On this day in 1998 England fell to Romania in their second match in France – leaving their World Cup campaign on a knife-edge. Rob Smyth treats us to his definitive account of England's unforgettable campaign, which swirled around a mystical manager and a star who came crashing to earth.
England's (L-R) Ray Clemence, coach Glenn Hoddle and John Gorman sing the National Anthem before the match.
Brazil '82 are one of the greatest teams of all time. Their football wasn’t just sexy; it was pornographic. Yet they were only one of the 12 best teams at the 1982 World Cup, eliminated in the second group stage along with sides like Northern Ireland, Belgium, Austria and England.
The World Cup splits neatly into levels of performance – winners, runners-up, semi-finalists, and so on – but it’s rarely wise to rank and rate campaigns on such bald achievement. A look at England’s record since Italia '90 reinforces the point. They have reached the quarter-finals twice, the last 16 twice and the group stage once. It appears to be much of a mediocre muchness. Yet by far the most interesting, dramatic and soulful campaign was at France '98, when they went out to Argentina in the second round.
It was more compelling than the sleepwalks to the last eight in 2002 and 2006, and worthier than the minor shambles of 2010. It was a time when anyone connected with the England team felt alive – whether through hope, joy, anger, despair or lusty repetition of a song called Vindaloo. And it was the last time England were involved in anything resembling a World Cup classic, that epic match against Argentina. For sheer euphoria, nothing has come close to the moment when the 18-year-old Michael Owen scored an astonishing goal in the same game.
England’s France '98 campaign is not really a story that can be told in black and white. A number of those involved, particularly the manager Glenn Hoddle and David Beckham, were both the good guy and the bad guy. They and the precocious Owen dominated coverage to such an extent that others who might have been scapegoats - Paul Ince, David Batty, Paul Scholes, the referee Kim Milton Nielsen - were allowed to get on with their lives in peace. Hoddle, 40, showed his age both in the immaturity of his man-management and the enlightenment of his tactics and coaching. Whether by accident or design, gaucheness or ego, he made the tournament about him in a way no England manager has done before or since.
1. The end of Gazza
England manager Glenn Hoddle embraces Paul Gascoigne during training
Image credit: Reuters
When Hoddle became England manager in 1996, the Rangers manager Walter Smith told Paul Gascoigne to be careful because Hoddle “will want to make a name for himself”. Gascoigne had a sickening moment of clarity on Sunday 31 May 1998, when he was shockingly left out of the World Cup squad.
There were 28 England players at the training base in La Manga, with six to be left out of the final squad. Everyone had a scheduled five-minute appointment, which led to an excruciating afternoon that had the feel of a biblical cull. It was typical Hoddle: a decent intention – to tell everyone man to man – undone by clumsy execution. David Beckham later said it was “like a meat market”. A meat market with a peculiar jazz sax soundtrack. “Since that day when I finalised the squad, it has been written that Kenny G was playing in my room when I told the players the bad news,” said Hoddle in the Daily Mail in 2010. “Where does this nonsense come from?” It actually came from Hoddle’s World Cup diary, a fascinating insight into a brilliant, flawed coach with an almost comical lack of self-awareness.
Gascoigne’s Spidey sense had been tingling during the last 30 minutes of the warm-up friendly against Belgium, when he sat on the bench with Hoddle and felt a change of mood. A man knows when he is about to be dumped, and Gascoigne, restless at the best of times, was even more on edge after that. It seems Gascoigne knew before Hoddle, who had not consciously made his decision at that stage. Two nights earlier, he dreamt that Gascoigne was sitting across a table crying his eyes out. “At the time,” said Hoddle in My World Cup Story, “I didn't quite understand the significance of the dream."
When Hoddle allowed the team a few drinks on the night before the squad announcement, Gascoigne was the only one who got hammered. He spent the next day drinking cans on the golf course. When he got back to the hotel, Paul Merson and Tony Adams stripped him naked and threw him into the pool in a futile attempt to sober him up. When Gascoigne bumped into Glenn Roeder, one of Hoddle’s backroom staff who played with him at Newcastle, the moistness in Roeder’s eyes confirmed Gascoigne’s fears. He two-footed Hoddle’s door and stormed in just as Phil Neville was being told that he had not made the squad. Gascoigne trashed the room before David Seaman and Paul Ince calmed him down and the team doctor gave him Valium.
Gascoigne had enjoyed a famous night in October 1997 when helping England to qualification
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It seemed like an act of treason by Hoddle, though hindsight is more sympathetic towards a desperately difficult decision. If anything, Hoddle was generous in giving Gascoigne so many chances to sort himself out. Gascoigne played excellently during qualification, and was masterful in the 0-0 draw in Rome that secured qualification. “Afterwards,” he said, “I felt like I could walk round Italy forever with my chest out.” But in the eight months between that and the World Cup he had gone a long way off the rails.
After he joined Middlesbrough, his team-mate Merson met him one morning on the train up north for training. Gascoigne pulled a bottle of red wine out of his kit bag and drained the lot. During the build-up to the World Cup he was on the front pages, with the headline “PITTAFUL” accompanying a picture of him drunkenly shoving a kebab into his mouth. All that might not have been a problem had Gascoigne been fit to play 90 minutes. But Hoddle, who noticed that the definition in Gascoigne’s legs had changed, knew he was barely up to playing an hour. In pure football terms Gascoigne might have been a useful substitute. Hoddle, who wanted a tranquil environment away from the football, was worried about the impact of a frustrated loose cannon on the squad.
Ceefax reports on Gazza's omission (Adam Hurrey)
Image credit: Eurosport
It is, and probably always will be, the most shocking omission from an England squad for a major tournament. There was a desperate poignancy to the whole thing. The World Cup was Gascoigne’s wonderland, a place where he could escape the trials of real life, and he could not cope with Hoddle’s decision. The savage disappointment was exacerbated by the fact that flights back to England were arranged for that evening. Gascoigne pleaded that his career was over, and in a sense he was right: he never played for his country again, and his life never truly got back on the rails. On some level, Hoddle probably foresaw this. He later described it as “the saddest decision I ever had to make”.
