lack of industriousness and aggression that sometimes held Hoddle back on the international scene. Neither Ron Greenwood nor Bobby Robson seemed to entirely trust Hoddle, and so he gained far fewer caps than his talent surely merited.
Throughout his playing career Hoddle was said to have somewhat a continental approach to playing and this was perhaps why he did so well in the short time he played under Wenger in France. This could also explain why he seemed to struggle at times with the England national team. Furthermore, it could explain perhaps Hoddle’s philosophies to playing styles which he attempted to bring with him into management.
Swindon – Total Football in Wiltshire
Hoddle suffered from a serious injury during his time in France and for a while it looked as though his playing career could be over. He made a comeback, however, and towards the end of the 1990-91 season took over as player-manager of then second division Swindon.
Hoddle immediately got the side playing the way he felt football should be played – with sweeping passing movements in a sort of Wiltshire version of ‘total football’, and within two years had masterminded promotion to the Premier League.
It was then that Chelsea made a move for him to take over at Stamford Bridge, initially also as player-manager. Hoddle’s Chelsea sides played with flair but struggled to rise much above mid-table in the league, leaving the cups as the best chance of success. In 1994 the FA Cup Final was reached but Chelsea were hammered 4-0 by Manchester United who also beat them in the semi-final two years later.
Chelsea also reached the semi-final of the European Cup Winner Cup in 1994-95, which they entered due to Manchester United winning the double in 1994 and thus entering the Champions League.
England – The Appointment
In the spring of 1996 with Terry Venables’ departure from the England job imminent, the search for his successor was stepped up. The FA seemed to be interested in making a ‘young’ appointment this time and people such as Kevin Keegan and Bryan Robson, who was working as Venables’ coach, were approached. When these men turned down the FA’s overtures, Hoddle was approached.
The appointment of Hoddle was reasonably well received by the media and public, notwithstanding the reservations some expressed regarding Hoddle’s youth and inexperience.
At the time of his appointment Hoddle was just 38 and had had a mere five years in management (more than either Keegan or Robson at that time, by the way).
The England job initially seemed suited for Hoddle and he for it, as he proved himself to have a sharp tactical brain and was, initially at least, better able to best illustrate and communicate his ideas to top quality players rather than those of lower standards often found at club level.
Senior players of the squad were impressed with Hoddle’s knowledge and awareness, and the England camp appeared to be a happy and relaxed one. Qualification for the 1998 World Cup was secured as group winners with a memorable goalless draw in Rome against Italy.
The First Cracks Appear
It was on the run-in to the finals that the first cracks started to appear.
Hoddle encouraged some of the players to visit Eileen Drewery, whom he had introduced to the squad as a faith healer. This left some players feeling distinctly uncomfortable as they felt they were being pressurised and their places in the squad could be under threat should they fail to comply.
The next minor controversy arose regarding Michael Owen of all people, who was at the time barely eighteen years old and enjoying the first six months of his professional career.
Firstly, Hoddle caused a stir by declaring he didn’t feel Owen could be considered a ‘natural goal scorer’ and then he went onto say that Owen had to ‘watch his off-field activities’.
Whether Hoddle was alluding to some dark secret the teenager was hiding from the world or just aiming to keep Owen’s feet on the ground was never made clear, but the first rumblings of discontent started to appear.
These mumblings came both from within the squad, who were not impressed with Hoddle’s comments, and in the media, which was beginning to feel Hoddle was starting to get a little too cute and clever for their liking.
As the tournament approached, the problem of Paul Gascoigne drew ever larger. Two years earlier he had shone under Terry Venables at Euro ’96 but now was beginning to struggle a bit and had ceased to be the first name written on the team sheet. Injuries had taken a toll on him, it’s true, but so had unhealthy eating and drinking habits and he was getting no younger.
By the time England went to La Manga for the final preparations and the announcing of the final 23 for the finals, it was becoming clear that Gascoigne might not make the cut, and that is indeed what happened.
Actually, there were few dissenters to Hoddle’s decision to leave Gascoigne at home, but the manner of the handling of the situation left a lot to be desired and left a lingering bad taste for a long time afterwards.
Gascoigne initially received the news that he was being dropped not directly from Hoddle himself, but from either Glenn Roeder or John Gorman, Hoddle’s back-room staff.
This led an enraged Gascoigne to lose control and storm into Hoddle’s hotel room and promptly do a good job of physically wrecking it.
A lot of sympathy was felt for Gascoigne who, despite his many faults, undoubtedly deserved to be treated with more care and dignity.
Becks and Co!
