The Premier League now boasts imported players from all over the world, but English exports have only ever experienced a brief boom plying their trade abroad. Glenn Hoddle was part of this golden age for English footballers overseas, during the late 1980s and early 90s, and found success playing his own, very European, style of football.
He spent 18 years of his career at Tottenham Hotspur, having been snapped up by the London club as a boy, and went on to achieve considerable success, winning a UEFA Cup, two FA Cups and an FA Charity Shield. It was a period that will live long in the memories of Spurs fans, with a team that boasted the talents of Osvaldo Ardiles, Garth Crooks, Chris Waddle, Gary Mabbutt and Clive Allen bringing the club its most successful spell since the early 1960s.
However, speaking to FIFA.com, Hoddle explained that after spending almost two decades in north London, he longed for a new challenge. “I was at one club, and I was probably more paralleled to Steven Gerrard; I was 29 and had been at Tottenham since I was 11 so I was with them for a long time. I went to Monaco and worked with Arsene Wenger, we were very successful and I loved every single second of it, winning the league and a European trophy. But it was European football itself that really captured me.”
Hoddle was always a technically gifted playmaker, and his vision and eye for goal troubled defences throughout his career. Boasting a stunning range of passing, comfortable with both feet and a sublime touch he was a delight to watch. However, his talent sometimes suffered due to a combination of poor pitches and the tough tackling invariably found in England’s old First Division.
We were very successful and I loved every single second of it, but it was European football itself that really captured me.
Wenger couldn’t understand why Hoddle wasn’t more appreciated for his talents, questioning whether his only problem was simply being years ahead of his time. The view of Monaco’s club captain during his spell in France, Jean-Luc Ettori, also underlined how revered he was in France. He simply said: “For us Glenn was le bon dieu - he was a god.” It was clear that Hoddle had found a home-away-from-home, and that seemed to spread beyond the pitch as well.
He said: “When I went to France there was more of an emphasis towards technical play and I thoroughly enjoyed the change as it was different but was a real challenge and very rewarding – it expanded me as a footballer. The lifestyle was different, their style of football was different, and all in all it was just a wonderful experience. For the right type of player, I would encourage anyone to do it.”
He never quite replicated his club form on the international stage, despite appearing in two UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cups™, which he attributes to the restrictive 4-4-2 formation that was commonplace during the mid-to-late 1980s.
“In spite of that I’m very proud of my 53 caps and it’s a delight to play for your country. The best thing you can ever do as a footballer is to represent your country at World Cups, so it was rewarding and, looking back, those were wonderful times.”
Hoddle was also part of the England side that lost 2-1 to Argentina in the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-final, a match that contained two of the most legendary moments in the tournament’s history: Maradona’s world-famous wonder-goal and his so-called ‘Hand of God’. The manner of defeat is still raw for Hoddle today, particularly as England were beginning to look like real contenders.
“The way we went out was a travesty, but if we’d got through that game, considering the momentum and the belief we had, I think we could have gone all the way. I think the game hinged on Maradona’s handball rather than his wonder-goal, and I distinctly remember we almost got it back to 2-2. Gary Lineker still can’t believe he didn’t score at the death.”
With a glittering playing career behind him, Hoddle set out on a successful managerial career. He went on to coach the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham, before leading England to the last 16 of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, where they again lost to Argentina. However, with those days behind him for the time-being, Hoddle is now looking to give something back.
During his time spent as a club manager, he experienced the gut-wrenching ordeal of having to cast off young players, aged 18 or 19, because they hadn't quite made the grade. At the time, he felt this was a huge waste of potential talent and that is why he has now set up the Glenn Hoddle Academy, based in Andalucia, Spain.
I’m sitting here with these youngsters and they’re taking a big step, it’s opening their eyes to what their future could hold.
“It’s a very early age in my opinion to be cutting these boys loose as, with a bit more development, time and maturing you’ve no idea where they could go. So I thought one day I’d like to do something about that.”
Now, four years since the project was first dreamt up and two years since its inception, the academy is flourishing. Based in Spain to take advantage of the climate, it is also providing these young players the chance to adapt to a new culture and widen their horizons. “I’m sitting here with these youngsters and they’re taking a big step. They’re coming away from home and working abroad and it’s opening their eyes to what their future could hold.”
Having struck early success with former Wycombe Wanderers forward Ikechi Anya, who, after nine months at the academy, signed for Sevilla, Hoddle's academy has now formed a fruitful bond with local side Jerez Industrial. With the club in financial trouble, Hoddle signed a deal to assume control and provide 22 players free of charge each season to help raise standards.
With this new approach steadily finding its place in the realm of player development, Hoddle is prepared for the long-haul, with the ultimate goal seeing them produce talent that will attract big clubs from around Europe. “What we’re doing is giving people a second chance, and it’s taken a lot of money, time and effort, but in the end the aim is to find a club for them. It’s a long process, but we’re enjoying it.”