Glenn Hoddle sits pensively for a second as he comes to a conclusion. He played at four major tournaments and in some truly memorable games, including a World Cup quarter-final at Mexico 86. So what is his favourite moment in an England shirt?
“Looking back, my debut for England will always stay in my mind as the number one,” Hoddle says, speaking at a Betfair event. “I scored against Bulgaria in a qualifying game for Euro 80. And we qualified, so that was really extra special. Those are the things you think about as a kid. You’ve heard people say it, but you do, you dream about playing for England.”
That dream is now in the hands of a new generation, a generation that is hoping to break the 55-year trophy drought that causes Hoddle to choose that debut rather than his two World Cups or two European Championships as his most treasured England memory. He calls the World Cup the “pinnacle”, but he says World Cup exits in 1982 and 1986 felt like a “kick in the teeth”.
“We had some sad situations I was involved in,” Hoddle continues. “We didn’t lose a game in ’82 and we get knocked out. That’s how the system was, ridiculously. We had two nil-nils against Germany and Spain [in the second group stage] and we get knocked out. That didn’t feel right. Then we got knocked out in ’86 with the Hand of God.”
Hoddle felt that England could have gone all the way in ’86 had they beaten Argentina. But they were stopped in their tracks by Diego Maradona. “There was nothing in that game,” he says. “It was nip and tuck. Until that first goal went in. That changed it.
“Don’t forget the Falklands had just gone on. There was a bit of spice to the game. More so from them, they had the emotional charge about them. They were playing for their country because of the Falklands war, whereas we were playing them as a football nation, that was the difference.”
An electrifying Maradona made the difference with one piece of trickery and another of magic. “I’ve never, ever blamed Diego [for the handball],” says Hoddle. “I’ve blamed FIFA to a certain degree. The referee and the linesman, one was from Costa Rica, I think, and one was from Egypt. No disrespect, but in the quarter-final of the World Cup, you have the best referees.
“I saw the handball on the pitch. Some players didn’t, but I actually saw it. It had an effect on me, more than most. I was chasing the referee to the halfway line, knowing that he weren’t gonna change his decision… There’s such a feeling of injustice… The second goal was genius. But I’m not sure the second goal is scored if they don’t go one-nil up [in that way].”
In 1998, Hoddle faced Argentina again as manager. He had taken the job after Euro 96 and changed the team’s style. “Some people put a back three in for a defensive reason,” he says. “Mine was to get on the ball and to cause a problem to you opponents.”
Those changes were informed by Hoddle’s own international experiences, especially under Sir Bobby Robson. “If I’m honest,” he says, “I think Bobby was a better manager when he went abroad. He started to see the game slightly differently… We were very rigid in the way we played in the 80s and the late 70s. Long ball, Charles Hughes, all that stuff.”
As a creative midfielder, it was particularly frustrating for Hoddle. “I think if I’d have been able to play in a different country it’d have been a different scenario for me,” he says. “We got lost. In a strange way, [winning the World Cup in] ‘66 was our nemesis. It should have been our stepping stone… Look what Germany did after ‘66. They reinvented it. They knew there was something wrong, so they went away and they created players and a system.”
Even with the changes Hoddle made for ’98, England still went out agonisingly to Argentina, losing on penalties after David Beckham had been sent off and Sol Campbell had a goal ruled out in normal time.
For Hoddle it still stings. “David [Beckham] for me should have been booked not sent off. And there was a definite penalty that me and Alan Shearer [saw]. Not many of the other players claimed for it, but [Roberto] Ayala handballs it in golden goal time. [The referee] puts the whistle to his mouth… and he took it away at the last minute and I’m sure it was because he’s thinking, ‘I’ve got to give a penalty in golden goal?’
“It was all a bit new for referees to be fair to them.”
Things, he feels, have often conspired against England. He points to the change in tournament format after ’82, the change in the way referees were selected after ’86, the scrapping of golden goal after ’98. “I think it’s all because the Russian linesman gave Geoff Hurst’s goal [in the ’66 World Cup final], it’s all come back at us,” he says.
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Returning to the point of playing styles, Hoddle believes England have left that rigidness behind for good, highlighting players like Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and James Maddison as fruit of the work done at academies. In Gareth Southgate, there is also clear Hoddle influence. In 2018, he took England to the World Cup in the same 3-5-2 formation Hoddle favoured.
Now, England waits to see whether Southgate goes with a back three or back four against Croatia in Sunday’s Euro opener at Wembley.
“I think he’s still working that out if I’m honest. He’s gotta wait for Harry Maguire, that’s a big [part of the] decision to make whether he goes in with the four or the three. I think if he’s unfit, [Southgate] might have to go with a three and look at [Luke] Shaw playing as a left-sided centre-back.”
Not Tyrone Mings? “Not for me, not in a three. Because that player has to be happy going out wide, with the ball and defending.”
Hoddle sees options at Southgate’s disposal. “If you play a back four and three up top,” he says, “you go with Rashford and Sterling or Sancho. You go with pace. Whereas if you go with a back three, or even a different style in a back four, you go with guile, you go with ability.
“Foden’s got a bit of pace, Mount’s got a bit of pace, but not electrifying pace. But [if you select them] you’re going with creativity.
“Whatever Gareth thinks is the first one is his decision. With certain players you can out-possession teams. But also you can counter. There’s two different XIs you’d play in a way, certainly up the top of the pitch.”
So, can this England team finally achieve the major trophy that eluded Hoddle and so many before and since? He says France are the “strongest team” as they have a solid, physically imposing defence as well as a plethora of attacking talent. But he does believe England stand a chance. “If you take the can, they can win it, course they can.”
Winning the group may not be easy – Hoddle tips Scotland to “surprise a few people” – and even if England do that, he says, “We end up playing Portugal, or France, or Germany.”
But, he concludes, “That is where we’ve gotta step up. In the World Cup, when we stepped up the level – Croatia and twice against Belgium – we struggled. So that’s where we’re hoping, all England fans, and I’m a fan now, that we’ve learned and progressed.
“But we’ve got a team to be feared going forward and I think that’s the attitude we’ve got to look at. You wouldn’t want to play against England, the abilities we’ve got at the top end of the pitch.”
By Joshua Law
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