Hoddle offering players second chance

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, Spain - Glenn Hoddle stands next to a football pitch at a resort in southern Spain, shading his eyes from the evening sunshine and watching a team of mainly British youngsters play a local side.

Clipboard in hand, the 53-year-old former England manager, who also played for his country and was one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, alternates between jotting down notes, shouting orders and encouragement to the players and making critical comments to Nigel Spackman, an ex-Chelsea and Liverpool player who is one of his assistants.

"Shape again! Talk to him! Tucked in too far! That's poor! You worked hard to win it and you gave it straight back!" bellows Hoddle, who is clad in a light blue tracksuit top and black trousers and sporting sunglasses.

It is a typical scene at the Glenn Hoddle Academy (GHA), a professional development centre set up by the former Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea boss to help young players who just missed out on a professional contract to get back into the game.

Now in its third year, the academy has some 30 mainly British recruits who have passed through trials and been offered a place in Jerez, where they live for free and get a small weekly allowance.

The training regime is rigorous and some of the most promising players regularly turn out for a local team, Jerez Industrial who compete in the fourth tier of Spanish soccer and which the academy essentially saved from collapse.

Sitting outside the resort hotel where the players and coaching staff live, Hoddle said the idea for the academy came to him in the early 1990s when he was manager of Chelsea.

He noticed that a lot of players in their late teens were being released and felt they had often been judged too early and deserved another chance.

"If you're good enough you get fast-tracked into first teams but there's another load of players that fall by the wayside that could be developed and get there in the end," Hoddle told Reuters, as groups of German and British golfers headed off for a day on the hotel course.

"I could see over the 10 years that I had been a manager that we didn't really develop and give the players enough time and we were losing a hell of a lot of talent through a great big hole that they never came back out of.

"So I thought, well, one day I might do something about that and see if I can redress the balance a little bit."

DEVELOPMENT FEES

Hoddle put in some of his own money and also tapped the City of London for financing, attracting investors who he said were impressed with the concept and the experienced coaching staff including Spackman and other former top-level players and coaches such as Dave Beasant and Graham Rix.

"At the moment it wouldn't be paying for itself," Hoddle said. "But obviously what we're looking to do is get players back into football and we get development fees for them and then if they go on and make appearances and are sold on we would get percentages of that.

"That's going to take some time. But we're slowly growing. We've got over 2,500 players on our website now asking for places."

More than 60 countries have expressed an interest in opening similar development centres, although Hoddle said he preferred to take things slowly.

"I've been down to South Africa to look at perhaps opening one down there and we have offers at different places in Europe," he said. "But I've got to be aware that we mustn't spread ourselves too thin too quickly.

"You can easily put your name to something and franchise which we might do eventually but I think the next couple we open I need to be hands-on like this.

"At the moment we're quite happy where we're at and I think it'll be a slow development."

At 22, Cheltenham native Ryan Burge is one of the older recruits and is considered by the coaching staff to be one of the most promising.

An attacking midfielder with an eye for goal, somewhat in the Hoddle mould, Burge ended up at the academy after a promising spell at English club Birmingham City was scuppered by injury and a change of management.

"I was at a League One club for a bit and around League Two and then I ended up finding out about the academy through the internet so I went to have a trial," Burge told Reuters before doing some shooting practice with Hoddle watching on.

SUNSHINE FOOTBALLER

Burge said the experience of working with Hoddle would help players improve their chances of winning professional contracts.

"It's brilliant because obviously he's managed top clubs and he's been England manager so the players that he's managed have been really good. So for him to be helping us improve our game is going to put us in good stead for the future."

Hoddle said he chose Jerez, near Spain's southern Mediterranean coast, mainly because of the climate.

"I call it the sunshine footballer," he said. "There's something about the sunshine countries that goes with technical footballers."

The chance for some of the players to turn out for Industrial in the Spanish league was a bonus, he added.

"They're playing in a men's league and I think for their development it's doing them a world of good and they'll come on much quicker."

Asked about his own future, Hoddle said he had turned down 26 job offers since leaving his last coaching role at Wolves in 2006 but could be lured back at some stage.

"If I felt it (the academy) was running well in the next two years then I could see myself paralleling an international job with this definitely," he said, mentioning an interest in possible coaching the United States.

"I've set sail with this (the academy) at the moment and that's what I want to do. And I'm very happy doing it."