Glenn Hoddle can be forgiven if he feels a little envious of Gareth Southgate on the eve of Euro 2020.
Southgate, one of his former players, is about to lead England into a second major international tournament, a luxury Hoddle missed out on.
In addition, the current England manager has at his disposal a generation of supremely talented footballers strongly fancied to challenge at this delayed European Championship.
And on top of that, Southgate is enjoying a much better rapport with supporters and media than most of his predecessors.
The latter point in particular is not lost on Hoddle, whose promising tenure as England manager ended abruptly in 1999 over comments he made about disabled people in a newspaper interview.
“It’s never an easy job but I think at the moment it’s easier than it was back in my day – and for the managers before me as well,” Hoddle tells City A.M.
“I think there’s a change in the public’s mind and also in the media. I think the press to a certain degree are on the back foot compared to when I was manager, and Graham Taylor, people like that.
“When you get asked to take the England job, on a football instinct you go ‘how can I turn the England job down?’.
“But the concerns are the other side of the job: the press, the media, the spotlight. I had to think about that with my family.
“I think in Gareth’s era it’s been a little bit easier for him. And getting to the [2018 World Cup] semi-finals as well, which was a great feat, has given Gareth that respect. He’s earned that.”
England can be feared at Euro 2020, says Hoddle
Fifteen years since leaving his last manager’s job, Hoddle, 63, has become a popular broadcaster thanks to his obvious love of watching football.
That enduring enthusiasm for the game is never more evident than when discussing the options available to Southgate at Euro 2020.
“He’s got a lovely, lovely crop of players to work with,” says Hoddle, speaking at an event for bookmaker Betfair.
“I think we’ve got to look at what happened with the academies 12-15 years ago, how we changed our philosophy.
“Back in the 70s, the more direct game, we lost our way. But now Gareth’s squad has got real good technicians, creativity.
“We’ve caught up with the Dutch and the French and the Spanish. He’s got a crop of players that have benefited from that.
“And it’s always the way that I’ve looked to play the game anyway, so I’m really happy to see that he’s got that.”
Hoddle subscribes to the widely-held view that world champions France are the team to beat at Euro 2020.
But he puts England in a group of other candidates just behind them, with Portugal, Germany, Spain and Italy.
“We’re right in there as well,” he says. “Offensively, we can be feared. But it is the achilles heel of the defence.”
Mount ahead of Grealish and importance of Rice
As England’s first game against Croatia on Sunday draws nearer, calls for Southgate to accommodate Phil Foden and Jack Grealish in his XI increase.
Hoddle would pick Foden, but he favours Mason Mount ahead of Grealish and names a less heralded player as England’s most important man.
“Foden and Mount are the two creative players who have to be allowed to play like they do for their clubs. Then you can balance that off all around them,” he says.
“I think the key player for the tournament, ironically, isn’t one of those – I think it’s Declan Rice.
“You would have two styles of playing. You can counter teams with the pace of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.
“Or you can try to control the game a bit more when you play Mount and Foden with Harry Kane up top. So there’s some real flexibility and I’d love to have that.”
But he adds: “I hope Gareth and his staff can sort out how we defend properly, whether it’s a four or a three at the back. That’s where we are going to have to play well.
“And that’s why I say Rice is very important for the overall shape of the team. If we lost him, I’d be worried.”
Why Southgate deserves 7.5 out of 10 so far
Hoddle praises the job Southgate has done, and the statesmanlike presence he has provided, since his low-key appointment in 2016.
“Getting to the semi-final of a World Cup, and the way he’s dealt with things, certainly going into this tournament it’s not been easy for him,” he says.
“I think you’ve got to give him seven and a half out of 10. We could have done better against better teams. That’s the key.
“We’re five out of 10 against the better teams, but overall I’d say seven and a half out of 10. If you can get that right then we’ve got a genuine chance of winning this thing.”
England used a three-man defence to great success at the 2018 World Cup, only for Southgate to ditch it thereafter.
Hoddle believes the flaws in that system – a tendency to fall into a back five and leave the midfield a man short – could have been fixed with some tweaking.
“Every system has an achilles heel. That needed to be sorted out after the World Cup,” he says.
“I was a bit disappointed that after we came back we played with a back four. I don’t think that was worked on. I was hoping Gareth would do that after, because with the ball it worked.”
Hoddle ‘could see Southgate would be a manager’
A three-man defence became a calling card of Hoddle’s own management career, at Swindon, Chelsea and later England.
He plays down the notion of Southgate borrowing from his playbook, but does recall his former pupil marking himself out as management material.
“I wouldn’t have put my hat on him there and then, but I could see as he grew that he was going to be a manager,” Hoddle says.
“He was astute and knew about the game and was always asking. I liked to tell people why we were playing a certain way. Gareth would question why we were doing this or that.”
The sudden resignation of Fabio Capello four months before Euro 2012 saw Hoddle touted for a surprise return to the Wembley dugout.
It was, however, a mark of his standing in the English game and fleetingly made for a fascinating prospect.
But the call never came: “I never had a chat with anyone, no one approached me from the FA.
“I think I would have said yes if I had been given the opportunity but I never was in the end.”
What if English football’s top brass did come knocking again after Euro 2020?
Hoddle makes noises that indicate he feels that ship has sailed.
“Let’s hope Gareth is there for a few more years yet because it means he’s doing a good job.”
This Euros, Betfair is now offering No Cash Out Suspensions on Match Odds markets. Find out more here: https://betting.betfair.com/football/euro-2020/