LONDON — Imagine your company has a product soon to go on the market and to test public opinion you canvass the views of most of the potential buyers.

Christopher Davies

If three quarters of the customers tell you that on no account do we want this product, thank you, chances are it will be withdrawn.

So why is Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe considering bringing Glenn Hoddle back as manager?

Southampton fans have never forgiven Hoddle for walking out on the club in March 2001 to join Tottenham.

Rarely a home game has gone by when the chant “stand up if you hate Hoddle” is not heard.

Last September, a home defeat by Southampton signaled the end for Hoddle at Tottenham and for the fans of his former club, this was as good as it gets in football terms.

If Lowe wanted to alienate the Southampton fans he could not have done better — or worse, depending which way you look at this.

Gordon Strachan is leaving this summer to take a sabbatical and well-placed leaks have suggested Lowe is at least testing the temperature of the water regarding Hoddle.

It is not so much cold as frozen.

“Say No To Hoddle” read the banners held aloft by visiting supporters during Southampton’s game at Arsenal last Tuesday.

Southampton supporters, united in their vitriol toward Hoddle when he left the club three years ago, have joined forces again in a combined effort to ensure their former manager does not return.

“We want Hoddle out,” they chanted as the team bus, on which Lowe was traveling, arrived at Highbury, surely the first case of fans wanting a manager sacked before he has been appointed.

A poll in a local newspaper showed a 75 percent against Hoddle’s return and Keith Legg of the fanzine Saints Alive said: “Southampton are one of the few clubs left where honor and respect mean something.

“The fans feel this very strongly. We want a manager we can look up to and respect. You just can’t see that with Glenn.”

England striker James Beattie spoke for many of his teammates, after Hoddle’s departure, when he questioned the former England manager’s man-management, among other things.

Lowe has said no decision on the new manager has been made.

Maybe not by the chairman, but a decision has already been made by Southampton’s supporters.

TOTTENHAM, too, is searching for its next team leader, who will be the chief coach, working alongside the current caretaker David Pleat when he will revert to director of football.

Spurs sacked Hoddle five months ago and chairman Daniel Levy maintains the new man has been identified, though there is a growing band of doubters who believe that the north London club has no one lined up yet.

Last Sunday, some newspapers said Spurs’ new chief coach will be Raddy Antic who was a player under Pleat at Luton. Cynics say Pleat would like Antic because it cements his own position, but whether the Serb is White Hart Lane-bound is still uncertain.

Antic, who left Barcelona at the end of last season, maintained there has been no contact with Tottenham — if he IS the man Spurs have identified, why didn’t they appoint him last autumn when he was available?

He has signed a short-term contract with Celta Vigo, so the Antic connection does not add up. Why wait five months to go for a man who has been out of work since last summer?

Another candidate is apparently Giovanni Trappatoni who will coach Italy at Euro 2004.

“Trap” has said he will stay with the Italian Football Federation in some capacity, though why a 63-year-old, earning around £3 million a year and who doesn’t speak English, would want to swap this for a traditionally underachieving Premiership club defies logic.

So whether the long-term successor to Hoddle has in fact been lined up seems doubtful and while Spurs have suggested the new man might be from overseas, their best bet now could be Alan Curbishley who has become disenchanted with life at Charlton in the wake of the sale of Scott Parker to Chelsea for £10 million.

Parker was the best young player Charlton has produced in recent years and the first time a big club made an offer, the midfielder made it clear he would never play for the southeast London club again.

Tottenham may finish lower in the league than Charlton, but is a bigger club with more potential.

Having established Charlton as a Premiership force, Curbishley could be forgiven for thinking that he, too, needs to move on and hand over the reins at the Valley to someone else.

SVEN-GORAN Eriksson, meanwhile, seems to be smiling a lot these days. And no wonder.

In playing card terms the England coach holds the joker, ace, king, queen and jack. As talk about whether he will extend his current contract, which runs to 2006, for two more years or defect to Chelsea continues almost on a daily basis the Swede has the Football Association over a barrel.

Eriksson cannot lose. He knows this and the F.A. knows it too. The whole world must know it by now.

The F.A. offered Eriksson a two-year extension because: (a) he is a very good coach and (b) there is no obvious ready-made replacement if the Swede leaves the national post for a return to club management, presumably with Chelsea.

If, for whatever reason, Eriksson stays with England, he will earn £3 million a year from the F.A.

At Stamford Bridge his salary would increase, though to most people the difference between £3 million and £3.5 million becomes monopoly money, difficult to equate with in the real world.

The story will not go away until Eriksson declares his hand, but why should he?

Poker players bluff and reveal their hand only when it suits them.

Eriksson will no doubt wait to see how Euro 2004 goes, and by that time, Chelsea’s Russian rulers will have decided whether to continue with Claudio Ranieri or pay up the remaining three years of his contract.

Ranieri would then walk out of Stamford Bridge with around £4.5 million in compensation and walk into another well-paid job somewhere else.

No wonder the Italian, like Eriksson, has an almost permanent smile these days despite the pressure on him to win a trophy after the team’s £120 million investment on new players.

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