Still, there was a World Cup to be won, as Hoddle kept telling the squad, and life went on. England continued with their preparations and again Hoddle managed to dismay some of the squad, this time with his treatment of David Beckham.
Beckham and some of the other players were on the training ground practicing a free kick routine under Hoddle’s watchful eye. Beckham seemed to be struggling to perfectly execute the routine and Hoddle is then said to have criticised and insulted him unnecessarily in front of the other players.
Worse was to come for Beckham who subsequently found himself out of the starting line-up for the first two group games against Tunisia and Romania, after having appeared in all England’s qualifying games.
When Beckham approached Hoddle seeking an explanation, all Hoddle would say on the matter was that Beckham was ‘not focused’. Beckham took this to be a slight on his blossoming relationship with Victoria Adams, of Spice Girls fame.
England won their first game comfortably enough against Tunisia but then lost 2-1 to Romania in the next, with the winning goal being scored right at the death after Michael Owen had restored parity following his introduction as a second-half substitute.
This defeat was to prove costly, because although qualification to the knock-out stages was secured by way of a 2-0 victory over Colombia in the third and final group game, with a restored Beckham grabbing one of the goals, it was in second place that England went through.
This put England into the considerably harder half of the draw and a last-sixteen showdown with Argentina.
The events of that evening in St. Etienne are legendary: two early penalty kicks canceling each other out, a Michael Owen wonder goal, an Argentine equaliser on the stroke of half-time, Beckham’s petulant flick at Simone and subsequent red card, an heroic rearguard display from England, Sol Campbell’s disallowed ‘winner’ and England’s inevitable defeat on penalties.
Sympathy was mainly with Hoddle and England at this stage still, although it was slightly diluted by Hoddle’s claims that England would have won had they kept eleven men on the pitch, which was seen by some as a dig at Beckham.
Post World Cup – The Knives Come Out
Following the World Cup, however, the tide started to turn against Hoddle, especially in the media. Firstly, Hoddle’s account of the World Cup adventure was published in book form and in it revelations were made by him as to how he had deliberately lied to the media at times in order to keep information secret and so opponents guessing.
The ‘chaps’ in the press were not amused.
Hoddle also revealed in detail the events with Gascoigne and other happenings. This, again, didn’t please some players as they felt, not unreasonably, that things happening behind closed doors shouldn’t be made public knowledge, and certainly not by the current manager in an attempt to make money.
To be honest, it looked from then on as Hoddle was a dead man walking, and his prospects weren’t helped by a decidedly shaky start to the following season’s European Championship qualifying campaign when defeat to Sweden was followed by a home draw with Bulgaria that autumn.
However, Hoddle may have been able to survive this rough patch had he gone away and kept his head down: instead he did a now infamous interview with Matt Dickinson of The Times newspaper and as part of such gave his opinions on the topic of reincarnation and karma.
“My beliefs have evolved in the last eight or nine years, that the spirit has to come back again, that is nothing new, that has been around for thousands of years. You have to come back to learn and face some of the things you have done, good and bad. There are too many injustices around.”
“You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.”
“You have to look at things that happened in your life and ask why. It comes around.”
Hoddle had made similar statements in the past prior to the World Cup, and nobody had really paid much attention.
Now, however, the knives were out to get him, and get him they did.
A relentless campaign to hound Hoddle out of the job was launched and, after initially standing up to it, the FA caved in and sacked Hoddle.
Justice or a Harsh Dismissal?
It was a harsh decision and one that was not in the best interests of the game or the national team. The FA bowed to the media, which in turn was said to be representing the views of the public.
It was doing nothing of the sort, as the public at large wasn’t really interested in the spiritual beliefs of one middle-aged chap, just how good his football team were.
The truth is the ‘chaps’ didn’t like Hoddle – he wasn’t a friendly cheeky chappy like their mate Venables and he wouldn’t play their game so they went for and got him, possibly in the hope of getting El Tel reinstated, and to everyone’s shame the FA caved in.
It is true that Hoddle wasn’t the most approachable or likeable man to ever be appointed England manager, and his mistakes regarding the World Cup Diaries and his handling of players in and around the France ‘98 tournament left a lot to be desired, but from a footballing knowledge and tactical awareness point of view he was top class.
In fact, the whole period of 1994-1999 with the failure to keep hold of the two best tactical coaches England has ever had is one of lost opportunity. Had Venables stayed and taken England to the World Cup in ’98 he would have avoided the man-management issues that ultimately dogged Hoddle, and had Hoddle been allowed to keep his job and grow into the position with the confidence and maturity more experience would surely have provided, then the barren waste lands of what was to follow would surely have been avoided.