Jim White

Hoddle for England? How has it come to this?

Jim White

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Fans of Wolves, never mind England, would shudder at the thought of Hoddle's return

Glenn Hoddle has never been quite as sure with words as he was with a football. His syntax is at times as tortured, over-wrought and convoluted as his passes were concise, precise and beautifully executed. And he was in full muddle this week, as he claimed once again that "he never said them things" about the disabled paying for the sins of a previous life.

In fact, he insisted in an interview in The Independent on Monday, he would never say them things. He would never dream of saying the very words that cost him the England manager's job, the job he has wanted all his life, the job to which he had long assumed he was destined.

The problem is he did say them. He may not have meant them, he may not have wished them to come out as they did, he may have been distraught at the offence he unintentionally caused. But he said them all right. When the definitive history of Hoddle's dismissal as England boss comes to be written of this we can be certain: the only person who acted with utter probity and integrity in it all was Matt Dickinson, the Times football correspondent who reported Hoddle's remarks as they were spoken to him. And while Hoddle's attempt once again to shoot the messenger does him no favours, Dickinson apart, no one else involved in the saga of his dismissal can look back on it and describe it as their finest hour.

That said, such were the disparate forces at work, it is possible to cast Hoddle as the victim of a chain of events that turned into a very modern witch hunt. After he made his remarks to Dickinson, Hoddle found himself utterly friendless. The media relished the discomfort of a manager who had shown nothing but contempt for them during his tenure. His contemporaries, demonstrating fully the adage of that it is always best to be nice to people on the way up as you never know when you might need them on the way down, were not over-anxious to come out in support of a man who had always oozed such arrogant certainty. A panicky, driftless, leaderless FA (how some things never change) hung him out to dry.

His fate was sealed when Tony Blair, still intoxicated with the idea of catching the public mood following the death of Princess Diana, condemned his words from a morning television studio sofa. Blair had been briefed by his football supporting adviser Alistair Campbell, a man who was later to expose his own insecure relationship with the true meaning of words with his claim that Saddam Hussein was capable of unleashing chemical warfare within 45 minutes from a host of hidden weapons of mass destruction. And once the Prime Minister had spoken, the FA, who were desperate to curry government favour following the fiasco of their doomed 2006 World Cup bid, ditched him.

Yeah, he said them things. But should he — a man we all knew was never wholly at ease in his mother tongue - really have been fired for a verbal indiscretion?

And should we now, with the benefit of hindsight, treat Hoddle rather more favourably? Should he, in fact, as he suggested in his interview, be considered as a serious candidate for the vacant England job? Albeit just as caretaker. After all, compared to some of those who followed him into the job his record with England is reasonable. And, at 54, he has years ahead of him.

The answer is no. For reasons which have nothing to do with his inability to control his mouth in the way he could a football. Or even his bizarre man management ideas encompassing soothsayers, the I Ching and assorted charlatans. As a coach, Hoddle busted his flush long ago. There is a reason he these days earns his corn in the television studio and it lies in his post-England record at Spurs and then Wolves. Four years he was at Molineux; ask any Wolves supporter if they would like him to return as a full-time replacement for Mick McCarthy and you will not find many anxious to start that band wagon.

Sure, as he insisted, he still watches a lot of elite football in his brief for Sky. And sure, while his ability to articulate it might not be on the same level as that of Gary Neville, his analysis remains sharp. But by that criterion, Graham Taylor, doing a fine job for Five Live, should be in with a shout of the post.

In fact, the very idea that Hoddle should come back for England really ought not to have seen the light of day. His self-started candidacy has only surfaced because the FA's institutionalised incompetence has created a vacuum into which all sorts of loonies have chucked their hat.

Really the decision is not that hard: there is an obvious candidate for the job of England manager who apparently wants it. Why he has not been anointed is a mystery known only to the blazers at Wembley, whose prevarication has now reached comedy levels. The longer the governing body takes to ratify the most clear-cut appointment imaginable, the more nonsense gathers around its fringes and the more harm is done not just to those involved but to the wider game.

Hoddle for England? It is a question that really should not even be asked.

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