It was a miserable day for so many people. When Gary Neville had his chat with Hoddle, he inferred that his brother Phil – who had earlier been told by John Gorman, Hoddle’s No2, that he was in – would not be going. He didn’t say as much when he saw Phil, whose appointment was later, but his eyes gave him away. Gary later said it was his worst moment in football - and he was one of the ones who made the squad.
2. By the hand of Hod
England coach Glenn Hoddle looks on during the 1998 World Cup
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The weaknesses in Hoddle’s man-management were compounded by the contrast with his predecessor Terry Venables, a gregarious Cockney who challenged the received wisdom that friendship and leadership were mutually exclusive. Gary Neville noticed the difference in Hoddle’s first squad meeting when he tried to order a sandwich to his hotel room and was told it was forbidden. So was going into town to buy a magazine. “Terry had a natural authority,” wrote Neville in his autobiography, Red, “but, perhaps because he was younger and less experienced, Glenn felt a need to exert control.”
Hoddle’s use of Eileen Drewery, a faith healer who helped him during his playing career, invited suspicion and ridicule, and whether that was fair or not did not really come into it. Ray Parlour, who was in the form of his life, was apparently ostracised after asking Drewery for a short back and sides. Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler, who asked Drewery if she knew the winner of the 3.15 at Wincanton so they could put a bet on, were also marginalised before Fowler suffered the injury that ruled him out of the World Cup. McManaman, a star of Euro 96, spent all bar 17 minutes of the World Cup on the bench. It didn’t help that they had pulled out of Le Tournoi in 1997. (“I don’t get mad,” said Hoddle. “I get even.”) Or that a sozzled Fowler, after sitting on the bench in Georgia in November 1996, approached Hoddle with a cigar and a brandy on the flight home to ask why the eff he wasn’t being picked. A couple of months before the World Cup, McManaman was reported as saying Hoddle’s training camps were “like joining the Moonies”.
Eileen was much more of an issue outside the dressing-room than inside it
As with most things involving England under Hoddle, there are two sides to the Drewery story. Plenty of the players loved seeing her, whether it was for faith healing or rustic form of sports psychology. Darren Anderton credits her with helping him to get fit for the tournament, as does Gareth Southgate for helping him turn his form around after a bad reaction to his penalty miss at Euro 96. “Eileen,” said Southgate in his autobiography, Woody & Nord, “was much more of an issue outside the dressing-room than inside it.”
There are also two sides to Hoddle’s man-management. There were plenty who loved playing under him, including combustible characters like Ian Wright and Merson. “He was very soothing,” said Merson in How Not to Be a Professional Footballer. “I could sit there and talk to him all day about football, health, beliefs, relationships, anything. He was interested in life and other people’s stories.”
Glenn Hoddle celebrates England's World Cup qualification following a famous 0-0 draw away at Italy
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Hoddle was a unique character with an extraordinary ability to rationalise and a rare mental strength. When England drew in Rome to qualify for the World Cup, he knew that as soon as he got home he was going to tell his wife and children that he was leaving. Yet he was able to compartmentalise all that and oversee probably the best tactical performance of his management career. When he left the family home the following week, he moved into Drewery’s spare room. “Glenn is a complex man,” said Southgate. “Deep down, I believe, he is a decent person but he doesn’t communicate well with people and he has a way of rubbing players up the wrong way.”
A number of the squad felt they were treated like schoolkids - never more so than during one World Cup training session when Hoddle suddenly stopped and tested the back-up players on the signals for various corner routines. They mumbled, sniggered and looked elsewhere, like kids who hadn’t done the set reading. Hoddle administered a ferocious bollocking, sent the first team away and made the reserves do detention: they had to go through every single corner routine.
Why everything changed, and so suddenly, I’ll never know
In a sense, Hoddle was less like a headmaster and more like a new prefect, flaunting his authority in ways that seemed gratuitous to those on the wrong end. It was a shock to the squad, especially those – and there were a few - who had idolised him when they were growing up. “When I was a 14-year-old, playing for Tottenham Schoolboys, I used to get to those first-team games early so that I could watch Hoddle warm up,” said Sheringham in Glory, Goals & Greed: Twenty Years of the Premier League. “He was so graceful. The ball would come over and he would catch it on his back, knock it up and volley it back to where it came from. Everything he did was so classy, I couldn’t wait to watch him play. Then when I met him man to man, it was, “Oh my God, what a c**t’.”
It’s a shame Sheringham’s internal monologue is not available from the moment Hoddle made him read out a public apology just before the World Cup. Sheringham appeared on the front of the tabloids, apparently ‘avin it large in the Algarve at a time when the players were supposed to be resting. He said he was stitched up but Hoddle made him grovel in front of the cameras and at one stage Sheringham was convinced he would be chucked out of the squad.
Another Manchester United player, Beckham, had idolised Hoddle as a kid. Hoddle gave Beckham his England debut in his first game, away to Moldova, and played him throughout qualification, mostly as a right wing-back. “Through my early months as an England player, Glenn Hoddle had always been really good to me,” said Beckham in My Side. “Why everything changed, and so suddenly, I’ll never know.” When Hoddle announced the team for the opening World Cup match against Tunisia, Beckham was not in it. There was no warning, just that horrible moment when he heard the names ‘Anderton, Ince, Batty, Scholes…’ and realised what was going on. After the team meeting, Beckham approached Hoddle and asked if he could have a word. “Not now,” said Hoddle. “In my own time.”
Paul Merson 'consoles' David Beckham as they watch from the bench
Image credit: Reuters
Hoddle later told Beckham – and the press – that he had been dropped because he lacked focus. The implicit suggestion was that Beckham’s burgeoning relationship with the Spice Girl Victoria Adams was more important than the World Cup; that he needed to be monogamous to football. Beckham wondered whether his decision to miss an optional team golf day to be with her had counted against him. “Fine, he’s in love,” wrote Hoddle in his World Cup diary, “but I think he lost his way a bit at the end of last season and his form suffered as a result.”
