It's the biggest thing in the world in many ways, football," says Glenn Hoddle. "People don't want to talk about politics, they don't want to talk about religion, they want to talk about football – wherever you go." Hoddle, speaking the day after his appointment on an FA commission tasked with increasing the number of English players in the Premier League, is unaware of the inadvertent irony within his statement.
It was discussing religion, specifically reincarnation, which lost Hoddle his job as the England manager 14 years ago. The 55-year-old, sacked by the FA for controversial comments suggesting disabled people had sinned in a former life, is now the person they have turned to in an attempt to cure the alarming dearth of homegrown players turning out in the English top flight.
"I've always had my own opinions and have always been somebody who thinks outside the box," says Hoddle. "Greg [Dyke, the FA chairman] has asked me to be part of this commission which I'm delighted to be involved in. I've got a lot of things that have been running through my mind for many years."Hoddle remains something of an enigma in English football. A midfielder who was one of the most-gifted technical talents the country has ever produced still divides opinion. There are those who see him as just that - a wonderful player, a Tottenham legend who tried to engrain his creative philosophies on the national side during his short tenure - and those that regard him as a figure who will always be remembered as a religious enthusiast.
Dyke is convinced that Hoddle still has something to offer. Following a two-hour meeting with the FA chairman over coffee at Richmond's Carluccio's in June, Hoddle has been thrust back into the international spotlight as the FA seeks long-term answers to England's prolonged failure.
Certainly, his enthusiasm for the game has not wavered in the past seven years, despite taking a step back from management. The establishment of a successful academy in Spain, for players who had fallen out of the professional system, and a recent online app for youngsters to film their skills and be tested, are evidence of what he describes as "thinking outside the box".
When asked if he has any desire to one day return as England manager, Hoddle initially dismisses the notion – "It hasn't crossed my mind. The bottom line is that I'm doing what I'm doing at this moment in time. I don't see that arising at the moment" – before contemplating the possibility more seriously.
"I don't know. I suppose it depends on how well the England team do in the near future," he says. "I think we'll get to Brazil and we need to use it as a platform to set ourselves up better for the Euros. No European team has ever won a World Cup in South America, Spain are probably Europe's best chance."
It is difficult to argue that England have progressed since Hoddle's departure in 1999. Despite only reaching the second round of the 1998 World Cup in France, playing an adventurous 3-5-2 and bowing out on penalties to Argentina, the style and approach Hoddle brought to the side has rarely been replicated since. Sven Goran-Eriksson led England to three quarter-finals but Hoddle believes the side has regressed in the last decade.
"I had some very good players and some wonderful young players hitting the scene. Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Michael Owen, we had something tangible to work with and move forward. It was frustrating for me to see what happened," he says.
"Now we haven't got that base, we haven't got four or five youngsters like that. We've got Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, but for me we haven't got a broad enough base. If we don't change things there will be a problem – getting 11 good players out isn't too bad at the moment but I fear that in three years time we're going to be struggling big time.
"We have to change the way we coach kids in the long-term so that by the time they hit 16 they are better than the Spanish, French and German players. That is the big challenge but the No1 criteria for me has always been how you are technically judged, from the age of eight, not size or power. We've also got to change the way coaches are coached. We've got to find teachers of youngsters how to cope with a football."
He continues: "The way England played was important to me and that was born out of my experience as a player. Some managers have not played at international level. I remember how we played in quite a rigid system and I remember chasing the ball in an England shirt, then I remember getting hold of the ball and not having the options that I would have for my club team because of the way we were set up. It was too rigid.
"Every coach will have their own style. Roy has got his own style, he had that style at Fulham and was very successful at Fulham. He had it at West Brom, he had it with Switzerland and was successful. I can see why the FA have looked at that style and thought that suits us at the moment. I think Roy will get us to Brazil, what we do in the World Cup is interesting. We shouldn't be saying we are going to win it, if we win it magnificent but we need to gain and see the improvement from the tournament."
Hoddle's short-term solution to the fact that 68% of players playing in the Premier League are foreign is to introduce a quota system for homegrown talent. In the long term, he says, the issue of how to coach properly and train coaches how to teach is crucial.
He was quick not to overstate the significance of his new role – "it's not me going back for a job with the FA, it's only a couple of days a month" – but there is a sense that, for Hoddle, his work with England remains unfinished business. "I was the right coach at the time [in 1998] and unjustly I lost my job, not for footballing reasons at all. The FA at that time, with completely different people to now, were not strong enough to back me. In the end I didn't really want to work for people who weren't strong enough and weren't backing me.
"That's what happened then, but I'm not sure how far we have progressed since then if I'm honest. What frustrates me is what could have been."