LONDON (Reuters) - England manager Roy Hodgson should wrap his talisman Steven Gerrard up in cotton wool because an injury to the 34-year-old captain would be disastrous for England's World Cup plans, says Glenn Hoddle.
Hoddle, who coached England at the 1998 World Cup, said Hodgson must carefully manage the Liverpool midfielder's game time in friendlies before the team's opener against Italy in Manaus on June 14.
"Roy must have winced when his captain was hurt in an early tackle during the Peru game at Wembley, in the final warm-up game on home soil before heading off to Miami," said Hoddle, England manager from 1996-1999.
"Personally, I wouldn't have risked him for longer than a half, and in fact, wouldn't have even started with him. He needs to be wrapped up in cotton wool and protected like a National Treasure.
"Look at the major worry now circulating around Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It's horrible for the player, horrible for the manager."
Arsenal winger Oxlade-Chamberlain injured his right knee against Ecuador in Miami on Wednesday and faces two weeks out.
"Now you can see why Roy didn't play Gerrard against Ecuador, such is his importance, especially because of the role he will perform in Brazil - an injury to the skipper would spell disaster for Roy's plans," Hoddle said.
Hoddle, in a column for British bookmaker William Hill (www.williamhill.com), said Hodgson simply cannot risk not having his skipper lead England out against the Italians.
"Gerrard is as important to England as Andrea Pirlo is to Italy; both vastly experienced, and hugely influential in midfield, where the games will be won or lost.
"The worry for Roy and England going into this tournament is that there is no natural understudy to Gerrard. Frank Lampard is the nearest, but nowhere near as effective in his long range of passing as Gerrard, nor as robust."
(Writing by Ossian Shine, editing by Ed Osmond)