There’s a line in the film A Bronx Tale when Robert De Niro, playing a hard-working blue-collar character, tells his impressionable young son that “the saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” Sadder than that, perhaps, is under-appreciated talent. When someone so gifted, so blessed with genius in their particular field, is not given the opportunity to express the special skill they possess to the full, it’s a dispiriting and costly waste.
It’s a phenomenon that those who saw Glenn Hoddle in his playing prime will recognise. Hoddle was one of the best players of his generation – certainly in Britain, arguably in Europe and even beyond. He was a marvel. A player unlike any other in the old Football League, who utilised uncommon skill and imagination in a game burdened with players conspicuously lacking in both. The 1980s were a grim time for the English game in many respects, but Hoddle provided a regular, glorious glimmer of what the sport could provide.
I’m biased in taking that view. As a Tottenham fan I was lucky enough to see Hoddle play most weeks and privileged to see him in full flow. It’s why nearly 20 years on from when Hoddle hung up his boots Martin Cloake and I have made sure the King of White Hart Lane was one of the first people we featured in our ebooks series Spurs Shots, profiling the club’s best players.
The first in the series is on Danny Blanchflower, a true football original who was perhaps better acknowledged in his playing days than Hoddle was in his. That’s a running theme through the ebook and a reflection that this talent spurned was to English football’s enduring cost. A succession of managers, hindered by a cultural mistrust of flair and cowed by a fear of losing, failed to build the national side around Hoddle. Even after a decade of outstanding service at Spurs, he had to move on to France, a country where his talent was better understood and cherished.
There is much to celebrate about Hoddle. Martin and I hope readers will enjoy recalling Hoddle’s finest moments, from his man-of-the-match display in the 1981 FA Cup final to the succession of magnificent goals he scored.
We also believe that there’s a pertinent point to be made about modern football and Hoddle’s place in it. He was undervalued as a player, and mistakenly rejected as a manager. Amid the current agonising over the lack of quality and technique in English ranks from grassroots to top level, it’s a sobering reminder than when the nation did possess a player of genuine world-class talent it chose to marginalise him when it should have championed him. A great tactician, his managerial qualities are similarly spurned. And that really is a story of sad waste.
Glenn Hoddle – A Spurs Shot is available here
Danny Blanchflower – A Spurs Shot is available here