BY DAVE LONG
England left the pitch after the FIFA World Cup semi-final in Moscow to raucous adulation from their travelling fans, the run to the last four was an achievement beyond expectations from Gareth Southgate’s well organised but technically limited squad. Their accomplishments have not been forgotten and Southgate, ever the idealist, will be looking towards the future and working on the few areas where England lacked during the tournament. The glaring need of a playmaker was apparent to even the most myopic of fan, especially when Croatia captain, Luka Modrić, grew in stature as the game wore on. His inventive play, drive and vigour left England’s youngsters looking mentally and physically worn out. 2018 England simply do not have a Modrić, but 30 years ago they did.
How Glenn Hoddle must wish he was born 40 years later, he would be 21 now. Imagine a player of such quality in an era where flair and technical aptitude are more understood than when he plied his trade in the 1970s and 80s. Some may say he would be the missing piece of Southgate’s England. Of course, he played in successful Tottenham Hotspur and Monaco sides and appeared over 50 times for England, but the era he ended up playing in was one of closed ideas, the long ball and mud bath pitches. The 21st-century game, influenced by foreign coaches and continental training methods would be paradise for easily the most gifted, but wastefully misspent, footballer of his generation.
Starting his career at his boyhood club Spurs, he was immediately marked out from the rest of his peers; possessing a vision, awareness, agility and a two-footed passing repertoire he stuck out in the largely stagnant First Division. He overcame nagging knee injuries and relegation with Spurs in 1977 to come back and help guide them to mid-table in the First Division in 1979/80 and finished as the club’s top goalscorer with 22. He scored and assisted during a 2-0 victory over Bulgaria on his senior England debut in November 1979.
Qualification for the UEFA Euros 1980 should’ve ushered in a new era for the England team, the dark days of missing successive World Cups in the 1970s well behind them as English clubs, who were predominantly made up of English players, won the European Cup in four successive years between 1977 and 1980 (and would win it a total of six consecutive years up to 1982). Hoddle was a part of the England squad for the tournament, but this was the 1980s and such was the antediluvian view of flair players that the FA and England manager, Ron Greenwood, appeared to be uneasy about using Hoddle. Like Tony Currie before him, it was as if there was something to be feared and disliked about a player who could score from a free kick or pass with both feet. The almost feminine-like grace with which Hoddle appeared to control, move and strike the ball was at odds with the testosterone-fuelled macho domain which accounted for English football in the 1980s, his style was likened to that of a foreign player, something which was in short supply, and was something to be derided.
England drew their opening game with Belgium, which was held up for a short time to allow the tear gas used by riot police on warring fans in the stands to disperse. The next game resulted in a 1-0 defeat to the hosts, Italy, and thus England were eliminated. Hoddle made just one appearance in the tournament; in the dead-rubber third game against Spain, both teams were out and England shaded a 2-1 win to take back some pride.
Despite England’s failures, it was the beginning of a career in the spotlight for 23-year-old Hoddle, he had been impressing at Spurs and won the PFA Young Player of the Year in 1980 after scoring 19 league goals. There was even more success the following year as they finished fourth and won the FA Cup after a replay against Manchester City. Spurs reached the UEFA European Cup Winners Cup semi-final the following season before losing to eventual winners Barcelona. Furthermore, in an era where the FA Cup still mattered, Spurs retained the trophy by defeating Queens Park Rangers in a replay; Hoddle scored the only goal from the penalty spot. As if metaphorically handing over a mantle, the last playmaking genius to be woefully underused by England, Tony Currie, conceded the penalty against Hoddle.
England struggled to qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, losing three of eight games, one of which was that famous loss to Norway in Oslo, but England finished second behind Hungary and were on their way to their second successive tournament. However, Hoddle was finding out the hard way just how much English managers feared the gifted player. Once the tournament kicked off he didn’t feature at all in the opening game win over a talented France side and was only introduced as a second-half substitute against Czechoslovakia. He made his World Cup debut in the victory over Kuwait, but England had already qualified and the training session-like atmosphere surrounding the game hardly did Hoddle’s cause any good and with the impending return to fitness of England’s two star players, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking, Hoddle would be left out in the cold once again as England limped out of the tournament in the second group phase despite not conceding a goal.
