Never was the ‘Hoddle debate’ more intense nor more fractious than in the context of his relationship with the English national side. Away from the more protective environment of White Hart Lane, service with England both as a player and manager exposed Hoddle to scrutiny that was at best rigorous and at worst gratuitously vicious.
Adam Powley and Martin Cloake and are quite rightly among other things highly respected authors. This is another reason to appreciate their literary efforts. The pair have teamed up yet again to produce a series of ebooks called Sports Shots. And this is to let you know about the Glenda Hoddle one!
By the summer of 1986, when Hoddle was 28 and at his peak, the England midfield had been built around the energy and drive of Bryan Robson. The arguments over whether Hoddle’s place in the national side was merited or not should have been over. Had he made enough appearances, supporters or detractors would have been able to judge whether he was a success with England. The simple truth is he didn’t play enough for such a judgement to be made.
Hoddle was again the choice of many to lead the midfield, but Ron Greenwood’s successor Bobby Robson appeared to share the same reluctance. Fondly remembered as a great romantic of the game, Robson had no indulgent sentimentality for Hoddle and, under intense pressure not to lose games, he favoured the industry of Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins.
The Hoddle-England conundrum was never better exposed than in the disastrous European Championships finals of 1988. England were in a tough group but that could not excuse a dreadful display. Reduced to the role of stand-in for a hopelessly out-of-his depth Neil Webb, Hoddle finally made an impact in the match against the eventual winners Holland. He struck a post but thereafter was sidelined as the Dutch exploited some comical English defending.
It was the familiar story of English tactical and technical weakness, but instead of the culprits paying the price – players such as Tony Adams who were most glaringly bereft of the necessary technique and positional acumen – it was Hoddle who became one of the fall guys. He played once more in another humiliation against Russia and at 31 never featured for England again. He had played 53 games and scored a paltry eight goals.
Bryan Robson, by contrast, despite his recurring injuries, finished with 90 caps and, operating from a position in which he was encouraged to get forward, scored 26 times.
It’s not that Robson was not effective for England, nor that he was undeniably a great player, but if ever there was a glaring illustration of the value English football placed on its reservoir of talent, those contrasting statistics tell a revealing story.
Remarkably, Bobby Robson survived the post 1988 inquest, along with his skipper Bryan. The pair were to finally end their England days in the 1990 World Cup; Bobby with some kind of fortuitous redemption and glorious failure, Bryan yet again succumbing to injury. The only marvel about Captain Marvel by this stage was that he had lasted as long to be considered worthy of inclusion.
And by then, Hoddle was charming the French. Another artist who elevated football above the level of artisanship, Michel Platini, famously said of Hoddle “If he was French he would have got 150 caps.”
It summed up the differing philosophies of the Gallic and Anglo-Saxon game, but also showed that if he were to be truly appreciated, the Englishman had to find a new and more appreciative home.
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