Rise of the playmaker – Hoddle on why the future is Foden for England

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November 14, 2021
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    Glenn Hoddle

    Most people who watch and understand football at a high level now would never see Jack Grealish, Phil Foden or Mason Mount as luxury players, which is how I was always labelled.

    That's one of the ways the thinking has changed in this country since my playing days, because coaches and fans alike appreciate a creative player now more than ever.

    I called my new book 'Playmaker' because that's how I always saw myself, even as a young kid coming through, but back then that role was never really recognised in this country as it was around the rest of Europe.

    Most of our clubs in the 1970s and 80s played a rigid 4-4-2 and it was the same when I was with England too. If you were a creative player like me, then you were fighting against that system constantly because you had to fit into it, with four against four in midfield and the ball in the air too much for my liking.

    Glenn HoddleHoddle won 53 caps for England between 1979 and 1988. "I used to wonder why I was more knackered playing for England," he says. "At first I thought it was just down to mentality. Eventually I realised it was because technically gifted players were passing around us all the time."

    I was a kind of a number 10 in my final season with Tottenham – the one when Clive Allen scored 49 goals – but people still talked about what I couldn't do as much as what I could. It was only when I went to Monaco in 1987 that suddenly I was at a place where what I did was seen as the most important position, because I could elevate the team.

    Why? Well, if you are a player who just goes around stopping the opposition, tackling or whatever, then yes there is an art to it, but destroying things is always easy compared with making them happen.

    The expectation in England used to be for me to dictate play for 90 minutes, but it was never about doing that, and it still isn't. Look at Kevin de Bruyne now – you might not see him all game but then he sets up a goal with an unbelievable pass that no-one else can see, let alone execute it.

    What De Bruyne, Grealish, Foden or Mount can do, which is to consistently create, is the toughest thing to do on a football pitch. Goalscoring is difficult too, of course, but if you are a number 10 now you have to score goals as well as make them. The pressure is always on them to produce something to change a game.

    English football is fortunate that it has got a lot of those type of players at the moment, but producing so many at once is not just down to luck. I've seen that for myself.

    Glenn HoddleArsene Wenger signed Glenn Hoddle for Monaco in 1987 and it was not just the lifestyle in Monte Carlo that he took to. "The number 10 role didn't exist in England but it was so important in France," says Hoddle in his book. "It was like being a quarterback in an NFL team – there was a status attached to the position."

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    'Technicians are flourishing now'

    We had our heads in the sand for a long time but, more than 30 years on, we have caught up with the rest of the continent. There are creative playmakers everywhere in the Premier League, and in the England team too.

    That's where English football has really won out as a result of foreign managers and players coming in from the mid-1990s onwards. That type of player – the technician, really – has really flourished because of a change in playing style. It was a long wait, but we have moved on.

    It's easy to see why it happened, because the game is different now. The pitches are beautiful, the rules have changed. Why would you lump the ball in the way we had to put up with? It would be sacrilege.

    Glenn Hoddle and Ruud GullitHoddle was one of the managers responsible for beginning the transformation of the Premier League into the competition it is today when he signed one of its first superstars, Ruud Gullit, for Chelsea in 1995. "I came because of Glenn," Gullit told the BBC in 2020. "In the eyes of the Dutch, he was the best English footballer ever."

    • Ruud Gullit – 'The Dutch saw Glenn as a player meant for us, not for you'

    We also changed the academy system about 10 years ago, and you are seeing the fruits of that now – people such as Foden and Mount were just starting their journey then, and they have been brought up with the kind of football they are playing now, for club and country.

    As I describe in my book, it is working, everywhere. You can see the talent that is out there in England shirts, right through the age groups up to the senior side, and it is going to keep on coming.

    The future is very bright – the challenge for Gareth Southgate is to mould it all together to make a successful team.

    Getting the balance right for England

    Phil Foden of Manchester City and EnglandPhil Foden made his senior England debut in September 2020 and has won 11 full caps, scoring two goals

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    The biggest thing for any manager is to get the right blend in his side. To give you an example of when that happened, I'll take you back to 1966. Bobby Charlton was probably the best footballer in the world at that time, but he had Nobby Stiles with him in midfield to help England win the World Cup.

    In contrast, you just have to look at last season's Champions League final as a time it went wrong. For some reason, Manchester City decided not to play a holding midfielder, what I call a balancing player, against Chelsea and they came unstuck.

    It underlines how midfield is such an important area. For me, Foden has to be an integral part of whatever England do next because before long he is going to be the best player we have in this country. In two or three years' time, when he is nearing his peak, he will be the top man.

    Mason Mount is extremely talented as well, so with those two to build around, we have really got something to go with in the next few years, and the same applies to Declan Rice, who should become a fixture in the team.

    With those players involved then, whoever the opposition, the right balance is there – I feel Rice will be hugely important to Foden's England career, and vice versa.

    Rice is far more than a holding midfielder, the same way that Foden and Mount are not just creators or old-fashioned number 10s, because they will work hard and do their defensive duties as well.

    Where does this leave Grealish?

    Guardiola was a 'massive factor' in Grealish joining Man City

    Looking at Jack from the outside, his move to Manchester City gave him the opportunity to develop his game and he is doing it already, by releasing the ball much quicker that he did at Aston Villa because he has more options around him.

    If he gets the balance right in that area of his game, then I think he will start to flourish again. There no reason why he cannot be out on the left for England, where he likes to play.

    Then you could play Foden or Mount as a number 10 inside him, and rotate them during the game. Just as Foden can operate anywhere, you don't have to tie Jack down to the wide areas because he is dangerous when he floats inside.

    I actually saw him play some of his best games for Villa when he was more central, because it opens up the whole pitch for him.

    He could thrive there eventually but I think he is still working out when to hold on to the ball at City. It was different at Villa because he was their release man, and he had to carry the ball, draw opposition players towards him and get the team up the pitch.

    Now he is at City, if you overload against Jack to try to stop him, then it means someone else such as Foden or De Bruyne is free and he has got to find a pass rather than keep possession.

    Judging the correct time to release it is one of the things he has got to work on but I am sure he will improve his decision-making while he is at City, because he has got the ability.

    In the modern game, though, if you are playing in any of these positions, you have to be a goalscorer too and I think that is where Foden has the edge on everyone else I have spoken about, because he will go right into the six-yard box to get on the end of things.

    As Foden matures, I feel as if we are going to see him score a lot of goals for England as well as make them. I could be wrong, but it is going to be a lot of fun finding out.

    Glenn Hoddle was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan. 'Playmaker' was released this week.

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    November 14, 2021
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