Glenn Hoddle: A Touch of Genius

Glenn Hoddle by Lilly Allen

As a player Glenn Hoddle was the greatest English talent of his generation and as a manager he advanced the national side tactically and technically, as no one else has done. Since, he has revived the careers of previously discarded youths and brings insight to the game when allowed to be given his head in punditry, as he notably was when England failed to qualify of the European Championships against Steve Mclaren against Croatia. A fifty minute programme on Sky Sports was always going to be hard to do justice to both the career and the man, let alone featuring all the wonderful goals, the dummies, the nutmegs and amazing passes that were managed to be captured by the cameras where they were actually at grounds, but A Touch of Genius is a good effort.

It starts with the graphics of some lovely quotes from Cruyff, Platini, Clough and Scholes interspersed with just a few of Hoddle’s great goals, followed by some memorable archive footage from Crackerjack! (Crackerjack!) in the days in the early eighties when Spurs players used to pop up seemingly every Friday tea time on BBC1 in their Le Coq Sportif tracksuits.

Born in Hayes and schooled in Harlow, even as a kid he was played out of position, but the cream rose to the top, spotted by Martin Chivers initially. As an apprentice at Spurs he cleaned the cockerel at White Hart Lane, stood out in the youth team to Bill Nicholson and then scored a wonder goal on his full debut past Peter Shilton away at Stoke City’s Victoria Ground.

He went through relegation and got promoted again as Keith Burkinshaw and his leader on the pitch, Steve Perryman, developed a Tottenham team based on intelligent passing and movement, a team Hoddle describes at its peak of believing they could beat anyone. That side won three major trophies in four years, but it should have been more in the period of 1981-87; the multiple fixture list pile up harmed Spurs as they were firing on four fronts in 1982 and also in both 1985 and 1987, the league title was in sight. The were also two other cup final defeats in that spell and in Hoddle’s last two years Spurs were prevented from continuing their exploits in Europe as all English clubs were banned, post-Heysel.

There is though some golden footage in the documentary when Hoddle gave Johan Cruyff and Ruud Gullit a masterclass, creating four goals in the first half, putting Feyenoord to the sword on another European Glory Night at White Hart Lane.

In the days when pitches could be no better than muddy marshes and creative players were allowed to be assaulted and hacked down at will, Hoddle still had the class and courage to excel. He had more bottle and bite than most gave him credit for. Watch that 1981 FA Cup Final replay back again, the Centenary Cup Final that set Spurs on their way in their eighties renaissance, Hoddle was winning fifty-fifties and second balls, as well running the game with deft touches and killer passes thrown in.

Arsene Wenger empazizes in the documentary Hoddle was World Class, and of course he was. Wenger took him to Monaco and Hoddle won medals, accolades and was finally allowed to flourish in a league where he was properly appreciated. He also learnt about fitness from Wenger that benefitted him personally then and has benefited every side Hoddle has coached.

As a manager he began at Swindon, improving players as Alex Fynn wrote in the book Out of Time, coaching players who were the able to over-achieve. Hoddle is right in the programme when he says non-Swindon fans went to matches just to see that side play; those that did remember a side that played a passing and moving game, able to switch the play easily with four both-footed players in the side and a shape, with himself as sweeper, that enabled them to dominate play.

He took Swindon up to the top-flight and then began the footballing revolution at Chelsea, that later attracted Roman Abrahmovich. Hoddle insisted of an improvement in infrastructure while making them a good team with flair, more attractive to the eye than multi-millionaire funded squad is now; a team that when Hoddle himself played even in 1993, he was still the best player on the pitch against then League Champions Manchester United. He went on to take them to their first FA Cup Final for two decades before taking the England job.

Suddenly, England became a resilient team, getting a result in Rome to finish above Italy to qualify to the 1998 World Cup, with Paul Ince magnificent, and England dangerous on the break. Within months, playing as good as football as any England team had,  England won a trophy under Hoddle, winning Le Tournoi ahead of Brazil, Italy and the French hosts.

Hoddle took a squad to France the following summer as well prepared as any England side had been for a World Cup, looking sharp yet organized in from displays, such as the friendly against Portugal, leading up to the tournament. As Alan Shearer says in the documentary, had England got through after that excellent performance against Argentina, when Hoddle cleverly rotated Owen and Shearer after going down to ten men, there was every likelihood this team full of confidence, tactically versatile and built on the principle of keeping the ball and hurting the opposition, would have gone on and won the World Cup.

Just a year later though Hoddle was stitched up with the manipulation of a sentence taken out of context from an hour-long telephone conversation that saw a weak FA, then with acting heads, lose their nerve. History will show a bizarre media circus, with a Prime Minister giving in to populism and sound bites, and the FA making a decision that set the national side back to a position it still hasn’t recovered from.

Hoddle went on to have more managerial highs not covered in the programme, raising the standards at Southampton and bringing flair back to Tottenham with some lovely football during the 2001-02 season in particular, epitomised with a 5-1 semi-final thrashing of Chelsea with a stunning football display full of verve and style. A performance that summed up Hoddle and Spurs at their best.

As a player of course he should have won another hundred international caps and won more medals but as he says, the memories that he has left people that have lasted 30 years and counting, is just a great a legacy.

Glenn Hoddle: A Touch of Genius is well worth the watch, and just a glimpse into the king of White Hart Lane, the greatest English talent of his generation and man who should still be the England Manager.

MG

Mel Gomes is the author of Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley, an e-book mixing tactics and travel, as Spurs returned to the European Cup, while Barcelona went on to win in the style of push and run.

It is available to preview for free and download in full from Amazon and Smashwords. More details, including photos and links to reviews, here.

Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley

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