Greenwood’s time as England manager was over, a self-styled football purist he sneered at the ‘win at all costs’ style of management. Greenwood was the perfect antidote to the miserable fiasco the team had become under Don Revie, but he had again succumbed to the English suspicion of the gifted playmaker, going against his principles he instead played a combination of Bryan Robson, Terry McDermott, Ray Wilkins and Graham Rix in midfield. Greenwood was neither the first nor the last England manager to favour work rate over technical ability.
While he was something of the odd one out for England, Hoddle was truly a mastermind behind Spurs’ success in the early to mid-1980s. Successive third-place finishes in the First Division were their best in over a decade. Hoddle’s goal of the season contender away to Watford in 1983 was one of sublime skill and confidence, after a backheel through the legs of a defender who had tightly marked him he, without looking up, chipped an almost poetic shot over the stranded goalkeeper from just inside the area.
Although Spurs didn’t always have the trophies to show for their efforts in 1984 they won the UEFA Cup after a victory on penalties against Anderlecht. Although Hoddle was injured and didn’t play in either leg of the final he starred in the 6-2 aggregate victory over Feyenoord in the Second Round. The Dutch side contained a young Ruud Gullit and a declining Johan Cruyff, such was the standard of Hoddle’s performance in the second leg at White Hart Lane that it drew high praise from Cruyff.
Qualifying for Euro 1984 in France did not go well for England, Hoddle played in just three of the qualifiers and they failed to reach the finals. England may have recorded a 9-0 win over Luxembourg, a game in which Hoddle was in among the goalscorers, but a home defeat to a very talented Denmark team, with just two games remaining, meant they and not the hosts would be playing in France during the summer of 1984.
Finishing fourth in the league and reaching the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup in 1985 would cap another successful season for Spurs, however, a seismic event in the history of English football would lead to Hoddle and many of his peers in the late 1980s leaving these shores to play elsewhere. The Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985 took the lives of 39 people and led to an indefinite ban of English clubs from European competitions. Hoddle and England were preparing for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and for the time being, the envious glances across to their European cousins playing in those prestigious club tournaments could wait.
Bobby Robson’s England, despite scoring 22 goals in qualifying, only won four of eight games. Hoddle netted one of his eight goals at senior international level during the tense draw at home to Romania in September 1985. The draw put England on the brink of the finals and they secured their place with a Gary Lineker-inspired 5-0 hammering of Turkey at Wembley.
The 1986 finals saw Hoddle a permanent fixture in the England line-up as he enjoyed his most consistent run of senior starts, however, the early stages of the tournament did not go to plan. England lost 1-0 to Portugal in their opening game; captain Bryan Robson was injured during the defeat and was out of the finals. To compound matters vice-captain, Wilkins was sent off during the 0-0 draw against Morocco (the first Englishman to be sent off at a World Cup). Needless to say, England desperately needed a win against Poland in their final group game.
It is well known that Lineker came to England’s rescue during the 3-0 win, on his way to a Golden Boot-winning tournament, however, this was Hoddle’s playground and the Round of 16 game against Paraguay saw Hoddle, Lineker and England produce some scintillating football. Hoddle began the move for England’s first goal, his cross was turned back into the middle for Lineker to prod home. Shortly after, Hoddle kicked off a glorious England move in midfield after intercepting the ball just inside the Paraguayan half, he half turned and without taking a touch or looking up he sprayed a wonderful cross-field pass to the right wing where Peter Beardsley was running into space, Beardsley’s first-time cross was met by Lineker who clipped the bar with his volleyed effort. Hoddle also had a hand in England’s third goal as his pass invited Alvin Martin to cross for the predatory Lineker to score his second of the game and send England through to face Diego Maradona and Argentina in the quarter-final.
Everyone has seen the goals from that game, but Maradona’s performance that day was otherworldly and he left the England midfield chasing shadows on more than one occasion. Hoddle, England’s own mercurial genius, was left in his wake time and again as he glided over the pitch at will without the ball leaving his feet. One counter-attack after his second goal saw Maradona turn in an instant upon receiving the ball just outside the centre circle, his turn completely flat-footed the England midfield, three of whom were in close proximity to Maradona, and allowed him to play a neat one-two before his strike partner, Oscar Ruggeri, hit the inside of the post from the edge of the area. When Maradona was in this form he was just unplayable.
