No More Mr Nice Guy; WORLDCUP 98 SUPPLEMENT

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Calvin

Will the real Glenn Hoddle please stand up?

Is the Karma chameleon of English football a Christian or charlatan, a masterly innovator or merely inane? Is he genuine New Age Man or the cynical purveyor of the same old tosh? Hoddle might have been able to divide and rule before the World Cup finals, but once France '98 begins in earnest he will be stripped bare. He faces ordeal by innuendo, and will be second-guessed, double-crossed; praised and pilloried, occasionally in the same breath. Carlos Alberto Parreira, whose Brazilian team blended romanticism with pragmatism to win the last World Cup, identified the unrelenting attention as the hardest aspect of his job at the finals. An international manager is expected to have the missionary zeal of Billy Graham, the innate cunning of Bill Clinton and the ready wit of Bill Cosby.

For one frantic month, when the world convenes in collective celebration of the beautiful game, he must become a caricature of himself. His training ground becomes a zoo, a bizarre bearpit. FIFA, football's governing body, insists he must submit to interrogation by strangers on a daily basis. The best learn to lob a few morsels of rotting fish to the performing seals of the popular prints, usually in the form of platitudes, delivered as though they possessed the philosophic weight of Socrates (that cerebral Greek chappie, not the elegant Brazilian midfield player). Hoddle loathes the rituals of public accountability, resents the instant judgments of those he does not respect. The criticism, when it comes, will be met with a faintly metallic monotone, a pained condescension. Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.

This is only to be expected, because each England manager imposes his character and the conventions of his time on the type of job that requires a government health warning. Sir Alf Ramsey was a product of a starched-collar society, a Dagenham Boy whose desperate quest for upward mobility involved surreptitious elocution lessons. Don Revie, shaped by the insecurities of the era of the minimum wage, was consumed by a paranoic attention to detail before he took the money and ran to the Middle East.

Ron Greenwood affected the quizzical detachment of an amiable grandfather even when some of England's more imaginative camp followers were finding dead dogs on the beach outside the team hotel in Spain in 1982. This masked a ruthlessness known only too well to Hoddle, who was dropped with the dismissive reminder that `disappointment is part of football'. Bobby Robson was an innocent abroad, a tormented soul who turned grey yet almost stumbled into a World Cup final in 1990. By the time Graham Taylor's agony ended, in failure to reach USA '94, he did not know whether he was animal, vegetable or mineral.

Hoddle fits into the mix as a cross between Sir Alf and Terry Venables. He shares the global vision of his predecessor, even if the impurities of El Tel's business dealings do not exactly sit well with the Victorian values that supposedly underpin his successor's fractured personal life. Despite the depth of his religious beliefs, Hoddle is naturally suspicious, a dictator for whom benevolence is an optional extra. His unyielding response to the contrition of Chris Sutton - `I thought Christians were supposed to forgive people for their sins but that doesn't appear to be the case with me' - was straight out of the Ramsey scrapbook. …