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Saturday, Dec. 11, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Controversial Hoddle given one more chance by Wolves


LONDON -- "You and I have been physically been given two hands and two legs and a half-decent brain. Some people have not been born like that for a reason.

Christopher Davies

The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow you have to reap."

-- Glenn Hoddle, February 1999.

Fired by England for saying disabled people were paying for the sins of a previous life, Glenn Hoddle is now back in football.

His appointment by Wolves is his latest reincarnation as a manager and could be his last opportunity to make his mark at the top level. His nickname, inevitably, is Goddle, and the joke, needless to say, is that he knows how he will fare at Molineux.

Perhaps the most stylish English player of his generation, Hoddle, a youthful 47, was fired by Tottenham, where he established himself as a midfielder of genuine class, 15 months ago.

Few would dispute Hoddle was a truly outstanding player. Even his critics would probably admit he has the knowledge to be a successful coach.

The problem Hoddle has is one of communication -- or rather, lack of it.

Tony Cascarino, a player under Hoddle at Chelsea, said: "He made grown men feel as if they were being treated like children. If Chelsea won it was because of his decisions, if we lost it was our fault -- never his."

A man who does not make friends easily, Hoddle has left a trail of players in awe of his ability on the training pitch (even as a 40-something) but who failed to react to his autocratic style of management.

He never listens to anyone is a common criticism and one England player memorably remarked: "If he was chocolate he would eat himself."

Hoddle's early management days at Swindon and Chelsea established him as a smart-thinking coach and his later elevation to England manager was generally well received.

So where did it all go wrong?

As a teenager, Hoddle sustained a hamstring injury and his then girlfriend introduced him to her mother, a local publican and faith healer called Eileen Drewery (unsurprisingly referred to as Eileen Brewery in years to come).

Hoddle was too shy to allow Drewery to touch him so she performed "absent healing" and the next day the injury had disappeared. That made a huge impression of the 18-year-old Hoddle.

When Tottenham visited Bethlehem in the mid-1980s, Hoddle went through a kind of spiritual re-birth that was ultimately to cost him dearly.

As England manager Hoddle enlisted the services of Drewery, but the players were less receptive than their manager of her "special qualities." When she laid her hands on Ray Parlour, the Arsenal midfielder, asked her for a short back and sides.

Eventually, after growing criticism of having a faith healer virtually on the staff, the Football Association insisted that Hoddle dispensed with Drewery, but in his World Cup diary after France '98, when England was beaten on penalties by Argentina in the second round, he wrote that his biggest regret was not taking Drewery to the finals, believing she would have made a big difference.

Maybe Eileen and not David Batty could have taken the crucial penalty . . .

In the book Hoddle also wrote: "Jesus was a normal run-of-the-mill kind of guy who had a genuine gift, just as Eileen has."

And: "I have been here before as a spirit. This is just my physical body, just an overcoat. And at death you will take the overcoat off."

THE BOOK was co-written by former journalist David Davies, still the F.A.'s executive director, whose survival powers equal anything Drewery has to offer.

The final straw came when Hoddle did an interview with the Times new soccer correspondent Matt Dickinson, ironically set up to build a better relationship with the paper after his predecessor Oliver Holt had been very critical of the England manager.

Toward the end of the interview, Dickinson threw in a question about Hoddle's religious beliefs and he came out with the "disabled" comment that was ultimately to end his reign in charge of the national team.

Dickinson had "buried" the damning paragraph deep in the interview. A senior sub-editor, who has a disabled child, was so disturbed by its content he decided to move it nearer the top of the article to give it more dubious prominence.

At the Times' evening editorial conference, when the sports editor was asked what he had for the next day's paper he mentioned the Hoddle interview and the "disabled" paragraph.

A slow news day saw Hoddle's comments promoted to the front page of the paper, so from being almost lost in a sports section interview they were suddenly Page One news.

There but for the grace of God . . .

When Dickinson picked up the paper the next morning, he was unhappy his copy had been tinkered with in such a manner. Before he could phone the sports editor to register his complaint his telephone rang.

It was the Times' editor congratulating Dickinson on a "brilliant interview . . . it's been picked up by radio and TV . . . everyone's talking about it."

Dickinson went on to win the Sports Journalist of the Year award for the story that caused the downfall of the England manager in February 1999.

There but for the grace of God . . .

If it was astonishing that a manager should lose his job in such a manner, it was equally remarkable that it was criticism from Prime Minister Tony Blair on the Richard and Julie television chat show that prompted the F.A. to show Hoddle the door.

HIS CAREER had turned sour and Hoddle had to wait for another chance at management.

Southampton took what amounted to a risk by employing Hoddle, who was "damaged goods," but he did well in his short spell in charge on the south coast and was snapped up by Tottenham, the club where he originally made his name as a player.

Dubbed "Judas" by the club's supporters when he walked out on Southampton in April 2002, they could not have been happier when, in September 2003, a defeat by the Saints signaled the end of Hoddle's time at Tottenham.

After 15 months in limbo, the call eventually came from Wolves, a club which has slumped dramatically since being relegated from the Premiership last season.

In one sense, Wolves and Hoddle would seem perfect for each other.

Both have enjoyed a fine past -- Wolves with a glorious trophy-winning history and Hoddle was a wonderfully creative player -- but both have hit leaner times.

Wolves have given Hoddle the chance to resurrect his career by offering him the challenge of a reviving a once great club, which was lying 17th in the Coca-Cola Championship when he took over earlier this week, after agreeing to a six-month contract.

It will be interesting to see whether Hoddle has learned from his mistakes of his previous managerial life -- assuming he believes he made any.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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