Beckham was truly madly deeply in love with Adams – and with football. Nobody in the England squad had such overt, childlike affection for the game, so to be accused of lacking focus ahead of his first World Cup left him confused and angry. Some, including Elton John, suggested Hoddle was envious of Beckham’s profile. Gascoigne thought something similar when he was dropped. The fact Hoddle’s own England career was a story of frustration, even though he got 53 caps, may have been a factor. “If he was envious - and that's understandable and human - he should have made that public,” said Tony Adams in Observer Sport Monthly in 2002. “I would if I was manager and had a good centre-back. I would simply say: 'he reminds me of me.'”
The England manager was playing mind games with one of his own players
Gary Neville was also surprisingly left out of the team for the first game against Tunisia. Two days after that match, Hoddle made him and Beckham do the daily press conference. “Lots of managers play mind games with the press and with opposing teams,” said Beckham. “Here, it seemed to me the England manager was playing mind games with one of his own players.” This, on the back of Sheringham’s humiliation and the omission of Phil Neville and Nicky Butt, had quite the impact on Alex Ferguson’s good humour. He criticised Hoddle in his Sunday Times column, not for dropping Beckham but for making him face the press. Hoddle called Ferguson unprofessional and said Beckham’s lack of focus was United’s fault, which went down well. “Obliging an emotional, devastated 23-year-old to a mass interview, during which he was expected to go over the details of his disappointment … struck me as an example of bad human relations,” said Ferguson in Managing My Life, “and I have no regret about having my say on the matter.”
If Hoddle’s man-management was dubious, then so were some of his motivational techniques. He liked to show the players clips of their best bits on the way to games, soundtracked by M People’s Search for the Hero. In March 1998, the same song was used in an episode of Father Ted, as he and Dougal tried to nurse Chris the Sheep back to his best in time for Craggy Island’s King of the Sheep contest.
3. Tunisia – 15/06/98
Paul Scholes celebrates his goal against Tunisia
Image credit: Getty Images
When the World Cup started, England were fifth in the FIFA rankings and sixth favourites with the bookies behind Brazil, France, Italy, Argentina and Germany. Their impressive qualification, either side of an unlikely victory in Le Tournoi, was more relevant evidence of their capabilities than some dull warm-up performances. In six matches before the tournament that year, England won only two against Portugal and Morocco.
As in 2018, the squad only had one player with more than 40 caps – Tony Adams with 51. But the squad felt far more experienced, with a mixture of the Euro 96 team and the group who would become known as the Golden Generation. The ages ranged from David Seaman (34) to Michael Owen (18) and there was a nice balance of grizzled winners and fresh-faced, sarong-wearing youngsters. Hoddle probably didn’t get the credit he deserved for fast-tracking Beckham and especially Paul Scholes before they were fully established at Manchester United. “We had a real beast of a team – mature, talented and robust,” said Owen in Off the Record. “I don’t think there was any team in France that caused us to be afraid.”
The start of the trouble coincided with the arrival of a double-decker bus, sponsored by the Sun
None of the squad had played at a World Cup, due to England’s failure to qualify in 1994. Hoddle’s team for the first match against Tunisia was in a 3-4-1-2 formation: Seaman; Southgate, Adams, Campbell; Anderton, Ince, Batty, Le Saux; Scholes; Shearer, Sheringham. The scalding afternoon heat of Marseille was not exactly tailor-made for an asthmatic redhead, but Scholes, Gascoigne’s replacement, starred in a comfortable 2-0 win. His late 20-yard curler sealed victory, with Shearer heading the first goal just before half time. The game was preceded by violence in Marseille, with over 100 arrests. A Guardian editorial noted that, “The start of the trouble coincided with the arrival of a double-decker bus, sponsored by the Sun, playing the national anthem and handing out bowler hats.”
It could have been far worse. Hoddle was told years later there had been an unsuccessful al-Qaeda plot to blow up the England bench, shoot Alan Shearer and detonate a suicide bomb next to David Seaman. The plan was thwarted by French intelligence services, who made over 100 arrests.
Ceefax reports on England v Tunisia (Adam Hurrey)
Image credit: Eurosport
England had to wait a week until their next game against Romania, and the boredom of the World Cup – the bit that is never in the brochure - started to kick in. They were at a magnificent but secluded village in La Baule and were without their two most vivacious characters - Gascoigne and Wright, who pulled out through injury. Most of the players subsequently described long stretches of tedium. They weren’t allowed to go the shops without a security guard and permission from Hoddle. In his autobiography, Left Field, Graeme Le Saux said it was “like being a prisoner smack bang in the middle of the world’s greatest sporting event”. The younger members of the squad played pool, pinball and golf, while Owen and Merson were regularly seen swerving around on a Formula One arcade game.
Adams, sober almost two years, watched contemporary films like Good Will Hunting and As Good as It Gets. Arsenal had just done the Double and he was in a very happy place. “I was calm but excited,” he said. “I was comfortable now in my footballing ability and felt I belonged at this highest of levels.” In many ways, Adams, the reformed lager lout, personified the change in English football throughout the nineties – and not just off the field. When Hoddle set up a passing drill to test Adams’ left and right foot, he was startled by how much Adams had improved from the man he played alongside at Euro 88.
Unlike England’s previous World Cup appearance eight years earlier, which doubled up as a lads holiday, there was very little drinking. They did find one way to enliven things: while playing cards one night, Adams, Southgate and Sheringham came up with the idea that the squad should see who could get the most song titles into interviews. Each player was given a band or artist before their interview.
Southgate, who drew Wham, said the hotel was “hardly Club Tropicana” and that “you’re not gonna get any careless whispers from me about the team”. Shearer punched the air when he realised that, by absent-mindedly reaching into his bag of clichés, he had slipped in ‘Against All Odds’ without realising. Adams set the benchmark by managing four Beatles song titles in one interview. In another, he brazenly answered a completely different question to the one that had been asked just so he could shoehorn in another title.
