Former England boss would like to tell the FA’s incoming chairman how to stamp out lazy coaching and make players technically sound
A defeat by Egypt on Saturday saw England crash out of the Under-20 World Cup with only draws against Iraq and Chile to show for their efforts. Last month, the Under-21s fared even worse at the European Championships — losing three out of three and scoring just once — and, within a week of their exit, manager Stuart Pearce was axed.
England’s troubles have prompted talk of Glenn Hoddle returning to the national set-up.
Sacked as manager of the senior side in 1999 after his unacceptable remarks about disabled people, Hoddle confesses to me: “It really rankles in my heart. I believe I could have done something with that team. It’s unfinished business. I’m not bitter about it. I just think they [the Football Association] made a mistake.”
So will the 55-year-old, who managed England between 1996 and 1999, come back as Under-21 boss?
“No,” Hoddle says. “If you’ve had the No1 job, why would you go back and be reserve manager? Is Alex Ferguson going to be reserve manager for Manchester United? It’s like a boxer going into the ring with one arm behind his back. Why would you do it? You’re going to get knocked out. The rules [for the job] are wrong as well. The rules need to be changed.”
For Hoddle, such rule changes extend way beyond making the best Under-21 players available for the major championships. Their absence was one of the reasons Pearce gave for the abysmal performance in Israel.
“Getting the best players there is one thing but there’s a multitude of things that need changing,” says the man who played for and managed both Tottenham and Chelsea. “The key to where we went wrong is the kids were brought up with the wrong philosophy. In Argentina, Brazil, France, Holland, Spain, in Africa, what is the first philosophy?”
For Hoddle this ideology is so obvious he does not feel the need to spell it out. So, having posed the question, he goes silent. As the silence continues, I find I am in the middle of a game. Bemused, I repeat his question. And he in turn repeats it.
I hesitatingly suggest this first philosophy must be about teaching kids how to control the ball. Then he bursts out: “Absolutely! That is the first thing that comes to the minds of these kids, all the coaches and, more importantly, the federations. Technically, how will we deal with the ball?
“In England, since the Sixties, our philosophy hasn’t been like that. Sir Alf [Ramsey] won the World Cup in 1966 but, in doing so, he took away the wingers. It was fine for that era. What we didn’t do as coaches, and as the FA, was advance from there. Our greatest mistake was we got stuck for 30 years-plus in 4-4-2. This should have been changed in the late Seventies and Eighties when I was playing.”
Then he recalls: “I spent hours from 11 until 16 with Tottenham in the gym playing the ball against the wall. We played against the wall for an hour before we would have a match. Left foot. Right foot. In the square. In the circle. Above the line, below it. Chest control. Thigh control. Volley sideways.
“That’s all the great players ever did; play the ball against the wall. Six generations of players have missed out on that. We’ve got to play against a wall again. Our kids are as talented as the Spanish, French or the Dutch but we’ve shied away from teaching them how to get the best out of themselves with the ball. And I’l tell you why.
“There were lazy coaches in this country. When I say lazy coaches they would play a long ball, get it quickly as far away from their goal as they possibly could and squeeze up to the halfway line. They try to condense the space, condense the creative footballer, win the ball in the last third, win matches by missing out on technique. That’s easy to play; you don’t have to coach that.
“That philosophy hasn’t changed. Our 15 and 16-year-olds are still playing on too big a pitch. We’re still a long way behind Europe. That little bit of water saved us in the war but it has cut us away from a lot of things.”
The country Hoddle feels we must learn from is Holland. “I know it’s a smaller country but they’ve got top-quality, qualified coaches in every county, every town, every district — imagine that in England.” But to do that, says Hoddle, we need to pay more.
“For years, clubs have paid those who coach the eight to 14 to 15-year-olds peanuts. So you’re getting lesser quality coaches. I said to Daniel Levy when I was at Tottenham, you need to pay a really good amount of money for coaches to deal with your 10s, 12s, 13s and 14s. If we don’t make technical footballers, in 40 years’ time we will still be saying the same things.”
Is Hoddle suggesting it will take that long for England to win anything?
“We’ll always be a difficult side to play against. Are we a team that can go and win matches and outplay most teams in every level? We’re becoming less and less able technically. We are suspicious of the creative technical player, calling him a luxury. For me, those who give the ball away are the luxury players.”
Hoddle, who in his playing days was branded a luxury, is prepared to tell the FA how to make the creative player part of the English system, a timely offer given that Greg Dyke will herald a new era at the governing body when he takes over as their chairman next week.
“If Greg Dyke wants to chat, I will. I’m patriotic about my country. I have 53 caps, I have managed my country and, if I can, I will help in any way.”
So, now it is up to Dyke to pick up the phone.