Why does Hod have so many devout believers?

Date published: Friday 1st July 2016 12:12

Fabio Capello is 33-1 in some places. Steve McClaren is available at 66-1. You can get 33s on Sven Goran Eriksson if you look hard enough. But there, second favourite for the England job, nestled in behind Jurgen Klinsmann with the shortest odds at the time of writing of 5-1, is Glenn Hoddle.

Under normal circumstances, the idea of a bloke whose last managerial job was making a balls of things at Wolves in the Championship – some ten years ago – would be laughed out of the room. But for some reason Hoddle has quite a lot of support. Alan Shearer wants him. Paul Merson’s keen. Ian Wright thinks it’s a good idea. Gary Lineker’s behind the plan. Michael Owen’s up for it too, with his belief that most clubs have an Eileen Drewery these days. And this isn’t just pundits sticking up for a mate: reports suggest that Hoddle is a live candidate, possibly as an interim appointment until Arsene Wenger makes up his mind next year.

Desperate times, desperate measures and all that, but one does wonder why a man who hasn’t managed in a decade holds the fascination of so many people. Obviously his work as a pundit is a factor, with many of his backers having worked at close quarters with the man and listened to his thoughts on the game, presumably impressed with what he’s had to say, as if he’s some sort of wise sooth-sayer light years ahead of the game.

But there are plenty of good pundits, so why is Hoddle the preferred choice? One theory the F365 cognoscenti produced is that he’s the acceptable face of fanciness and exotic thinking among what Johnny Nicholson would call the ‘Proper Football Men’. He’ll squeeze your thigh and engage in some light banter on the golf course, but he also played abroad for a bit and favours elaborate formations (i.e, 3-5-2). He talks in a manner that some people might think learned and intelligent, despite having a frankly maverick approach to syntax and tenses.

Perhaps it’s a lingering sense of guilt for his treatment as a player, when most agree that his talents were not appreciated by the national team in the 1980s, in an era when skill and anything other than gritty tackling and so forth were treated with the utmost suspicion. Now we’re all a bit more enlightened, it’s possible that some regard him as a genius unappreciated in his own time, but one we can now recognise while he’s still around to do something about it: like Van Gogh, or Hugh Everett, the bloke that came up with the alternate universes theory in quantum mechanics (who, incidentally, was the father of the singer from Eels, and you should watch the documentary below if you can).

Maybe it’s also the lingering idea that he has unfinished business with the national team, that he was sacked unfairly for the piffling detail of being grossly offensive about disabled people, and that his ousting the first time around was nothing to do with football. We all know how football people generally feel about that sort of thing: as long as you’re doing the business on the field, it matters not what you do off it.

But even that doesn’t really hold true: in reality, the FA probably used his infamous interview with The Times as an excuse to get rid of a manager who was guiding England towards failure to qualify for Euro 2000. At the point of his dismissal they had played three games, losing to Sweden, drawing with Bulgaria and beating Luxembourg: when Hoddle was fired England were behind Sweden and Poland despite having played a game more, and they just about scraped into the play-offs under Kevin Keegan.

Maybe these people, some of whom played with and under Hoddle, simply know something we don’t about how he works, even though his record doesn’t stack up and for every ex-charge who praises him, you can find another few baffled by his man-management decisions.

This isn’t even to say that Hoddle would necessarily be particularly bad, or at least worse than anyone else in recent history. In some respects it doesn’t really matter who the next England manager is: there will be questions about tactics and personnel and so forth, but the primary problem with the national team is that the players run around as if their shirts are made of kryptonite, sucking what powers they had at their respective clubs away and making them perform as if they’re wearing boots hewn from the purest ennui.

Unless someone has a magic plan to cure those psychological ills, lack of confidence and chronic inferiority complex instantly, then you might as well give Hoddle the gig if it’ll shut a few people up. That all said, if the primary aim is to improve England’s mental ability in high-pressure situations, and Wenger is viewed as the answer, then maybe it’s time to re-think things.

Maybe Hoddle would be a success. Who knows? It’s just fascinating that he still, well, fascinates so many people.

Nick Miller

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