There was less amusement when Southgate was asked by Hoddle to do a press conference saying he was fit to face Romania, even though everyone knew he would be out for at least two weeks. The day after the Tunisia game, he turned his ankle when trying to control a stray ball during a gentle jog. “I was already feeling so low and then, in front of every England player, he crucified me,” said Southgate, who was then asked to lie to the media. “Glenn had sides to him. He played games that were hard to fathom.”
Adams, in particular, was furious about Southgate’s charade. He also felt Hoddle had not surrounded himself with enough tournament experience in his backroom staff. “I have to be honest and say that a lot of what Glenn was doing and saying did not particularly impress me,” he wrote in Addicted. “I thought he was quite nervous a lot of the time, which could be seen in the fact that he whistled a lot; not the sign of a man who is relaxed or serene, in my opinion.” Adams did at least enjoy the training sessions. Nobody really has a bad word to say about Hoddle’s technical work – only, occasionally, the way he went about it. “Glenn, I have to say, is an excellent coach,” said Adams. “He did his best to make training sessions enjoyable and varied and there was a welcome emphasis on ball work and skills rather than just running.”
And on tactics. Hoddle was wedded to three at the back but still varied his approach from game to game. He adopted a when-in-Rome policy for the decisive World Cup qualifier against Italy, encouraging England to keep the ball and draw fouls to take the sting out of the game. The game played out exactly as he told the English players it would. In other matches, such as against Colombia and Argentina at the World Cup, he preferred the old English tempo. He was adept at spotting weaknesses in the opposition and tailoring training accordingly. “All the players enjoyed it because it wasn’t just about passing and attacking more,” said Rio Ferdinand in #2Sides. “It was about playing with purpose, with a real focus on being flexible and tactically creative.”
Rio Ferdinand jokes as he watches England v Tunisia from the bench
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Ferdinand, a non-playing member of that squad, says Hoddle was “by far the best” England manager he worked with. “It’s the only time I’ve thought to myself, yeah, I can see a future for England, I can see what he wants to do.” One of the things he wanted to do was build the Euro 2000 campaign around Ferdinand, encouraging him to bring the ball out of defence at every opportunity. (He even tried Jamie Redknapp at sweeper, as an overage player, in an Under-21 game against Switzerland.) Ferdinand and some of the other young players loved how Hoddle turned the chalkboard into a chess board – he would show them how, where and why they could expose the opposition defence with one run or pass.
A confident, ball-playing centre-back was the last piece of Hoddle’s puzzle. His one regular, private criticism of Southgate was that he was not confident or progressive enough in possession; twenty years later, Southgate reportedly left Chris Smalling out of his squad for not being good enough on the ball.
4. Romania – 22/06/98
Romania's Viorel Moldovan (9) celebrates after scoring his sides first goal, beating England's David Seaman.
Image credit: Getty Images
Hoddle woke up on the day of the Romania game with a “very bad feeling” that gnawed at him until the 9pm kick-off. England played poorly and lost 2-1 to Dan Petrescu’s last-minute goal. The players were annoyed that they sat too deep and played too slowly. It did not help that they were without the manic energy of Paul Ince, who went off injured after half an hour, even though Beckham did well in central midfield as his replacement.
They still looked set to draw the game when Owen came off the bench to score a clinical equaliser. But Petrescu’s odd goal, when the last man Le Saux stopped playing after being stunned by a stray elbow, decided the game. There was still time for Owen to hit the post from 25 yards. He didn’t normally shoot from distance, “but by then I felt I could beat the world”. He was 18 years old and had 25 minutes’ World Cup experience.
Romania’s goals were scored by Coventry’s Viorel Moldovan and Chelsea’s Petrescu, possibly the first recorded example of foreign imports damaging the England national team. Both goals were weirdly soft, certainly for a team with such an outstanding defensive record. Hoddle – like another midfield stroller, George Graham – was a keen defensive coach. His team kept 19 clean sheets in his 28 games in charge, and he often played with three centre-backs and two holding midfielders in Ince and Batty.
How Ceefax would have seen Romania v England (Adam Hurrey)
Image credit: Eurosport
In the dressing-room, Hoddle told the players they would get nowhere if they defended like schoolboys. The defeat had repercussions in the short and medium term. The first concern was the final group game against Colombia four days later, a match England now had to draw to avoid an embarrassing group-stage exit. It also meant they were likely to go into the same half of the draw as Argentina, the Netherlands and Brazil.
Sheringham had a poor game against Romania, and Owen’s dramatic impact meant the choice between the two was the main subject of discussion ahead of the Colombia game. At a press conference, a Canadian journalist asked Hoddle one of the World Cup’s more memorable long-winded questions: “Coach, if Michael Owen was the Beatles, and Teddy Sheringham was the Rolling Stones, which tune would you be singing in the shower: Twist and Shout or Satisfaction?"
It went on so long that Hoddle’s answer came to him halfway through the question: “I’ve always liked the Beach Boys.”
5. Colombia – 26/06/98
David Beckham celebrates scoring his free-kick against Colombia
Image credit: Getty Images
Hoddle says he planned before the tournament to start Owen against Colombia’s slow, flat back four, though Sheringham and Owen were not made aware of this until the team was announced and some felt he protested too much in his diary. With Ince fit again, Beckham stayed in the team and Batty dropped out. The shape was the same, 3-4-1-2, but the team was more attacking and dynamic. Owen, in particular, was like a shot of pure adrenaline.
Hoddle told them they had nothing to fear and that Carlos Valderrama was completely past it. He was right. England were far more aggressive than against Romania, with and without the ball. They scored twice in the first half hour and could easily have trebled their 2-0 victory margin. Anderton’s rasping shot was followed by a cathartic free-kick from Beckham, his first goal for England in his 17th game – and on his Mum’s birthday too. The day before, Beckham spent two hours on his own on a small practice pitch, practising free-kicks while listening to Tupac on a big stereo.
