Hoddle: Defoe can be England's dish of the day
Former England coach and keen student of football tactics Glenn Hoddle says "go with Defoe" for the big World Cup tie with Croatia.
I caught up with Hoddle in Bournemouth, and, as as we sipped cappuccinos at the West Beach restaurant, he told me: "You go with the player in form, and when a goalscorer is so confident and feels he can score in every game, then he's a must. That striker is Defoe at the moment. Michael Owen was once like that, and now it's Defoe.
"Defoe has played two halves of matches and yet scored three goals, and to do that at international level is exceptional, believe you me, superb. I would start with Defoe because if he is on the pitch for the duration, then he will get five or six chances and as he is on fire I believe he will score, and more importantly he believes he will score every time he gets the ball anywhere near the goal.
"Goalscorers go through droughts enough times in their careers and that is the time to take a step back, but when their confidence is high, and when they believe they will be scoring every game, that's the time to go with them. I think Defoe will start."
However, there is one nagging doubt for Hoddle. The fact that the Italian coach of the national team is dogmatic about his approach, and because starting with Heskey and then bringing on Defoe has worked wonderfully, he may be tempted to stick by that policy. Hoddle explains: "He clearly wants to go with a big 'un and a little 'un, and to be fair with that strategy, Rooney could have scored a hat-trick when Heskey started, and it does suit Rooney to play with a big fella up front.
"But that is not to say he cannot link with Defoe. Rooney has such talent that he has the ability to do a bit of both, and he has played up front for United before as the focal point of the attack, and that's where Defoe can play off him. Rooney is bloody strong and it works well with Defoe. That's why Rooney is such an important asset to England, he is so good."
God help England if Rooney was ever injured again, I ventured. Hoddle nodded wisely. Yes, it is unthinkable. And, also, a potential England weakness. No player is irreplaceable, we are constantly told by the professionals, yet Rooney is rapidly becoming irreplaceable for England and their chance in South africa. Remember how England's campaign at Euro 2004 fell apart when Rooney was injured.
"But for me I would start with Defoe because he also has the right people in midfield to create the chances by playing the passing game, Gerrard, Lampard and Barry are all excellent passers, good footballers. But he might just opt for the big strong one in Heskey to start with Rooney."
As for the result, Hoddle has no doubts: "Two-nil England. Without doubt, England will win. Croatia have their two main players out, and I am even going for a rare England clean sheet. I don't think Croatia are up for the battle they are about to face. Teams like Croatia can be sparkling when they go ahead but they can wilt if they go behind, their heads go down, they jack it in."
With that, the chef sent out the waitress for Glenn to sign the menu. For Hoddle the dish of the day on Wednesday will be Defoe whether he starts or comes off the bench.
• Harry Harris has twice won the British Sports Journalist of the Year award. His book Down Memory Lane is now available.
• Harry spoke to Glenn Hoddle in association with Football40 and Football Nights.