England were out, and Hoddle was left to rue what might have been as his attention turned back to Spurs. His career had helped to deliver top six league positions on four occasions and he won two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup. One the one hand he was undoubtedly Spurs’ most creative and best-loved player, capable of turning a game in an instant, but on one the other hand one always had the impression he was still underappreciated to a certain degree by those outside of White Hart Lane.
The fall out of the European competition ban for English clubs as a result of Heysel was reaching epic proportions. Many of Hoddle’s peers such as Lineker, Ian Rush, John Aldridge, Mark Hateley, Trevor Francis, Graeme Souness, Mark Hughes and Chris Waddle, moved abroad during the mid to late 1980s. The lure of top European competition was a monumental reason behind this exodus and one can argue a good case that Hoddle would be more valued in a more technically astute continental league. It seemed the perfect match for Hoddle and so he announced the 1986/87 season would be his last for Spurs after agreeing to join AS Monaco for £750,000 the following season. His last game Spurs was the 1987 FA Cup final defeat to Coventry City and his last goal, away to Oxford United, was another moment of genius. Like Maradona the year before, Hoddle dummied upon receiving a pass on the halfway line and completely fooled the opposing players who were closing him down, he sprinted the length of the Oxford half and as the oncoming goalkeeper met Hoddle at the edge of the area, the Spurs legend simply feigned to shoot and without breaking stride, stepped past the goalkeeper and stroked the ball in.
In his first season he lit up Ligue 1 and helped Arséne Wenger’s side win their first league title in six years, Hoddle was also voted the league’s best foreign player. His all-round play improved as he took advantage of the extra time on the ball afforded by a more relaxed tempo. His vision, timing, balance and an almost sixth sense-like spacial awareness, excited the French crowds and he was a delight to watch along with fellow countryman, Mark Hateley.
Hoddle’s international swansong came at UEFA Euro 1988, England had eased into the finals in West Germany, conceding only one goal, scoring 19 and hammering Turkey 8-0 at Wembley. They faced a particularly tricky group but given their respectable performance in Mexico they were expected to do well. The opening game defeat to Ireland soon deflated the mood; Ray Houghton’s early header proved to be the winner as Lineker, Beardsley and Robson all missed chances to give England at least a point. A must-win game against Holland in Düsseldorf was their next encounter; rioting marred the build-up and the supremely talented Dutch side simply found another gear to which England had no answer. Holland would win their first ever tournament in 1988 and the gulf in class was there for all to see. Robson equalised Marco van Basten’s opener early in the second half, but that was the high point of England’s tournament and van Basten, like Maradona in Mexico, left England defenders chasing shadows as he completed his hat trick with 15 minutes left. The final game, one which mattered little to England, was against the Soviet Union in Frankfurt, the 3-1 defeat meant England finished bottom of their group and Hoddle’s last international game saw him dispossessed in his own half, a mistake which led to the Soviet’s first goal. It capped a miserable time for England but the 1990 World Cup and an almost overnight re-birth of English football, loomed on the horizon.
Hoddle left Monaco in 1990 after a knee injury badly affected his final season there, during his time in Ligue 1 he helped Monaco to a league title, a Cup Final and the semi-final and quarter-final of the European Cup Winners Cup and European Cup respectively.
Modern-day players such as Zinedine Zidane, Luka Modrić, David Silva and Andrés Iniesta can all be compared to Glenn Hoddle in his prime; fleet-footed, intelligent and clinical. However, the English media and fans could never really warm to Hoddle, instead favouring strength and fist-pumping determination. Hoddle once lamented in an interview that he “was playing against the tide a lot of the time”. Successive England managers simply considered him to be an extravagance and didn’t know how to utilise him effectively. Many of his former teammates in France have lamented the fact he was born English, his former manager, Wenger, later said. ‘His control was superb and he had perfect body balance. His skill with both feet was uncanny… I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t been appreciated in England. Perhaps he was a star in the wrong period, years ahead of his time.’
It was plain to see Hoddle was a once in a lifetime player for England, it is a shame that he happened to be in his prime at a time when the foreign influence in England was shunned, not embraced, if he had been leading Spurs’ midfield today he would have been rightly lauded as England’s star player and maybe the national team would’ve returned from Russia with a certain foot-high golden trophy instead of left wondering where their next Glenn Hoddle will come from.
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