England's win over Colombia - as it would have been seen on Ceefax (Adam Hurrey)
Image credit: Eurosport
Nothing summed up England’s superiority quite like Sol Campbell’s comically brilliant second-half run, when he vroomed 60 yards past five players before being tackled by the last man Ever Palacios. By that stage, Colombia were begging for mercy. When Owen went on yet another surge, Jorge Bermudez had his tongue hanging out like a dog as he tried to keep pace.
Owen, who had a happy tendency to miss the less important chances, could have had a hat-trick. The Colombia keeper Faryd Mondragon was caught in a shooting gallery. Scholes was majestic, and became the only England player to be included in L’Equipe’s team of the first round. Anderton, going about his business with the usual selfless dignity, rammed home his value to the team.
The big story, inevitably, was the redemption of Beckham. As he walked off the field, Beckham, wearing Valderrama’s shirt, waved to the England fans, unable or uninclined to suppress a beaming smile of boyish joy. He was back in the England team – and, as a bonus, playing in the central midfield position he craved – and all that had gone before was forgotten. He had a World Cup humdinger against Argentina to look forward to. A couple of days later, he found out that Victoria was expecting their first child.
That thing about it being darkest before the dawn; it works both ways.
Glenn Hoddle talks to David Beckham on the day before the Argentina game
Image credit: Reuters
Even at the age of 40, Hoddle’s technique was probably better than any of the England players. He would tut if a player miscontrolled the ball or misplaced a pass, and when they did finishing practice it was often Hoddle putting the crosses in.
The day before the Argentina game, he wanted England to try a new free-kick routine in training. Scholes would flick the ball up for Beckham to control on the thigh and volley at goal. Beckham was surprised, and not only because his free-kick against Colombia had not suggested the urgent need for an alternative. He had not warmed up properly, as there were no plans for shooting practice, and was worried about the impact on his tight hamstring if he properly went through with the volleys.
His efforts were lame and Hoddle was unimpressed. “There’s no point,” he said. “You’re not going to be able to do this. We’ll have to do something different.” Beckham muttered something under his breath. Adams later highlighted it as the beginning of the end, the moment Hoddle really started to lose the respect of the dressing-room.
7. Argentina – 30/06/98 (part i)
England and Argentina emerge from the tunnel
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Before, during and after the event, Argentina v England was the pick of the second round matches by a mile. There is a unique tension when two perceived superpowers meet in the first knockout round, because it’s unthinkable they should go out at such an early stage. And when the fixture has the political and sporting history of Argentina v England – the ‘animals’ of 66, the Hand of God, the Falklands War - it reaches new levels of intensity.
“Two countries with a conflict behind us, in a kill-or-die game,” said the Argentina keeper Carlos Roa in FourFourTwo. “You hear that history is forgotten, that a game is just a game. Well, it’s a lie. In England, the defeat was like a bomb. Just as it would have been in Argentina.” Some of the British tabloids did their best to embarrass everyone before the game, harassing the family of Le Saux’s Argentinian wife and printing the usual garbage. Adidas put a subtler spin on the Hand of God, with an advert showing their poster boy Beckham. The slogan read: “After tonight, England v Argentina will be remembered for what a player did with his feet.”
Be careful how you word your wishes.
The newspapers work themselves into a frenzy
Image credit: Getty Images
When it came to the actual football, there was a mood of nervous confidence after the way England took care of Colombia. Argentina were a slick, authoritative team who had not conceded a single goal in eight games, but Hoddle was confident. “If you go at them,” he told the players, “I promise you’ll find weaknesses at the back.” England were late leaving for the ground because so many players were queuing up for their pre-match injections. Hoddle had employed Dr Yann Rougier, the French doctor who had been brought to Arsenal by Arsene Wenger. Most of the players felt fitter, sharper, more productive, though it didn’t work for everyone: Le Saux had such a bad reaction to a caffeine tablet at half-time that he had to be substituted. The rest felt great, like they could run all night. They would need to.
Argentina v England has a case for being the best World Cup match since France v Brazil in 1986. It was two games for the price of one. The first half supplanted Godzilla and Armageddon as the biggest blockbuster of the summer; the rest of the match was an arthouse classic. The small ground in Saint-Etienne, with a capacity just above 30,000, produced a beautifully heightened atmosphere. Owen had already gone on one dangerous run when, in the fifth minute, Diego Simeone won a penalty for Argentina. Seaman, who came for a loose ball, knew he had been suckered but could not get the message from brain to body in time. Simeone dragged his leg against the keeper and went down; Gabriel Batistuta rammed the penalty through Seaman.
Michael Owen takes a tumble to win a penalty
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Four minutes later, Owen burst between Nelson Vivas and Roberto Ayala and went down. It was another soft penalty, which Shearer scored emphatically. It would later lead to much debate about diving - particularly when, in a special show reflecting on the tournament, ITV assembled the A-list panel of Ferguson, Terry Venables and Hoddle. “If you can’t beat ‘em you don’t join ‘em,’” growled Venables, a sentiment with which Ferguson agreed. Hoddle said he only told his players to go down if there was contact, not to dive. In his autobiography, Owen said he was still not certain it was a penalty, though he also pointed out that, when running at his speed with such a light frame, a slight touch was often enough to knock him over. “I insist that forcing a penalty is a skill, distinct from cheating.”
Argentina were so terrified of Owen’s pace and directness that their brains stopped functioning properly. Ayala, the sweeper, often defended 20 or 30 yards deeper than the two markers, a bizarre gap that allowed Owen to win the penalty – and then to score the goal of his life. You don’t need a description, you’ve seen it a million times. You can see it now in your mind’s eye. There are a few things worth reflecting on, though. The quality of the first touch, flicked into space on the run; the way he completely ignores the attempted challenge of Chamot, a typically tough Argentine defender who had threatened to kill a journalist two days earlier.
