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Football: WATCHING IS TORTURE FOR GAFFER GLENN; THE BIG INTERVIEW: Glenn Hoddle on his love for the game .. and the torment of life in the dugout.

Byline: ANTHONY CLAVANE

LIFE could hardly be any sweeter for Glenn Hoddle at the moment.

The Spurs revival under his guidance continues apace, a six-match unbeaten run putting them in the hunt for a Champions League place. Hoddle is back at his spiritual home and thriving on the experience.

Yet, when the referee blows his whistle to kick off today's Newcastle-Spurs clash, his torment will begin - for, although Hod loves football, he hates watching games.

This might be a surprising attitude for a top Premiership coach. But he's never been a simple man. He was credited with a rare intelligence as a player back in the 1980s, lauded as the supreme midfielder touched with the kind of arrogance that produced those famous 50-yard passes.

In his first spell at White Hart Lane the club psychologist asked Hoddle to write down the phrase that best summed up his view of himself and he put the piece of paper in his wallet. It read "Lord of the manor".

The frustration is that he's now back in his beloved north London and undoubtedly master of his domain - in all but one crucial respect.

"The worst part of the job is the actual game," he says. "When the players go over the white line and you worry whether they will implement what you've asked them to do.

"Are they going to play well? If so-and-so is not performing, has he got a problem you don't know about? These things are out of your hands. You can make changes and adjustments, but you can't put the ball in the back of the net or save it."

Because he was such a good player, perhaps watching lesser mortals perform means he is suffering for the glories of a previous existence. Yet he has moulded the current Spurs team in his own image and is reaping the benefits.

After a slow start, they are now serious contenders for a European place. A draw, although some would call it a moral victory, against Arsenal, a win at Manchester City and a Boxing Day comeback at home to Charlton displayed all the fight and tactical nous you'd expect from a Hoddle side.

"We've a stronger squad than we've had for four or five years," he says. "This is the hardest top-flight league I've experienced but we're achieving the consistency I wanted. Whether it is a UEFA Cup place or Champions League one, who knows? But coming off the back of such a strong league it will make us better equipped for Europe."

Criticised for playing too many thirty-somethings, Hoddle credits Sheringham, Poyet, Anderton and Co with the team's revitalisation. It's not just their experience, he argues, but their love of football which inspires younger team-mates.

"If Teddy Sheringham or Gus Poyet didn't have that love of the game they couldn't play until the age they are now. Twenty-one-year-olds might be just as talented but you can soon tell if they have that love or not."

After being traumatically axed from the national coach's job two and a half years ago, he's bounced back in style. In many ways he cuts a different figure to the one nicknamed "Chocolate" by England players - so smug he could eat himself - and now comes over as a more open, affable chap.

"There are no rights and wrongs in football," he argues. "That is what is so beautiful about the game. You've got your own interpretations and beliefs but who's to say who is right and wrong? It's a free world out there."

Perhaps it's the time he spent on the sidelines after the sacking, the longest spell out in his career. Perhaps it's shedding the baggage that goes with the Impossible Job, particularly his own distinctive baggage of Eileen Drewery, World Cup memoirs and reincarnation.

The remarkable storm that erupted following his controversial views on the disabled - even the Prime Minister got involved - might have sunk a weaker man.

"After the England job," he muses, "you can take anything on."

But what really keeps him going, despite all the pressures, is his addiction to the beautiful game.

"I'm in football for something I love. In many ways it's more exciting than when I started out. I'm on a bigger stage. The pressures are more but you shouldn't do it if you don't want the extra pressure.

"The core of it, though, is my love of the game. That's what makes the real difference. The really nice part is picking my team, working things out in training, seeing players produce good performances and improve. If you get a bad result it's the challenge of sorting out why.

"Even though it's a business and very pressured, it's the love. Bobby Robson's got that and I've got it."

Perhaps the old Hod wouldn't have extended his peace-and-goodwill message to the Newcastle boss. Sir Bobby is, after all, the man who preferred Bryan Robson in the England midfield, seeing Hoddle as a luxury player rather than the saviour championed by some pundits.

But the new Hod is full of admiration for the way Robson has moved onwards and upwards since England.

"He's got more experienced. You can't judge experience by grey hairs, because you might be experienced at doing the wrong things, but Bobby's had his eyes opened to how a club is managed abroad. He's grown. He's taken that on board and come back to Newcastle."

It can't be a coincidence that both men, who departed from the national job after exhilarating World Cup campaigns, are back at their first loves. Hoddle, like Robson, has been given a new lease of life. But he's not sure if, like the man in the home dugout at St James' Park today, he will still be coaching in his 70th year.

"I don't know if I can imagine still doing it at Sir Bobby's age. I think if he had started when the pressures were on when he was 36, he'd probably have had enough by now.

"Since I started out as a player-manager at Swindon 12 years ago there's more media work and a lot more obstacles and pressures. I sometimes finish at midnight or 1am after I've travelled from watching a game. There's just masses and masses of stuff to do, you know.

"People think we finish at one in the afternoon and go and play golf. Well, I've never been a manager who has done that. I find it very difficult to believe they can do that."

Despite the fact he can't cross the white line with his troops, despite the non-stop stress of the job, Hoddle is having great fun steering his side towards Europe.

The piece of paper might have long since vanished from his wallet, but if Spurs get into the Champions League his "Lord of the manor" status will be secured forever.

CAPTION(S):

FLASHBACK: Hoddle and faith healer Eileen Drewery; OLD MASTERS: Hoddle loves the enthusiasm of veterans Gus Poyet and Teddy Sheringham; HOD MAN OUT: 'When the players cross that line it's out of your hands,' says Glenn Hoddle; LORD OF THE MANOR: Hoddle in his White Hart Lane playing days
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 29, 2002
Words:1191
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