On the eve of their second European Championship qualifier, Laura Burnip asks, what’s troubling England?

Posted on September 6, 2010

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Don’t get me wrong: this summer I would have liked to see nothing more than England perform well on the world stage and represent the nation in a positive way. But in the wake of a host of pretty pathetic performances by the England players, “our” team came under fire from the public and the press. Why were fans so angry? Surely the disappointment felt by a supporter when their team fails to live up to potential is fractional compared to the players’ sense of missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime?

Captain Steven Gerrard said last week that the reason the team did not live up to extremely high expectations was because the players were tired, as unlike other European leagues there is not a four-week Winter break in the Premiership. While it might seem a fair argument to some, you merely have to note the high number of foreign players in the Premiership to discredit it.

However there seems to be a real feeling among English fans that more than anything, failure at the World Cup was down to a lack of willpower. In years gone by, the team coach would be the first to go, but surprisingly Fabio Capello did not suffer the chop as many had expected. Instead, it was decided that the players did not care about winning, and therefore did not care about the fans. So is support waning? Looking at the crowd reaction at Friday’s opening qualifier at Wembley against Bulgaria, as well as jeers for World Cup players in domestic games across the country, it would seem so. Defoe’s hat-trick should have put paid to fears that the team would have trouble finding form after such a terrible World Cup campaign. But the question now is, can England do their talking on the pitch? Or are there too many questions to be answered off it?

All day, the media has been filled with claims that Wayne Rooney is a doubt to play in tomorrow’s game. Not because of injury or lack of form (Rooney was instrumental in setting up Friday’s goals), but because his mental state could be compromised after revelations in the Sunday tabloids that he visited a prostitute while his wife was pregnant. This comes just weeks after similar claims that fellow England striker Peter Crouch also paid for sex, and on the same day that serial love-cheat Ashley Cole cemented his place on the nation’s most-hated list for divorcing the lovely Cheryl. Not forgetting a series of recent “super-injunctions” taken out by other anonymous England players whose indiscretions we will sadly never find out about, as well as Rooney and Cole being lambasted after being photographed smoking.

In fact, there are few among the senior England players who have not been the subject of some slur or other in previous years. It was just 9 months ago that former captain John Terry, whose attempt to utilise a super-injunction was unsuccessful, was revealed to have indulged in an extra-marital affair with teammate Wayne Bridge’s ex-partner and the mother of his child (emphasis on the word ‘ex’).

Even those players who have remained seemingly faithful to their partners have not escaped scandal. Current captain Steven Gerrard, who was handed the armband after Terry was deemed morally unfit to lead the team, despite being found not guilty, admitted to punching a nightclub DJ “in self-defence”. And finally, Rio Ferdinand’s 9-month ban for “forgetting” to attend a drugs test is surely worthy of a mention.

In conversation today, one question which came up was whether Rooney would be receiving the same treatment if he had performed better in the World Cup. Putting aside the fact that he was fresh from injury, and the reality that one man cannot carry a team through an international competition, would this story have even been printed if Rooney was a World-cup winning hero? As far as I’m concerned, Rooney’s actions off the pitch are irrelevant until they start affecting his actions on it, and the fact that he was allegedly a doubt for a vital away match against an increasingly strong Swiss side has made this relevant. I can’t actually understand why an apparently high-priced prostitute with an alleged penchant for Premiership footballers would feel the need to sell her story, but this issue aside, the England camp is obviously in complete meltdown and I don’t think it has anything to do with football.

Rooney hangs his head in shame

According to the tabloids, what is expected of these men is much more than hard work on the field. They are expected to be moral figures, family men who want to win for the fans. I can’t help but feel uncomfortable about the fact that Terry was stripped of the captaincy for having an affair. Terry’s critics will maintain that it was Wayne Bridge’s involvement which made the situation so much worse, because it was a blow for team unity – Terry was not thinking of the fans. But surely the last thing on Bridge’s mind was the fans when he decided to withdraw from selection (we all remember that ridiculous photo-op where Bridge refused to shake Terry’s hand).

How much of this is down to the intrusion of today’s media is hard to judge. I can’t imagine there were many stories in previous decades about Hurst and Moore’s exploits with prostitutes. Not saying that there were such exploits, but even if there had been, would it have made the papers? Who knows, but I’ll wager no. In 1998, self-confessed alcoholic and wife-beater Paul Gascoigne’s omission from Hoddle’s England side outraged supporters. Serious scandal off the pitch had not changed their view of him as a talisman on it.

So what are fans more angry about – the private or professional failures of the England team?  And are footballers distracted because of problems at home, or are the public just looking for another avenue to vent their frustration after yet another competition England have failed to win?

Most likely we are holding the bar too high in every sense. At the end of the day, the players are human; like us they are not infallible. It is a cliché but with all the money and fame in today’s game, can we really be surprised at the extreme levels of dysfunction in the England dressing room?

Watch Rooney play away tomorrow: Switzerland v  England – Live, 7pm, Tuesday 7th September, Sky Sports 2

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