Then, as if playing the Formula One arcade game back in La Baule, the way he swerves at high speed away from Ayala. Finally, his calmness to ignore Paul Scholes, who arrived late and was about to take the chance off Owen. He was in a much better position, but Owen was in a once-in-a-lifetime zone. Even though the ball bobbled and was running away from him, even though he might have been put off by Scholes, he got enough of his leg around the left to clip it back across Roa and into the top corner.
The England bench gave Owen a standing ovation, with Paul Merson’s incredulous smile capturing the moment. He was laughably good. It was the kind of moment that made you appreciate plastic glasses; across England, thousands were Begbied through the air with joy. Even the Argentinian press broke into applause. The dreadful defending – Ayala was square on, standing still, gawping at Owen as he charged towards him - can’t be ignored but it doesn’t change the magic of the moment. What did you do at the age of 18?
Owen’s audacity was almost beyond comprehension, and his directness made the Brazilian Ronaldo seem almost indecisive by comparison. No English teenager, not even Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004, has made such an impact in international football. “For me, the only good thing to come out of the 98 World Cup,” says Diego Maradona in El Diego. “Speed, cunning, balls. I hope injury doesn’t destroy him.”
It did, at least partially, and he played his last game for England at the age of 28. You would have got long odds on that on 30 June 1998, when it was hard to escape the giddy conclusion that we were seeing the emergence of the greatest English footballer ever.
7. Argentina – 30/06/98 (part ii)
David Beckham departs the pitch after his sending off
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As is so often the case, the early goals meant that what might have been a cagey match instead became emotional and desperate. Even though England were ahead they contributed equally to a crazily open half – one of the best 45 minutes in World Cup history. Argentina moved the ball at dizzying speed, with the stately Juan Sebastian Veron and the waspish No. 10 Ariel Ortega, a serial nutmegger, particularly dangerous. Ince produced one of the greatest performances of his career to just about keep Ortega under control.
The tenor and nature of the match changed completely either side of half-time, when England were hit by a hat-trick of regrets: Scholes’s miss, Javier Zanetti’s equaliser and Beckham’s sending-off. Scholes shot wide from 10 yards in the 39th minute, a fairly straightforward chance on the run from Shearer’s header. What might have been a pivotal moment became an aside when Beckham was sent off. Before that, Zanetti showed that England weren’t the only team who spent the build-up working on clever free-kicks. Veron dummied to shoot and played an angled pass into the area, where Zanetti pulled away from behind the wall. He controlled the ball with his right foot and thrashed it past Seaman with the left.
“We had worked on that for four years,” Zanetti tells Eurosport, “but it was the first time it succeeded. It came off perfectly when we needed it most. Scoring at a World Cup is amazing, but scoring in that circumstance and against a big rival like England gave me unique feelings. My goal will always be part of our history.” It was actually Ortega who was supposed to be in Zanetti’s position, but he had not been able to make the free-kick work. Before the match, the coach Daniel Passarella quietly suggested they try it with Zanetti instead. The England goal was Zanetti’s first attempt.
Referee Kim Milton Nielsen sends off England's David Beckham
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With an estimated audience of 26 million on ITV, the power surge at half-time was one of the biggest in British history – the biggest since JR was shot on Dallas in 1980. After two minutes of the second half, Simeone took a calculated shortcut through the back of Beckham near the halfway line. Beckham was laying on his chest, considering his pain, when Simeone patted him and had a quick tug of his hair. Beckham blindly flicked out a leg in anger at Simeone, who went down. There was an instant stramash, with Batistuta, Shearer and Matias Almeyda having a full and frank exchange of views in the universal language of shoving. The referee Nielsen booked Simeone and then reached down to his pocket with his spare hand. The ITV commentator Brian Moore knew straight away what it meant: “Wait a minute he’stakinganothercardoutforBeckham…”
As often as not, highlights of France 98 are accompanied by Massive Attack’s Angel, a brooding masterpiece that was released that summer. Without fail, the menacing guitar crescendo is used for the moment Nielsen waves the red card at Beckham. “Let’s just say the referee fell into the trap,” said Simeone a few months later. “It was a difficult one for him to avoid because I went down well.” Argentina might have felt, not unreasonably, that it was karmic payback for Antonio Rattin’s harsh red card in the 1966 quarter-final.
As with the Hand of God, it was not immediately apparent to everyone what had happened. The BBC commentary team of Jon Champion and Trevor Brooking thought Beckham had been sent off for dissent. He sat in the dressing-room alone and called Victoria, who was in a bar in New York watching the game.
England had prepared for playing with 10 men, another example of Hoddle’s tactical thoroughness, and instantly switched to a 4-4-1-1 formation. The midfield, from right to left, was Owen, Anderton, Ince and Scholes. Owen rotated on the right of midfield with Shearer, who frequently appeared in his own box in open play and once booted clear from under the bar. England’s defence kept chalking up little moral victories: ten minutes, then Batistuta taken off, then the end of 90 minutes. There was plenty of backs-to-the-wall defiance – Adams repeated the mantra “Come on, we’re not going home!” - but it was also a very smart performance.
It was just a thrilling experience, a privilege to be part of it
In the last 75 minutes, after the Beckham red card, Argentina did not create a clear chance. “We could see the desperation on their faces as they gradually ran out of ideas,” said Neville. “The defence began to enjoy keeping them out; we got a buzz from it.” The England defence were high on the challenge and their own excellence. “It was just a thrilling experience, a privilege to be part of it,” said Adams, “and I believe I played one of the best games of my career.”
England coach Glenn Hoddle gives instructions to Paul Ince in the break before extra time.
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He’s not the only one. Adams and Ince were immense. So was Hoddle, who continued to make imaginative changes. Once Southgate came on for Le Saux, the back four were all centre-halves who were often spread over no more than the width of the D to thwart Argentina's eye-of-the-needle passing. Merson, who had played 13 minutes of competitive football for his country in five years and who had spent the previous season in the second tier with Middlesbrough, then came on for Scholes because of his ball-carrying skills on the counter-attack, though he put the wrong boots on and kept slipping over.
