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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 11/12/04, 3.00pm
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Fish in a barrel
By Matt Rowson

This was going to be about waste recycling.

Topical, see? What with Watford residents and thus perhaps several of the readers of this preview now, like me, trying to balance the competing considerations of this-is-kinda-a-good-thing greeny goodwill versus trying to accommodate three large plastic tubs in a kitchen that has never had to cope with them before. The link presented itself on a Wolves website, where an eager correspondent had urged his side to "show some metal" (sic). Tenuous but I'd have got there somehow, perhaps with the help of a can of Stella. Such are the flimsy threads that need to be grasped at when faced with a preview that needs writing and a distinct lack of time and inspiration. I'd have worked in the disturbingly demonic looking child brandishing an empty plastic milk bottle on the Council's handout too.

Instead... manner from heaven (geddit?) in the form of this week's appointment of Glenn Hoddle as Wolves' new manager, replacing Dave Jones just as he did at Southampton five years ago. And before we get onto the implications of the appointment with regard to Saturday or the rest of Wolves' season, it's worth pausing to appreciate the perfection of this union. Like David Ginola, preening, flash and flimsy signing for Spurs, or George Graham, grim, joyless and morose taking over at Leeds, it almost seemed destined to happen at some point. The most arrogant, conceited manager in football taking over at the club which, traditionally, has the most overblown perspective of its own significance in the division. You couldn't make it up.

A key factor in how this all pans out would appear to be the six month contract in question. Very odd. One messageboard rumour suggests that this was what Hoddle had demanded of West Brom, and Wolves had approached him as such in this knowledge. If so, it's not difficult to see what Hoddle gets out of it; his unshakable belief in his own ability probably leads him to believe that a short spell showing the world that he's still "got it" will be plenty long enough slumming it beneath the Premiership. From Wolves' point of view, the potential advantages are a high-profile manager to attract high-profile players, if only in the short-term, and the financial security of not having to commit to Hoddle's presumably not inconsiderable salary (he was allegedly too expensive for the French job, remember) beyond when their parachute payments evaporate at the end of next season.

But you can't help but suspect that there's an awful lot more on the downside for Wolves here. To get the obvious out of the way first, a manager with a known expiry date does tend to struggle to get the best out of his players. Witness Bobby Robson's rapid departure from Newcastle, and our own collapse during GT's last season. "You're not going to be around next year, so why should I bother?"

Secondly, it leaves the club in limbo to a certain extent. An uncertainty hangs over Molineux until either Hoddle is replaced or his contract is extended. Given the parachute payment issue, time is something that Wolves don't have to fritter away.

Thirdly, indisputably, Hoddle's conduct in the past means that he's not the sort of character who's going to have the Wolves faithful flocking to his banner. Good results will forgive a lot, of course, but Hoddle's got a lot of convincing to do, and one imagines that some will be beyond the stage where this is possible. This isn't a man whose name I'd feel comfortable chanting.

Finally, whatever Hoddle's qualities as a manager (and it could be argued that he's not had a sustained, successful spell since leaving Chelsea in 1996), man-management is not one of them. Witness any number of training ground accounts, most famously Tony Cascarino's autobiography, and the sneering disdain towards interviewer, fans, and both sets of players that characterise his interviews. Wolves need sorting out tactically - few were convinced by the flattering 4-1 victory over Reading at the weekend, and the 2-1 reverse at home to Millwall on Tuesday night was a shambles. But more than that, they need some spirit and gusto. Having lost three leaders on the pitch in Irwin, Butler and Rae in recent years and with Paul Ince reduced to the status of "a mouth on tired legs" according to one account (and in open conflict with the previous management team), some leadership off the pitch is surely in order. Hoddle isn't the kind of guy to win friends quickly.

On the pitch, a legacy of the Premiership season is of course that there is quality in the squad, even if it isn't always best employed and even if a good number of players, Ince aside, appear to have "issues". Dave Jones and caretaker Stuart Gray, retained by Hoddle in a coaching role, favoured a 4-4-2. Hoddle has always preferred 3-5-2 but whether he makes an immediate switch is open to question even if, as is suggested, he'll make considerable and rapid use of the loan market to shape his team.

Michael Oakes appears to be holding sway in goal despite a weakness on crosses. England U21 keeper Matt Murray is likely to be on the bench whilst thirty-seven year old Paul Jones, Hoddle's keeper at Southampton, is still knocking around somewhere.

Wolves have a real problem in the full-back positions; Northern Ireland international Mark Clyde replaced Keith Lowe on the right on Tuesday night having missed the Reading win with "personal problems", Mark Kennedy has done a largely unconvincing job of pretending to be a fullback on the left. His laziness hasn't tended to endear him at any number of clubs but the alternative, Lee Naylor, hasn't always been hugely popular either. Rob Edwards, signed from Villa to play on the right, is out with an ankle problem.

In the centre Joleon Lescott, who missed the entire Premiership season through injury, is quick, elegant and classy but not the strongest physically. Jody Craddock provides the brawn, but tends to lose concentration at vital moments and had a rough time on Tuesday against Millwall. Mikkel Bischoff was on loan from Manchester City earlier in the season but disolcated his shoulder a month ago; Joachim Bjorklund is an alternative, having arrived from Sunderland in the summer.

The midfield has a lopsided look to it, with only one genuine wide player, the hardworking Kevin Cooper on the right who scored a late, deflected equaliser to steal a point in this fixture two years ago. Nigerian international Seji Olofinjana, touted as "the new Vieira" on his arrival (yawn) has recently adopted a left-sided role but is no winger. Energetic and occasionally elegant, he doesn't like the physical stuff - "as tough as Graham Norton" is one assessment. Colin Cameron should still be a fine player at this level and can be relied on for industry, but the knives are well and truly out for Keith Andrews, who appears to be the most derided of several Wolves boo-boys at the moment. With Ince nominally "injured" with an in-growing toenail, Silas on loan in Portugal and Shaun Newton having disappeared without trace, there aren't many midfield alternatives unless the Kennedy fullback experiment is terminated.

Up front, Wolves do appear to have options; Carl Cort ("bambi on ice") and the hardworking but goal-shy Dean Sturridge have been the favoured partnership, although alternatives include transfer-listed Kenny Miller, generally sulking on the bench, Korean Ki-Hyeon Seol, signed from Anderlecht over the summer, and teenager Leon Clarke who came off the bench to score twice to much acclaim against Reading. Vio Ganea has done his cruciate ligaments and is out long-term, whilst Henri Camara is at Celtic and as unlikely to return as Dave Jones, one suspects.

The "new management" buzz could work against us here; it's kinda traditional that teams pick up their performances initially when a new guy comes in. Hell, we even looked good under Colin Lee for a month or so. But there's plenty in our favour as well, specifically Wolves' susceptibility to both pace and crosses into the box, and their tendency to be "as useful as a chocolate fireguard" against physical opposition.

After the first free midweek in what seems like eons, hopefully our batteries will be somewhat recharged. It goes without saying that we need a win here. And fret not, the original storyline for this preview will be recycled at some point.