It's really not looking good at all, is it? Sweden and Poland have a full complement of points, yet we only managed to scrape a three goal victory over the Luxembourg part-timers. The last time we beat a 'decent' team was in 'Le Tournoi' in 1997, when we defeated a French side that lacked a certain je ne sais quoi whilst the Azzurri failed to sparkle in their typical Mediterranean manner. Since then we have lost to Romania, far from the best team in Europe, let alone the world and were beaten, albeit on penalties, by Argentina.
We have, supposedly, the best English team for years, with the likes of Shearer, Owen, Beckham, Campbell, Adams and Seaman amongst the world's finest. So what is the reason, then, for our failure to win a decent, competitive, international match under the management of Glenn Hoddle? My opinion is that Hoddle lacks three major qualities necessary in a national coach. First, the confidence to take risks and force the opposition to adjust their game to beat England. Secondly, the foresight needed to predict scenarios and situations that are likely to occur both within and around a game of international football. Lastly, Hoddle lacks the imagination and flexibility to adjust his tactics during and between games.
Let me put forward my case; the first point is exemplified best by the England v Romania game in the World Cup. Hoddle was too preoccupied with the threat of the Romanians Illie and Hagi to play his own most potent attacking force, missing out a creative midfielder to play a 'stopper' in midfield to protect his back three. England were unable to maintain a significant amount of possession as a result of this and, albeit unfortunately, at the bitter end, lost
My second point, lack of foresight, was vexingly displayed in the latest England game against Luxembourg this week. It was clear to any regular follower of football that this should have been one of the few and far between 'easy games' on which England must capitalise if they are to secure a place in the European Championships. The Luxembourg captain even dismissed his own team's chance of achieving a draw in a pre-match interview with the English press. It should then have become evident to anyone with any sort of tactical mind that England would be presented with a very defensive team to break down - as Terry Butcher put it, "a blanket of red". Moreover, in such a scenario it was unlikely that Luxembourg would play more than one forward. Yet, England played three centre halves and a defensive left wing back. Even when the problems that this caused became clear during the game, Hoddle did not make a change. Rio Ferdinand played the majority of the game as a right winger - why? It was not working. This is not meant in any way as a criticism of Ferdinand, who acquitted himself admirably in the circumstances - however, he was surely not the best man for the job.
Three goals was not enough against such weak opposition, especially in the light of our situation within the group. Furthermore, and perhaps of greater relevance, the game was as dull as cheese sandwiches on stale bread with no butter or pickle. Football is supposed to be entertainment, this was the team and the manager's opportunity to show off, turn on the tricks, work some fancy moves but unfortunately anyone that saw the match would tell you this was not the case.
My third point is Hoddle's lack of imagination and flexibility. He is obsessed with the wing back system, with one, usually the left sided player, having a more defensive role. I understand that we have no plethora of talented wide players currently plying their trade in England, however Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and most other successful club teams in the country play with four at the back. The consensus amongst the top English club manager's, therefore, is that this works best for English players. We do not have an experienced sweeper, nor a variety of ball playing full backs, but we do have plenty of players used to playing another system. Why not give it a go?
Hoddle was an inspirational player, a magnificent genius of a playmaker. But he is a boring, stuck in his ways, stubborn, uninspiring manager. This can be seen in his refusal to play Owen in the early stages of the World Cup, his relegation of Beckham to the bench and also the right wing. (Interesting aside; did Beckham's pent up frustration at his early omission from the team in the World Cup, have anything to do with his sending off? Answers on a postcard?) Most importantly, it can be seen in Hoiddles's unwillingness to change a failing system, even forcing players to play new positions rather than change his formation, for example, Lee, Beckham, Neville, none of whom play wing back for club, but all of whom have done for country.
Hoddle in my opinion has proved nothing at any level as a manager. He is too young and, much more importantly, far too inexperienced to manage a national side. I would agree that he has been unlucky at times - Petrescu fouled Le Saux, Beckham kicked Simeone, Batty missed the penalty. Nevertheless we should not have been in a situation where these events were to prove so costly. New manager? I have no idea. How about Graham Taylor?!