It’s hard not to admire Hoddle’s clarity, decisiveness and imagination under the most extreme pressure. Almost all the outfield players were moved into new positions in a formation that ensured England had as much of a goal threat as possible, even with 10 men. Owen went another brilliant solo run before slicing wide under pressure, and then Campbell’s 81st-minute goal was rightly disallowed for an elbow by Shearer on the keeper Roa. With half the England team celebrating off the pitch, Argentina took a quick, comically unsportsmanlike free-kick and had a four-on-three break. Anderton, who took the original corner on the other side of the pitch, ran 80 yards to make a desperate last-ditch tackle, not knowing the flag had gone up for offside. It took so much out of him that he had to be subbed soon after. The absurd end-to-end swing was a heart-stopping sequel to the most dramatic moment in qualification, when Ian Wright hit the post in Rome and then, seconds later, Italy’s Christian Vieri headed fractionally wide.
England’s second chance came in extra-time when an off-balance Chamot handled in his own area. Shearer, almost infallible from the penalty spot at that stage, would have had the chance to score a Golden Goal and end the game. That, rather than Campbell’s disallowed goal, was the real injustice. “We had to play 12 men tonight,” said Shearer after the game. “I thought the referee was horrible.”
The England defence, who looked like they could go all night, broke Argentina’s will long before the end. With around five minutes of extra-time to go, Neville looked around and realised England only had three penalty takers on the pitch: Shearer, Owen and Merson. When the match did end 2-2, there was no particular sense of foreboding: at that stage England’s record in penalty shoot-outs was W1 L2. It was only after this game that it started to wreak havoc in the national subconscious.
As has been the case in plenty of England’s penalty shoot-out defeats, they blinked last. Trouble is, they blinked longest. Hernan Crespo’s penalty was saved by Seaman, but Ince – who had bottled the Euro 96 semi-final shootout to such an extent that he didn’t even watch the penalties, never mind take one – had a poor penalty saved by Roa. The next five penalties were scored, with Ayala putting Argentina 4-3 ahead. It meant Batty had to score to keep England in the World Cup. He had only ever taken one penalty in his life, in a junior’s game. He missed that and always got nervous for the person taking a penalty when he watched games on TV. But when Hoddle half asked and half told him he was taking one, it was not an option to say no. The next man down to take a penalty was Neville, followed by Southgate, Adams, Campbell and Seaman.
Batty committed the penalty taker’s cardinal sin of changing his mind. He was going to hammer it down the middle but instead clipped a meek penalty that Roa was able to beat away. Batty was not the ideal person to take such a big penalty – but he was the perfect person to miss one. “If there was anyone you wanted to miss a penalty it was David Batty, because he had his life in perspective,” said Merson. “It wasn’t going to ruin his world or bring him down for ever.” Or even for five minutes. “I haven’t,” he said in his autobiography, “lost a single night’s sleep worrying about it since.” He said he would have felt a million times worse had he bottled taking it. He called his wife and then his dad, who told him he knew he’d miss. When the team got back to La Baule in the small hours he drank until dawn, played golf and went home to see his wife and kids.
England's painful penalty defeat to Argentina (Adam Hurrey)
Image credit: Eurosport
In the dressing-room there was complete silence, as the squad processed the sudden gut-punch of losing a World Cup match on penalties. Adams eventually broke the silence. “We did well,” he said. “Come on, let’s have a shower and get out of here.” He had also been the first to seek out Beckham.
“I’m so sorry, Tone.”
“Don’t apologise. It happens. I love you. Keep your chin up.”
The dressing-room was full of a kind of raw emotion most of us will never experience. Hoddle went round and thanked everyone individually. “Glenn’s reaction to the defeat really impressed me,” said Adams. “In those moments he revealed a human, caring side that made me very emotional. For that I was willing and able to forgive him the times when I believed him to have been wrong.”
Beckham broke down when he saw his parents outside the stadium afterwards. His head was all over the place, and it’s probably a good thing the tabloids didn’t know that he asked to swap shirts with Veron in the car park. When England were getting on their coach, they saw and heard the Argentina players waving their shirts around their heads. Some accounts suggest the celebrations were deliberately provocative, with banging on the windows and V signs, though the Argentina players deny that. Anderton said they were “a disgrace”. “Honestly, I don’t know what he refers to,” says Zanetti. “We behaved correctly and politely.”
England's David Batty is consoled by Gareth Southgate after he missed the vital penalty kick in the shoot-out.
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England flew back to La Baule, arriving around 3am, and most of the squad stayed up all night going through the match. Owen felt guilty because a big part of him was still high on his own performance. Some of the players drowned their sorrows, unable to get drunk. Adams had responded to the Euro 96 defeat by going on a long bender; this time, he was at peace with himself and his end-of-tournament reward was a little different: when the squad arrived home, he treated himself to a McDonald’s. “I had played well,” he said, “and acted with dignity and integrity.” So, for the most part, had the team. “I think we earned a lot of respect,” said Adams, “and were far from the laughing stock that some England sides of the recent past have been – all heart, but no brains.”
They and the Venables team that preceded them remain the closest to the ideal of a modern England team. Hoddle cared enormously about changing the DNA of English football, and still does: his pleas for smarter football are a theme of every co-commentary he does.
“We had a decent team in 98 and the biggest error had been a collective one – failing to finish top of our group and make life easier for ourselves,” said Neville. “Whether we’d have had the class to beat Brazil, France or Holland, all very good teams at the time, is questionable. But why have that debate when you can dump it all on one player?”
