3 May 2012
An indecently gifted and meticulous player, courted by every club in the land and divisive only among those who ran the game, which said everything about English football at the time. Hoddle, lanky and elegant, was the architectural leader in the centre of Tottenham Hotspur's midfield for more than ten years, gliding exquisite balls through daft angles and round impossible corners. Devoid of pace, he nonetheless had the capacity through hip turns and timed shimmies to leave defenders and goalkeepers on their backs, and his shooting, volleying and ability at dead balls simply had no equal anywhere in England, and probably Europe, at the time. He should have been playing for England at 20 - his debut actually came at 22 - and he certainly should have been the first name on every Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson teamsheet throughout the 1980s, with the side built to suit him, but this was cautious, percentage-obsessed England, and often he would be sitting on the bench while lesser thinkers and harder tacklers blundered around the midfield. Loyal to Tottenham but desperate to be tested in a footballing environment that suited him, his move to play on the continent got everyone's blessing, and at 30 he went to Monaco to be influenced by Arsène Wenger as both player and, eventually, coach. That the great French football icon of the era, Michel Platini, declared that Hoddle would have won more than 100 international caps had he been French (he ended up with 57 for England over nine years), says everything about how tremendous a player he was, and how our system refused to appreciate it.