8. The vilifcation of David Beckham
West Ham fans show their anger at David Beckham
Image credit: Reuters
The day before England played Argentina, Dennis Bergkamp got away with a clear stamp on Sinisa Mihajlovic, a much worse offence that Beckham’s. The Netherlands went through and Bergkamp scored one of the World Cup’s most famous goals to beat Argentina in the quarter-final. In a parallel universe, anything could have happened to Beckham. Instead he was instantly scapegoated, with headlines like ‘TEN HEROIC LIONS, ONE STUPID BOY’ in the Daily Mirror setting the agenda for the next few months. Hoddle’s interview straight after the game – “I can’t deny the sending-off cost us the game” - did not help. As was often the case with Hoddle, the problem was not what he said or did but the way he said or did it. Most of his interviews that night and the next day were sympathetic towards Beckham, but it was too late.
Hoddle privately saw Beckham’s red card as a sad vindication of his concerns before the tournament. To others, including Le Saux and Adams, the red card was a consequence of the way he treated Beckham, who was in an emotional maelstrom from the moment he was left out of the Tunisia game. Yet that kind of petulant reaction was a feature of his career, even in the happiest times at Manchester United. Even Beckham probably doesn’t know how much Hoddle was to blame, though his subconscious might.
The treatment of Beckham, driven by the usual empathy voids in the press, was pathetic and despicable – not least because most agreed that he was unlucky to be sent off for what, in 1998, was a relatively trivial offence. “He could hardly have been more vilified,” said Ferguson, “if he had committed murder or high treason.”
It was more than just the red card that led to Beckham being slaughtered. The country had hated Manchester United for most of the previous four years, with an ABU (Anyone But United) culture increasingly rampant. In the friendly against Saudi Arabia at Wembley just before the tournament, United’s players were booed. Beckham also wore a sarong, dated a superstar and was the antonym of the footballer stereotype.
The Mirror included the verdict of a number of England fans. “David Beckham can take his sarong and attitude and go and play elsewhere,” said one. “He was an utter p***,” said another, though quite why ‘prat’ needed asterisks isn’t clear. “To think I considered trying to get to France for the match." Two and a half thousand callers to Talk Radio said he should never play for England again. One bookmaker gleefully offered odds of 16-1 that the fallout would lead to his engagement to Victoria Adams being called off by the end of the year. The Mirror printed a dartboard with Beckham as the bullseye. (Other scoring options included Jeremy Beadle, “For being Jeremy Beadle”.) An effigy was hung from a lamppost; his parents were harassed and had their phone bugged. Beckham was 23 years old. “I think,” said Beckham, “it might be hard for people to understand what it was like living my life in those first months after the World Cup.” Yes, you could say that.
The police asked Beckham’s parents to stay at his house in Worsley because it wasn’t safe for him to be on his own. One night, when his parents and his fiancée were away, Beckham heard noises in the garden and jumped out of bed. He looked out the landing window and saw a man staring at him with his arms folded, saying nothing. After a silent face-off that seemed to go for ever – “it was like some strange kind of hypnotism” - Beckham opened the window and shouted, “What do you want?”. There was no reply, not even a flicker, so Beckham shut the window and called the police. By the time they arrived, the man had gone. “It gives me a shiver even now to think about it.”
Glenn Hoddle shows off his World Cup diary
Image credit: Getty Images
Six weeks after the Argentina game, Hoddle’s World Cup diary – for which he was paid a reported £200,000 – was serialised in the press. It was a warts-and-all expose with a twist: it omitted his own warts. The only mistake he admitted to was not bringing Eileen Drewery to France. The book did untold damage, especially as he had prohibited the players from publishing World Cup diaries.
When England started their Euro 2000 qualification poorly, with defeat in Sweden and a tedious draw at home to Bulgaria, Hoddle was in trouble. “People said Glenn had lost the players,” said Neville. “I wouldn’t agree with that, but it wasn’t a happy squad.” Hoddle resigned in February 1999, when the FA used his infamous comments about reincarnation as an excuse to force him out. England lurched around for 18 months under Kevin Keegan before Sven-Goran Eriksson gave them a cold equilibrium.
I believe that he had we beaten Argentina, we would have won the World Cup
“We were on the cusp of getting really good,” said Ferdinand of Hoddle’s departure. “It killed us and I don’t think we’ve ever recovered.” Nor did Hoddle. He had an underrated spell as Southampton manager, then modest ones at Spurs and Wolves. His last management job was at the age of 48. He doesn’t wonder what might have been; he knows. “I believe that he had we beaten Argentina, we would have won the World Cup.” Hoddle’s England were probably good enough to win a World Cup – but maybe not that particular World Cup, which had more high-class teams than any tournament since at least 1982. Even the much lamented easier half of the draw, which England would have entered with a draw against Romania, was fiendishly difficult: Croatia, Germany, France and Brazil.
He was misunderstood as a player and surely feels the same is true of his management career. It would have been interesting to hear his thoughts when, five years after France, Beckham was sold by Ferguson because he lacked focus.
“I think if Glenn had five or even 10 years more experience in club management and Champions League football, he could have been one of the best England managers,” said Neville. “In hindsight, it all came too quick for him, and I think he’d agree with that.” The idea of Hoddle as England’s great lost manager is a persuasive one, though it’s debatable whether his man-management would have improved sufficiently – especially at a time, at the start of the 21st century, when masculinity was becoming more sensitive and players more powerful. And the thought of Hoddle the England manager having his words twisted on social media is mildly terrifying.
David Beckham of England (far right) celebrates with team mates
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Beckham came out of France 98 far better than Hoddle. He didn’t just have the last laugh; he had several. He showed inhuman resilience to follow the World Cup with the greatest season of his career, when he was equally as influential as Roy Keane, Dwight Yorke and Jaap Stam in Manchester United’s Treble. He scored the winner against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup four years later. By then he was England captain, and had both England fans and particularly the media falling at his feet. Perhaps the fallout from 1998 made him realise the power of celebrity and the media. They abused him; he used them.
In 2016, in an interview with GQ, he described the Argentina red card as one of the top five moments of his career – a savage rite of passage that gave him a shortcut to maturity. In a perverse way, he can look back on it fondly. France 98 was just one part of a grand story. For Hoddle the manager, it was almost the whole story. And though it only involved his team getting to the last 16, it was a bloody good tale.